Matt West didn’t want to be a professional athlete, doctor, or lawyer when he grew up. All the Atlanta native wanted to be was a pilot.
“I was intrigued with flight at my earliest memory – being in the air, the clouds, the whole concept of aviation,” said the son of a Delta Airlines captain. “That’s what I wanted — so I went to Auburn.”
West, who earned an aviation management degree from the Harbert College of Business in 2001, credited Auburn for making him a “well-rounded pilot.” Today, he is Assistant Chief Pilot at ExpressJet Airlines – a primary Delta Connection and United Express carrier.
Thursday, June 11, West came back to Auburn – and he brought friends.
West and a team of ExpressJet pilots were part of the first Auburn Aviation Camp, held June 7-12 and featuring staff from the Harbert College of Business, the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering and the Auburn University Regional Airport.
Twenty-three campers from as far away as New Mexico, New York and California enjoyed a week of hands-on activities, including:
- A trip to the nearby Tuskegee Airmen Museum;
- Tour at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta;
- Study of rockets and wind tunnels at Auburn University Aerospace Engineering where students designed and launched rockets;
- Guided tour by pilots on a Delta Airlines CRJ300 jet at the Auburn University Regional Airport;
- Tour of the National Weather Service office in Peachtree City, Ga.;
- Tour of Flight Operations at Fulton County (Ga.) Airport;
- Special flights over campus and the surrounding area on university-operated Cessnas.
“They received an overview of aviation management, aerospace engineering, applications within the industry and a career overview of the industry,” said James Birdsong, camp coordinator and instructor at Harbert College who served for 20 years as an officer and pilot in the U.S. Air Force.
“The FAA forecasts that the number of U.S. passengers traveling by air will double in the next 20 years. That creates a huge demand. With that, we’ve got to build for the future.”
Bill Hutto, Airport Director at Auburn University, said one goal of the camp is to foster more interest in the aviation industry.
“Many of us in the aviation industry became involved because of an experience as a youngster — being oohed and ahhed by the sights, sounds and wonders of flight,” he said. “You can envision children standing at the fence of an airport looking in. That’s what we want to do – create that sense of awe. Some of the campers want to be aerospace engineers. It’s an inter-disciplinary thing, not just aviation management. It shows them that science and math can be fun.
“Part of why we’re here as an education institution is to inspire young people, create awareness and inspire the imagination of what they can do with themselves once they apply it.”
West, who helped lead tours and discussion inside and around the massive ExpressJet on the Auburn University Regional Airport tarmac, added, “We are showing them that Auburn runs the best aviation program in the country.”