WMU News

British guild sends engineer to WMU pilot training

Dec. 6, 2001

KALAMAZOO -- Medieval guild traditions will give a nod to 21st-century American technology this winter when a young British aerospace engineer arrives at Western Michigan University's College of Aviation to begin pilot training.

Daniel Fonseca, currently a Munich-based design team member with British Aerospace, has been selected as the recipient of the 2002 J.N. Somers Scholarship by Great Britain's Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators. The prestigious scholarship will cover the cost of Fonseca's commercial flight training at WMU, which will begin in February.

The move marks the first time the guild, which is patterned on a medieval trade guild, has opted to send one of its scholarship recipients to the United States for training. The scholarship is named for the late J.N. "Nat" Somers, a test pilot, celebrated air race champion, airfield developer and longtime guild member.

Fonseca was selected from among more than 100 applicants for the annual scholarship award. Applicants were screened by guild members and underwent extensive testing. A field of four finalists then took additional aptitude tests and each was the subject of an in-depth interview.

A 2000 graduate of the University of Manchester, Fonesca took top honors in his class and majored in aerospace engineering. He spent a year doing graduate work before taking his current job with British Aerospace's Eurofighter Flight Control Systems project, where he works alongside experts and test pilots from Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom. Fonesca also has training as a private pilot.

The Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators, founded in 1929, is patterned after British trade guilds that sprung up in and around London in the 11th century. Guild structure is based on the role of free men, proud of their skill and status, voluntarily organizing to safeguard the standards, principles and practices of their craft. By the 14th century, guilds became more like corporations with the wealthier guilds providing clothing, or "livery," for their freemen.

The guild works to establish and maintain the highest standards of air safety through the promotion of good airmanship among air pilots and navigators, and serves as a liaison with agencies responsible for training, licensing and legislation. Pilots and navigators in commercial and private aviation and the armed forces join the guild as freemen or upper freemen, depending on their level of experience. The guild also has apprentices and foreign associates as members, and honors distinguished guild members by electing them to the livery.

"While guild structure has its roots in ancient tradition, its objectives are squarely in line with maintaining modern quality standards for our profession," says David Thomas, assistant to the dean of WMU's College of Aviation, who himself is an upper freeman in the guild. "We've simply taken the best of some lovely old ideas, added a few twists and applied them to the 21st century."

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, 269 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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