Friday, December 22, 2017

Texas State Technical College Aviation Maintenance program receives special donation from Bell

HARLINGEN — Lead instructor Tom Cross and Interim Provost Rick Herrera stood patiently in the warm mid-morning sun and gusty wind Thursday at the Aviation Maintenance Technology hangar.

There, they watched each step of the arrival of one of the best gifts Texas State Technical College in Harlingen has received — a premier Bell Helicopter valued at around $4 million.

As preparations were made for a crane to hoist the machine off the flatbed and carefully place it on the ground for tie-down, Cross talked about the impact this will make for his students and the aviation maintenance program.

“Teaching maintenance on this is excellent,” he said about the shiny helicopter. “It gives us a great format. We can teach future mechanics all the latest systems.”

There are “nuances” that go into flying these machines, and mechanics need to know each of those, Cross said. But probably the most important specifications of the helicopter are the two turbine engines that power the flying machine.

They allow his students to work in many fields, not necessarily in aviation. He said his students are recruited for jobs in wind turbines, diesel and automotive, among others. Also, students will learn about the balancing of the blades and rigging the helicopter properly.

“A mechanic needs to know how it works in the air,” Cross said.

For those students pursuing aviation mechanics, there are jobs out there. Cross said there are 50 students in the program at TSTC in Harlingen.

“There is a huge shortage of airplane mechanics,” he said. “After the Vietnam War, there was a big push, but those guys are now retiring. There is a huge hole. There are not a lot of people going into it.”

Cross said the responsibility of working on an airplane or helicopter is immense — it is life and death.

“There are a total of nine federal tests you have to take before obtaining your license,” he said about being an aviation mechanic.

He hopes this helicopter will help motivate the students. He said it will be used to teach students at TSTC for at least 15 to 20 years.

Herrera admitted seeing the shiny blue, like-brand-new helicopter was “jaw-dropping.”

Cross, who was a student at TSTC in 1999 before joining as a staff member in 2001, didn’t expect the helicopter would be in such good shape.

It’s a far cry from the old helicopter previously being used.

“This sure is a nice Christmas gift for us,” he said while staring at the newer helicopter.

The students are on break right now, so they won’t see it until they return. Cross knows they will be thrilled and surprised, just as he was.

“Aviation is just so unique,” Cross said. “How many people get to say they work on airplanes for a living?”

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