Cathy Smith and Kim Cousino

Instructor Cathy Smith (right) explains digital instrumentation to Kim Cousino, an undergraduate seeking a Certified Flight Instructor license.


Pilots in training to see through new 'glass' at BGSU

Tom Buffington wants to fly a corporate jet after graduating from BGSU’s Aviation Studies Program in May.

Majoring in flight technology and operations, Buffington has a pilot’s license and is even training freshmen in the program now. And before he earns his degree from BGSU’s College of Technology, the senior from Westlake will be able to add something else to his resume—experience with “glass.”

In this case, “glass” is an aviation industry term for digital instrumentation on an airplane. Aviation studies at BGSU welcomed its first plane with such technology when Dr. Jon McDermott, the program director, traveled to Vero Beach, Fla., this month to pick up a new Piper Arrow craft.

Bowling Green is the only university in Ohio “to be accomplishing complex aircraft education in ‘glass’-cockpit aircraft,” according to McDermott. That includes training student pilots to master the technology’s use when flying inside clouds, where the ground can’t be seen and the instrumentation must be used to operate a plane, he explained.

“More and more general aviation airplanes are coming out with this,” McDermott pointed out, and people who haven’t been trained “are flying into rocks.” A regulatory process is needed for training pilots of smaller, private planes, he said, adding that the Federal Aviation Administration is trying to devise one.

“There’s a learning curve in the information,” the director said, explaining that a mind under stress tends to revert to how it was taught. For generations of pilots, that has meant round, analog dials, although the airlines have gone to “glass” in the last 10-15 years, requiring aviation education to follow suit, he said.

Students “have to see ‘glass’ while they’re here” in order to compete for pilot jobs after graduation, he maintained, estimating that about 95 percent of commercial planes now have the digital technology.

Buffington has made one flight with “glass” and is excited for more, he said. Because “that’s the way the industry’s going,” he reasoned, it’s better to start training with the digital instrumentation, which has been available to BGSU students only on a simulator.

That will change with the arrival of the Piper Arrow, which cost roughly $320,000 plus $40,000 for the instrumentation system, McDermott said. The plane will be used to teach second- and third-year students who, at the same time, are learning to fly with more sophisticated propellers, landing gear and one running engine in a twin-engine plane.

“These students need to do it (learn ‘glass’) when they’re a little more experienced in the business,” said McDermott, comparing it to training for a commercial license to become a truck driver.

Roughly 120 students are in BGSU’s Aviation Studies Program, which is one of only 20 or so of its kind in the nation, the director noted. Ohio State and Kent State, along with Ohio University, are the other universities in the state that offer aviation education. About 30 percent of the Bowling Green students are women, and with no similar programs in New York or Pennsylvania, a number of the students come to BGSU from the East Coast, McDermott added.
February 20, 2006