The Role Of Cobb County, And Colleges, In Aviation (Part 2): Could You Take Flight?

A line drawing of a propeller plane

by John A. Tures, Professor of Political Science, LaGrange College

More than half a million pilots will be needed worldwide by 2040, over the next two decades. With all the pressures on Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, smaller but significant airports like Cobb County International Airport + McCollum Field and its flight schools will be needed to fill the gaps, as well as nearby college programs in West Georgia. And I experienced the flight training firsthand, just to see why so many can’t wait to get airborne in a new career.

At the grand opening for the Paragon Flight Training-LaGrange College program at LaGrange-Callaway Airport, amidst the politicians, presidents and pilots, I learned there would be a chance for some lucky college students, staff, administration and even faculty members to take flight, and I could be one of them that day.

Why fly? Given the need for tens of thousands of pilots to join the aviation industry by the end of the decade, it’s not a bad idea for a future student, traditional or non-traditional, to give it a shot. And I knew I couldn’t pitch the program to anyone else unless I took flight myself.

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Luckily, one of our star political science and psychology students, Hannah Godfrey of LaGrange College (who attended Temple High School, less than an hour from Cobb Couty Airport), was one of the first to fly that day. With her mother and young relatives, I watched her flawless takeoff as she ascended sharply. “I couldn’t wait to get up there,” she beamed upon returning. She’ll still earn her degree and pursue law, but also her pilot wings in the aviation minor as well along the way.

Our former provost at our college likened me to an Indiana Jones scene where the professor races through the library on a motorcycle at top speed. I can’t wait to get involve in the research, the details, and even try to get my students to experience being part of something, not just observing from afar. So it was an easy decision for me to volunteer my shot at taking flight.

My instructor was a pilot about to make the jump to commercial airlines. He had a full complement of controls, so that he could take charge and keep me from doing something dumb, which was probably the most reassuring thing about the experience.

The initial exuberance over my big chance was tempered by my inability to taxi effectively. I didn’t know if I was supposed to drive the plane down the middle, along the yellow line, or to the right of it, as if on a road. Instead of the traditional left pedal brake and right-pedal gas, the pedals were more about direction. If you want to go left, push left; the same goes for heading right. Moving the stick around does nothing on the ground. My instructor had to mention this repeatedly as I struggled to “drive the aircraft” toward the takeoff spot.

But once in position, he let me race down the runway, pulling up and getting into the air. Unlike Ms. Godfrey, my takeoff was more like a rise-level-rise-level, but it was an amazing feeling getting up there. I completely understand why people are drawn to it.

Up there, we flew over West Point Lake, the Kia Plant, the sports complex, and even our downtown. It’s easier to follow what you’re supposed to do, and up there, the stick matters. I got to do everything, even bank around. When our instructor told me we’d do a 360, my response was “for real?” But we didn’t do any barrel rolls, just circled around and prepared for getting . My instructor handled the landing, but he eased our little Piper down perfectly, ending my 30-minute adventure.

It’s now been a few weeks, but I no longer ignore small plane engine sounds from above. I feel as though I’ve caught a little flying fever. For those thinking about hitting flight school, at Cobb County’s Airport, at LaGrange College and Paragon, or elsewhere, I would completely recommend it, not just because of the huge demand for pilots, but also for the sheer joy of flying you’ll experience.

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Georgia. His views are his own. He can be reached at jtures@lagrange.edu. His Twitter account is JohnTures2.

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