Manning the flight deck at LSUA

First LSUA aviation student earns private pilot’s license
LSUA's aviation degree program hit a milestone with its first successful flight test, just one of many firsts for that student and his aviation journey.
Published: May. 12, 2023 at 7:58 PM CDT
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ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - Before the semester came to an end, LSUA’s aviation degree program hit a milestone, as one of its students completed a successful flight test, the first in program history.

It was one of many firsts for Nathan Blackwell, a junior LSUA student from Leesville, on his aviation journey.

“I’ve actually never flown on an airplane before this program, so it was just a leap of faith,” explained Blackwell.

Earning his private pilot’s license is the first of three milestones he will need to reach in his journey to controlled airspace.

“He is our first pilot, our first private pilot at LSUA,” said Eamon Halpin, LSUA vice provost and associate vice chancellor for academic affairs. “I’ve been calling him Nathan the 1st,”

It is not an easy task to become the first. Just to earn his first certification, Blackwell had to pass a written test, a two-hour long oral exam, and, after he passed that portion, he went straight to the runway for a flight test.

“The requirements for aviation are pretty onerous,” explained Halpin. “Most degree programs require the students to meet the university’s own requirements for passing courses and completing a curriculum. But students in the aviation program also have to meet external requirements, those of the FAA.”

Even though Blackwell made history for LSUA, flying was never something he set his sights on doing. Although his grandfather served in the U.S. Air Force, he passed away before he could pass on his aviation knowledge. Still, aviation was not necessarily a childhood dream. In fact, Blackwell was previously enrolled at Northwestern State University pursuing a degree in business until he heard about LSUA’s new aviation program.

“I really didn’t have any expectations coming into it,” explained Blackwell. “It was just like, ‘Hey this is a pretty cool job. Let’s see if I can make this into an actual career.’ And once I got into it, it turned out to be pretty special.”

Now, it is not just a career for Blackwell but a different perspective on life, one that is fueled by a sense of adventure.

“It’s the thrill that you get into, every time you get into a plane. Every time I get in the cockpit and I put the headphones, it’s like I’m sitting at home,” said Blackwell.

He will get to live in that feeling with a career in aviation, a field in desperate need of people like Blackwell who want to man the flight deck.

“His journey has just started, but it’s gonna be, once he completes it, he basically can get a job anywhere he’d like to go,” said Scott Gammel, director of aviation at Alexandria International Airport (AEX).

For Blackwell, that looks like a career as a commercial airline pilot, with the ultimate goal of being a captain.

Through AEX’s partnership with LSUA in the Aviation Career and Education (ACE) initiative, Blackwell has had a glimpse into what that could look like.

“Being at an airport this big and this big of a caliber is really a blessing. The amount of experience you get around actual pilots at an actual airport like this is unlike any other,” said Blackwell. “It’s hard to really grasp the feeling of what you’re going to be doing in the future as a professional aviator when you’re not around an airport like this. So, this is really where it’s at.”

The program also provides expert training by flight instructors with Gulf Coast Aviation, a Louisiana-based company that has partnered with AEX and LSUA for the ACE initiative.

“Being partners with Gulf Coast is an amazing experience,” said Blackwell, giving high praise to the company’s instructors. “It’s really blessed the students that are here right now. And the guys, the instructors there, are really looking for your best interest.”

LSUA’s aviation program is only one of two in the state of Louisiana and the only one in the Louisiana University System.

The school expects to double the program’s size in the upcoming academic year. Currently, they have 20 students in the program, with eight additional students already enrolled for the 2023-2024 school year. Halpin expects that number to increase.

For more information on the program, contact Halpin at (318) 767-2603.

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