August 08, 2018

Sen. Manchin, local reps celebrate grant funding for Aerospace Education Center | Clarksburg Exponent Telegram

BRIDGEPORT — Students at the Robert C. Byrd National Aerospace Education Center have new training equipment thanks to the efforts of state and federal representatives.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, and Del. Richard Iaquinta, D-Harrison, visited the center on Wednesday to celebrate a $1.7 million grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration and the Appalachian Regional Commission.

Part of the funding will be used to upgrade the advanced avionic trainers used by students studying in the aviation maintenance program, according to Aerospace Education Center Director Thomas Stose.

"We are using it to upgrade the technology," he said. "As you know, aviation is an evolving field, and every day it becomes more technically oriented."

Students were previously learning to repair jet engines by working with a 1950 Rolls Royce Dart engine, Stose said.

"Through this grant, we were able to acquire seven Pratt & Whitney PT6 engines," he said. "When our students start rebuilding jet engines this year, they are going to be building the engines Pratt & Whitney are using right now."

Manchin, who is a pilot and a lifelong lover of flying, said people often overlook West Virginia's rich history of aviation.

"The spruce wood that the Wright Brothers used came from West Virginia," he said. "Some of the famous Tuskegee Airmen were trained here, and Chuck Yeager was the man to break the sound barrier. Our lineage goes back to the history of flight."

The students at the Aerospace Education Center who will utilize the newly purchased equipment made possible by the grant funding represent the next generation in that lineage, Manchin said. 

"This is something I believe in," he said. "I fly myself, so I know the beauty of flying, but also I know the economy of flying and what it takes."

The education and qualifications provided to students at the Aerospace Education Center and other Pierpont Community Technical College programs lead to lasting, well-paid careers, Manchin said.

"The opportunities are right here," he said. "If you come to Pierpont and you get the education you need, I guarantee you'll get a job. If you get through this program, there is a job waiting for you. They'll sign you up before you graduate."

The Aviation Maintenance program, which allows students to become certified by the Federal Aviation Administration in just 21 months, is an attractive alternative for students who don't want to attend a traditional four-year college or who are looking for a new career path, Romano said.

"These are good jobs. These aren't $10-an-hour retail jobs," he said. "These are jobs for life like America used to have back in the 1950s and 1960s. They're coming back here to West Virginia because of everything that everyone has done."

Securing the grant funding was a team effort, Iaquinta said.

"What we are producing right here is a great example of what we can do when we all work together," he said. "I want to thank the senator (Manchin) for pushing this, and Mike (Romano). I also want to thank the Legislature, because as soon as we found out where the money was going and what it was for, we felt that it was imperative that North Central West Virginia be a leader."

By:  Charles Young