There was a lot of excitement “in the air” at the Ozark campus of Enterprise State Community College (ESCC) last Friday [February 24th] when the College received three modern aircraft from the U.S. Army for use in maintenance training at the Alabama Aviation Center (AAC). Three Beechcraft C-12 “King Air” twin-engine turboprop aircraft were flown into Blackwell Field just behind the Alabama Aviation Center training complex in Ozark, Alabama earlyFriday afternoon by military pilots based at Fort Rucker. C-12 variants are used by the United States Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine Corps for various duties, including embassy support, medical evacuation, and passenger and light cargo transport. This acquisition will enable the AAC faculty to train students to maintain and repair modern turbine engines and other more complex aircraft systems that were not previously available on-site. The complex aircraft systems include: cabin pressurization, on-board fire detection and protection, weather radar, satellite navigation, HVAC, and anti-icing/de-icing.
As a non-profit state educational agency, ESCC could acquire the three planes at a fraction of their current fair market value from the U.S. Government’s General Services Administration (GSA) Property Management Division in Las Vegas, Nevada. ESCC paid an acquisition fee of only 1/2 of 1% of the original combined military purchase price of $2.4 million, or $12,000 total for all 3 planes. Each aircraft has a current fair market value of approximately $184,000, which makes the cost of $4,000 per plane a real bargain for the College, says ESCC Interim President Dr. Vicky Ohlson. According to Dr. Ohlson, had it not been for the GSA’s Federal Surplus Personal Property Donation Program, obtaining this type of aircraft in flyable condition would not have been possible since it would not have been financially affordable.
The quest for the aircraft was initiated by Geoff Whittington, the son of one of the volunteer pilots who flew in one of the aircraft. Geoff is a graduate of the AAC and is one of its success stories. He finished the program in May 2016 and already works for Army Flight Services as an AH64 flight mechanic in the maintenance test flight section. Prior to that he worked on the TH67 after moving to a mechanic position with AFS. He was first hired by AFS in logistics which was his specialty for 8 years at Bell Helicopter in Ozark.
The College’s acquisition of the aircraft was a minor miracle, the result of the determined work of a team of individuals from multiple local, state, and federal agencies across the country. The three C-12’s were flown from the Army’s fixed-wing training operation site in Dothan, Alabama to the AAC in Ozark by volunteer military pilots, DAC Geoffrey Whittington, DAC Chris Simeone, CW5 David Keshel, and CW5 Pedro Gutierrez. The physical transfer was coordinated by John Meyers of the US Army Fixed Wing Project Office in Huntsville, Alabama. Shane Bailey and Deborah Johnson of the Alabama Surplus Property Division of ADECA in Montgomery facilitated the property ownership transfer, and Lisa Schrad of the GSA’s Property Management Division in Las Vegas provided administrative oversight and support. When a legal technicality threatened to derail the transfer, David O’Brien, an attorney with the System Office of the Alabama Community College System in Montgomery, stepped in and found a solution that involved helping the College purchase commercial liability insurance through a Birmingham-based company whose aviation specialist, located in Georgia, worked with an underwriter in California.
Once the aircraft landed at Blackwell Field, the pilots taxied them onto the College’s ramp. One of the College’s aviation maintenance students, Zack Serdena, helped his instructor, Jerry Northway, and the AAC Director, Jay Harbert, push and pull the planes into one of the school’s hangars using an aircraft tug loaned by Friends of Army Aviation, a non-profit organization located nearby which is working on building a “flying museum”. Mr. Northway said the work could not have been done without their help, as they also provided the forklift that helped reorganize the hangar to accommodate the three large C-12s. Stephanie Blankenship, who manages the City of Ozark’s Airport Terminal at Blackwell Field, also helped by ferrying the pilots in the terminal’s golf cart.
ESCC would like to offer its heartfelt thanks to everyone who had a hand in making the acquisition of the aircraft for the Alabama Aviation Center possible. Students who are interested in enrolling in the program should visit the College’s website at aviation.escc.edu or call Jenna Judah, Aviation Program Recruiter, at 334-347-2623, extension 3630. Financial aid is available for qualifying students. Summer term starts May 22nd.
Back row left to right: Dept. of the Army Civilian Chris Simeone, Dept. of the Army Civilian Geoffrey Whittington, CW5 David Keshel, and CW5 Pedro Gutierrez
Front Row Left to Right: Jay Harbert, Aviation Division Director for Alabama Aviation Center a Unit of Enterprise State, and Dr. Vicky Ohlson, Interim President of Enterprise State Community College