The Sky's the Limit for Relocated Flight School
June 1, 2014
  • Share
  • SOUTHBRIDGE — George Charles Allen said he doesn’t look at the recent decision by his family to move the flight school from Worcester Regional Airport as a departure from New England’s second-largest city.

    Mr. Allen said landing at Southbridge Municipal Airport allows the company, now called the AeroVenture Institute, to offer more programs to the region. It began operations here May 19.

    Formerly the Worcester Regional Flight Academy, the name change reflects a broadened focus on aerospace instruction, said Mr. Allen, the company’s president.

    The company has been cited by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association as a top-10 flight school, out of more than 500 schools in the country.

    The Worcester airport, according to Mr. Allen, is a class-delta controlled airspace with a tower, and whose air traffic placed many restrictions on what the Allens’ four-year-old company could do.

    In Southbridge, AeroVenture can file what he called “a notice to airmen” with the Federal Aviation Administration, allowing the company to teach students by launching rockets, weather balloons or remote control aircraft on a field off to the side of the runway during certain times.

    “We also couldn’t do glider training in Worcester, which we’re looking to expand here,” Mr. Allen said. “There are different regulations at different types of airports. This one is a little more accommodating to the types of programs that we’re looking to expand.”

    The increased space will allow AeroVenture to lead classes during which students will put together a glider that was donated to the company, or build powered airplanes, he said.

    “We want to teach kids about aerospace engineering, about human factors in aviation and aerospace, about becoming pilots — show them what goes on behind the scenes,” which will get them excited about science, technology, engineering and math, Mr. Allen said.

    The company, which has a rocket scientist on staff, was able to expand through its partnership with the David Clark Co., a Worcester manufacturer known for noise attenuating headsets with boom microphones, and JetBlue, which came to Worcester last year.

    Mr. Allen estimated his company has educated well in excess of 1,000 families. He said AeroVenture hopes a partnership it established with the EcoTarium in Worcester, which reaches 150,000 people a year, would grow the program.

    “We’re also looking to work out relationships with other science museums in Springfield, Vermont, Maine, Rhode Island and Connecticut,” Mr. Allen said.

    The Southbridge airport houses what Mr. Allen called an eclectic collection that includes a biplane, tail dragger, glider, and light aircraft, which are good for teaching kids.

    A student turned instructor, Chris Kochling, 19, of Charlton, is AeroVenture’s assistant director of aerospace programs, teaching ground school and other courses.

    An aerospace engineering student at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida, Mr. Kochling was credited with improving the landscaping and putting new signs in front of the airport building, which had been decimated by the June 2011 tornado.

    Mr. Kochling, who earned his private pilot’s license with the help of the Allens in 2012, is a remote-control-airplane and rocket hobbyist, and hopes to earn a graduate degree in physics to continue teaching, he said.

    Mr. Kochling said the company’s record and family-friendly approach drew him to the Allens’ program.

    The old-time feel of the Southbridge airport will only help, particularly when the facility’s diner reopens this summer, said Mr. Allen, adding his father used to stop at the Southbridge airport with his students to eat.

    Mr. Allen said the former state of the Southbridge airport nearly brought his father to tears, knowing what the facility could be.

    Mr. Allen said he read about the possibility of the Southbridge airport being converted to a landfill, and stated his objection last year during a private meeting with then Town Manager Christopher Clark.

    At the time, the town council wanted to get an appraisal of the airport before it made a decision about the airport’s future. The council ultimately resolved to keep it as an airport.

    Mr. Allen’s father, Bill Allen, is the chief instructor and one of the top 25 flight instructors of 2,500 instructors in the country, as rated by the aircraft association.

    George Allen’s mother, Debbie, is the company’s vice president.

    AeroVenture, which planned to hire its seventh employee, an instructor, late last week, is offering flights over the town as part of a free fly day on June 21; attendees must call ahead to reserve a time slot.

    The event offers to teach people about aviation and how science, technology, engineering and math fit into aviation and aerospace.