College of Aviation's 75th anniversary celebration peaks in October

Contact: Cheryl Roland
Photo of a Cirrus over WMU's campus

A Cirrus flies over WMU's campus.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.--A celebratory dinner gala and a ceremonial flight over Waldo Stadium during the homecoming gridiron contest set the stage Oct. 24-25 as Western Michigan University aviators marked the 75th anniversary of aviation education at WMU.

Nearly 400 people from around the nation--students, alumni, friends and aviation dignitaries--filled the college's aviation facilities Oct. 24 at W.K. Kellogg Airport in Battle Creek for the dinner celebration.

The event featured a number of honorees as well as recognition of the college's five national championship flight teams and its 2013 SkillsUSA national champion in aircraft maintenance technology.

College of Aviation

WMU's College of Aviation has become one of the top such collegiate programs in the world. The college's three undergraduate degree programs date back to 1939 when WMU jumped headlong into what was an area of study and an industry in its infancy. The Wright brothers' first sustained flight had only taken place 36 years earlier in 1903, the year WMU was founded.

The College of Aviation offers the only comprehensive aviation program at a Michigan public university. Its 750 students can earn bachelor's degrees in aviation flight science, aviation maintenance technology and aviation management and operations.

Those students come from nations around the world as well as several airlines with which the aviation college has "bridge" agreements that smooth their way toward employment once they graduate. And WMU's students are able to complete their studies on an airport campus with top-flight facilities and a fleet of 39 sophisticated aircraft.

David Powell, dean of the College of Aviation, notes that aviation education at WMU has continually evolved since its simple beginnings in 1939 training airplane mechanics.

"We're not only a beacon for new generations of young people seeking satisfying career paths, we're also a global player in advancing aviation as a force for economic growth and one of our most efficient modes of transportation," Powell says.
"It's exciting to consider what aviation might look like in another 75 years with new research resulting in lighter composite fuselages, engine-design improvements and sustainable alternative fuels. What I do know is that WMU aviation will be a part of it."

A long history of aviation education

In 1939, the Michigan State Board of Education authorized and approved Western Michigan to offer a two-year, non-degree curriculum in Vocational Aviation Mechanics designed to prepare students for positions as licensed airplane mechanics, licensed engine mechanics, airplane factory mechanics and pilot mechanics.

That same year, WMU began offering the ground school portion of the Civilian Pilot Training program, sponsored by the federal government, with the flight portion of the program contracted out. Both the mechanics programs and the pilot training initiative were under the direction of Elmer C. "Buck" Weaver.

By 1947, WMU had established a four-year bachelor's degree curriculum called air transportation, and by 1955, the University started its own flight-training program at the Plainwell, Mich., airport. The Kalamazoo airport was the program's home from 1959 to 1997, when it moved to Battle Creek, Mich.'s W.K. Kellogg Airport. In 1999, WMU's aviation programs were organized into the College of Aviation—WMU's seventh degree-granting college.
Today, the college offers bachelor's degrees in aviation flight science, aviation management and operations and aviation maintenance technology to nearly 800 undergraduates.

For more information about WMU's College of Aviation, visit

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