It?s a bird. It?s a plane. No! It?s Justin Ebright.

Ben Lippert

Ben LippertJuice Editor

This week we take a closer look at Justin Ebright, a senior aviation major. The aviation program at SDSU represents just a fraction of the student body with only a few dozen students graduating from the program each year. I talk with Ebright about the relatively unheard of aviation program and what it’s like to be a pilot.

Ben: Tell me how you got involved in the aviation program and what made you want to do that.

Justin: I’ve always had a thing for flying I guess, and I learned that SDSU had an aviation program so I decided to come check it out. I did what they call an “intro flight” where you go up with an instructor. I fell in love with it and signed up.

Ben: Did you want to fly when you were in high school?

Justin: Honestly I didn’t know what I wanted to do. My senior year, the last semester, I took a commercial airplane ride and kind of liked it. I figured I’d check it out more and then that’s when I decided- I think that was at the end of my senior year.

Ben: And you said the program is really small; only a couple dozen?

Justin: It’s actually grown a lot, substantially in the last couple years. But maybe every year we get 10 or 15 people that graduate from it. So I mean that’s really small, but the freshmen classes that are coming in now, there will probably be 20 to 30 people graduating per year.

Ben: What’s the placement program like when you graduate with an aviation degree? Like what kind of fields do people go into?

Justin: There’s three different degrees that you can get here: there’s aviation education, aviation management, and aviation maintenance. Education you basically teach people how to fly, aviation management is managing maybe an airport or something, and then maintenance obviously fixing airplanes.

Ben: So you’re wanting to do which?

Justin: I want to do airlines, so that’s my goal. I work for the Sioux Falls airport now, so I kind of get my foot in the door with them.

Ben: So what do you do at the Sioux Falls airport right now then?

Justin: I check people in, I’ll board you at the gate, and sometimes I’ll put bags on the plane if they need help back there.

Ben: So after you graduate do you have to take some sort of test before you could fly a commercial plane?

Justin: Not really a test … you take a test for the company you work for. You have to build flight hours, so typically what you’ll do is you’ll flight instruct. So I’ll graduate here with my flight instructor license then I’ll flight instruct here, or basically anywhere that will hire me to teach people how to fly, then once I get enough hours I’ll apply for the airlines. It’s kind of a process.

Ben: Do pilots get paid alright? They’re always on strike for something it seems. Does that make you nervous about your profession?

Justin: Yes and no. You start off in Sioux Falls and Minneapolis- smaller planes. You make around 20 thousand but then after that it jumps up a lot.

Ben: It’s kind of something you have to be passionate about.

Justin: Oh yeah, and it shows. If you’re just doing it for the money it shows and they’re not going to hire you.

Ben: Does being away from family and flying all the time bother you?

Justin: I like to travel so it’s no issue for me. I’m gonna have to move at least my first year to where ever the airline decides they want me, which pushes a lot of people away. But it’s not gonna bother me.

Ben: Talk about the flying. What is it like being in the two-engine plane or the single engine plane?

Justin: It’s a blast! At first you’re really nervous because you’re 5,000 feet about the surface looking down thinking, “This little thing is holding me up.” But then you get used to it and it’s really no big issue at all.

Ben: So how many hours do you have logged?

Justin: I have about 250.

Ben: And how many did you say you need in order to graduate?

Justin: You don’t really need a certain amount to graduate, but I think for the airlines you need 500 to 1,000.

Ben: Have you had any close calls or interesting stories while up in the air?

Justin: I remember when I was first getting my private the engine kind of clunked out right when I was soloing, but nothing really too scary.

Ben: So when you’re up, you fly for two hours at a time usually?

Justin: You’re scheduled for two hours but typically you’ll be up there for about an hour and a half, maybe an hour, it just depends.

Ben: What do you do when you’re in the air? Just get practice?

Justin: You’ll do turns and basic things and then you get more advanced. You even do cross-countries and you’ll fly to Mitchell and Pierre or Sioux Falls.

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