Eastern is reaching for the sky.
Recently a new chief flight instructor has been hired and purchasing new planes for the school's aviation program is in the works.
Ralph Gibbs, assistant professor and newly hired chief flight instructor, said he is responsible for training and mentoring about seven flight instructors in the aviation program at Eastern.
Gibbs comes to Eastern with a history of aviation experience. He was a flight instructor with the Naval Aviation Training Command, where he worked for 26 years, and taught at Columbia Community College, Oregon Institute of Technology and Central Oregon Community College.
The new chief flight instructor came to Kentucky, traveling by RV, in June to be here in time to prepare for start of school. He then flew back to Oregon to help move his family to Berea.
"I'm on the 20-year plan," Gibbs said.
Gibbs said Eastern's aviation program is the best of both worlds for teaching students.
"I like to fly and I like to teach in the classroom, and EKU is the only aviation program in the entire country where someone can both teach in the classroom and teach in the cockpit," he said. "Other universities, like Embry-Riddle or University of North Dakota, they have faculty and they have flight instructors."
Gibbs added that the aviation department is planning on buying more planes for instruction this fall.
"I'm working on replacing two airplanes even as we speak, and then beginning to add some more sets of 172s to meet the demand of the fall term enrollment," he said.
The new planes will be bought with student flight fees.
"Now to the degree that there's some university support, if you will—subsidies—we've not had to ask for that yet, so we're still turning a profit. We're still able to support the aircraft based on the student flight fees," he said.
Gibbs said he was impressed by Eastern's dedication to the aviation program.
"Everybody up through my boss, Dr. Tim Ross, all the way up through the president of the university are very energetically supporting aviation," he said. "That's really refreshing."
Gibbs received his bachelor's degree from Portland State University, an MBA degree from Embry-Riddle University and is currently working toward a doctoral degree from Northcentral University.
Gibbs, who said he has more than 1,500 hours of flight instruction, said he is most excited about flying with students this fall.
"I am very excited about being here in Kentucky at EKU and flying in the program," he said. "It's really exciting for me personally."