Airport lands Marines contract

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 15, 2000

Lawrence County Airpark flight instructors will help train future U.

Saturday, January 15, 2000

Lawrence County Airpark flight instructors will help train future U.S. Marines aviators, thanks to a government contract.

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"The contract we have is to train them with 20 hours of coursework and critique them and give the commander a go or no go for the Marine aviators program," airport director Jay Conley said.

Although future pilots must compete for spots in the Marines aviation program, and meet rigorous qualifications, the extra civilian training is designed to make sure candidates are even more prepared, Conley said.

"Basically, we check them out for the Marines," he said.

Conley, a former military pilot himself, said the U.S. Army conducts similar pre-program training for helicopter pilots.

Other branches of service with aviation schools also are beginning to develop such programs, he added.

Lawrence County’s airport became involved with the Marines program when a retiring aviator came to tour the facilities a couple of months ago.

He turned out to be a Marine major from Long Island, N.Y., and not retired, Conley said.

"It was a ploy to check us out without saying much," he said. "He looked at our equipment and said he’d be back in a few months."

A month later, the man called and offered the airport the military contract.

"It’s quite a feather in our cap," Conley said.

Already, one Marine aviator has plans to use the airport’s flight school, and Conley expects more to come.

The contract covers a geographic area of about 250 miles, which means any aviator accepted into the Marine program within that area will come through Lawrence County for the initial flight training, he said.

About 20 hours of flight schooling will join with ground school work and five hours of solo time to form the basis of the training, Conley said.

"Basically, they get a few hours under their belts and we grade them on every flight lesson, their motivation and other things," he said.

The contract will fetch a lump-sum payment from the military but it won’t be a windfall for the airport.

"It will be just like another student coming in," Conley said.

The airport flight school has about 50 ongoing students enrolled. About 20 of the students are full-time, with classes two to three times a week.

The airport is a certified Federal Aviation Administration testing site.

There are plans to add an FAA-certified flight simulator and another training aircraft to its roster of two this spring, Conley said.