Traverse City Record-Eagle

February 12, 2014

Helicopter program takes flight

By GRETCHEN MURRAY Special to the Record-Eagle
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — A new helicopter flight training program is taking off at Northwestern Michigan College and offers aviation students a chance to expand their skill portfolio and career opportunities.

The program began at the start of the spring semester and launched in collaboration with TC Helicopters of Traverse City. NMC’s Director of Aviation Aaron Cook said the program will broaden students’ choices of electives and target a part of the industry that offers more opportunities for pilots.

“There are a lot of new industries that are looking for helicopter pilots,” Cook said. “Helicopters are used more and more in developing countries, inspecting windmill farms and power lines, and in the oil and gas industry as transportation between offshore drilling platforms.”

Cook said NMC already offers several avenues for students to pursue aviation careers, including fixed-wing instruction, seaplane and flight instructor training. Helicopter training, which will include flight time and simulator training, will round out the program.

NMC has 120 students enrolled in its aviation program. Six signed up for the first semester of helicopter training. There aren’t many similar collegiate choices available for students who want to earn the Federal Aviation Administration’s private, instrument and commercial ratings for rotor-wing aircraft, Cook said.

“There are just five college-affiliated flight schools in Michigan, and right now NMC is the only one in Michigan to offer college-based helicopter training,” he said.

Cook said he expects interested students will first complete the fixed-wing training offered at NMC before transitioning to rotor-wing or helicopters.

“TC Helicopters has an air tour business in Traverse City and they also have the ability to provide the flight training, so they can recruit our top students and hopefully employ some as flight instructors, sightseeing pilots and, eventually, in their commercial and utility operations. It was a natural fit for them,” Cook said.

“We’ve been working on this with NMC since last summer,” said Michael Terfehr, president of TC Helicopters, the company that is supplying the flight simulator, the Robinson R-44 helicopter and training staff. “We got our start doing sightseeing tours in Traverse City, and we hope some of NMC’s top grads will continue to work with us as flight instructors or pilots for tours, photo flights and aerial surveys.”

Cook said flight training is costly but many NMC students can qualify for veteran’s benefits and financial aid through the college that wouldn’t be available through a commercial helicopter flight school.

Learn more about the program at