Business & Society

Utah State University Develops Aviation Degree Program Modeled on Industry Training

By Ysabel Nehring |

Students prepare for a flight simulator exercise with direction from instructor Captain Parry "Pee Wee" Winder, who redesigned parts of USU's aviation curriculum to mirror U.S. regional airlines' jet training.

Logan Jordan and Grant Hewitt are graduates of Utah State University’s professional pilot program. Now, after having earned their degrees, they serve as senior instructors running four-hour jet simulation flights and coaching students.

The Federal Aviation Administration requires that degrees from accredited flight programs, like USU’s, include 1,000 flight hours to be eligible for employment with a regional airline such as Envoy or St. George-based SkyWest. Hewitt and Jordan are working toward this requirement in their capacity as senior instructors.

All students in USU's aviation program spend two years studying in ground school where they learn foundational skills related to flying and maintaining aircraft followed by two years honing their skills flying a variety of aircraft including Diamond aircraft (DA-40s and DA-42s) and two simulators: a Red Bird and a CRJ-700 simulator.

The CRJ-700 simulator is based on a Canadair jet and is the base platform for teaching students about jet aircraft function and professional standards.

Captain Parry “Pee Wee” Winder began overseeing the program in January and has since redesigned it to reflect training provided to candidates at major airlines.

“We implemented a program that very closely mirrors most United States regional and flag airlines’ training,” Winder said. “What the young men and women will receive when they go, for instance, to an airline such as SkyWest, that kind of training is what we have implemented here at Utah State in an introductory level.”

Hewitt explained further that new hire training at airlines has little margin for error and can be an intense switch for those without previous jet experience.

“When you do apply to the airlines, if you don’t have a degree, you’re going to be in a situation where all you’ve ever flown is tiny little puddle jumper at 70 knots, and now you’re jumping in a jet that can fly 300 knots,” Hewitt said. “And you’re trying to learn how to fly at that speed, how to think at that speed, learn how jet engines function, how complicated hydraulic flight control systems function, and you’ve got just a few weeks to cram all this brand-new information that you’ve never heard before into your skull.”

By contrast, students at USU have plenty of time to study and become familiar with aircraft. They receive one-on-one instruction and mentorship. When the all-important new hire class comes around, USU graduates are very familiar with aircraft function and can focus their energy on learning airlines’ specific protocols and minor differences in aircraft composition.

“Even though graduates might go fly a different aircraft at whatever airline they go fly for, the understanding of how hydraulics work and how an electrical system works and how engines work and all of that, it all corresponds directly aircraft to aircraft even though the system might look a little different,” Jordan said. “By the time they go to the airline, it’s not all new.”

The aviation program at Utah State also includes plenty of opportunities to network and interview with airline recruiters. The program has several airline partnerships including Envoy, Horizon Air, SkyWest Airlines and others. Regular career fairs with representatives from these airlines afford students plenty of time to ask questions and learn more about employment opportunities following graduation.

“We’ve had some representatives from those airlines look at our new training footprint, including our ground school, flight training and simulator program, our professional development and professional standards class, and they really like what they see because it’s harmonious with what they’re teaching,” Winder said. “You can get a new hire from University X and a new hire from Utah State University, and they go to the same program and sit next to each other, brand new hires. Utah State graduates are going to have an advantage because they’ve had at least three semesters to develop their skills.”

Recent pilot shortages have prompted airlines to offer incentives for new graduates, such as Envoy’s cadet program, in which Jordan participates. As a senior instructor, Jordan is also a full-time employee of Envoy Air. The program offers $45,000 in potential bonuses while cadets complete the required number of flight hours and helps with expenses related to completing licensing tests. It also guarantees a spot in the new hire class without interviewing.

According to Winder, USU’s aviation program is among the most affordable in the region, especially when considering living expenses, and features like Envoy’s cadet program offer even more assistance to students.

“There are many tuition reimbursement bonuses and opportunities for students once they reach a little bit further in their program,” Jordan said. “A lot of regional airlines offer bonuses and tuition reimbursement programs to juniors and seniors in exchange for signing a contract to fly with them for one to three years.”

The ultimate goal of Utah State’s program and the changes Winder has made are to ensure that graduates have the best possible foundation for their careers.

“Every one of our approximately 500 aviation students wants to be here,” Winder said. “We’re just trying to give them the absolute best possible start that we can. Logan and Grant provide incredible training on the flight line in our single- and twin-engine propeller airplanes. Our job in the jet program is to take them to the next level and give them the most experience we can in a jet to absolutely enhance their training so when they go to the regional airlines, they’ve got a leg up.”

To learn more about the aviation program at USU, visit the Department of Aviation and Technical Education’s website or contact fixed-wing (airplane) adviser Kaylee Roholt at or rotorcraft (helicopter) adviser Lisa Hunsaker at

Senior instructor Logan Jordan (left) works with aviation student Tommi Abbott during a flight simulator exercise.


Ysabel Nehring


Parry “Pee Wee” Winder

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