Cleared for takeoff: Marshall University opens flight school at Yeager Airport

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — What started out as an idea in 2017 to have Marshall University open an aviation school at Yeager Airport in Charleston is now a reality.

Under mostly sunny skies late Tuesday morning, the Marshall University Bill Noe Flight School was cleared for takeoff during a ribbon-cutting ceremony from the facility on Eagle Mountain Road, just past the Capital Jet Center. Marshall has a classroom building and a 12,000-square-foot hangar on site.

“This is a great day for Marshall University, the community, the region, the state, and the aviation region as a whole. This is going to be a significant force multiplier as far as flight training goes in our nation,” Bill Noe, a Flight School Aviation Specialist for the school and namesake, told the media following the ceremony.

Bill Noe

The flight school is set to open for this upcoming fall semester, which begins Monday, Aug. 23. Students will earn a Bachelor of Science degree with a major in Commercial Pilot – Fixed Wing. Two Marshall-branded Cirrus SR20 aircraft were sitting in the hangar ready to be used in the program.

The Aviation Maintenance, A.A.S.program will be housed at Huntington’s Tri-State Airport in conjunction with Mountwest Community and Technical College. The program is expected to be available in the spring.

The university has received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to start a Part 141 pilot school. Its ground and flight courses will lead to a series of FAA certifications and will prepare graduates to become commercial pilots of single and multi-engine aircraft, a release said.

During the ceremony, Marshall President Jerome Gilbert said the opening of the school is one of the most significant programs to come to the university over the past three decades.

Noe, who is a Marshall Hall of Fame swimmer, a pilot and an accomplished business executive, as well as a Huntington native, said the academic opportunities are exceptional.

“You can finish this school with not only your private-engine but your multi-engine, instrument, commercial, commercial-multi, and flight instructor certificates. Ultimately the flight instructors we train here and certify can come back and be flight instructors for us,” he said.

Evan McCallister, a recent high school graduate from Scottown, Ohio and one of 20 students in the inaugural class, was on hand for the ceremony and hopes to earn those certificates and a bachelor’s degree. He told MetroNews he has big dreams with the opportunities in front of him.

“Once I am out of the program, I will probably start as a flight instructor. Ultimately I would like to become an airline pilot for a larger airline, maybe cargo,” he said.

McCallister said following graduation he was planning on joining the Air Force but heard about Marshall opening the school. He hopes to graduate with over 200 flight hours

“It’s really exciting. I am really more nervous though. It’s just that I’ve never had this type of opportunity before,” McCallister said.

Noe, who is the chief operating officer of NetJets, a Columbus, Ohio-based company geared to meeting private air travel needs, said students such as McCallister will get a great deal of variables in training that are not see in other states such as California, Florida or Texas.

“The benefit of training in this region is you not only have to deal with low-level fog sometimes, not too great visibility weather but you’ll have to deal with the Appalachian Mountains and be able to deal with that,” Noe said.

Noe said there is a great opportunity in aviation currently with the need for pilots in the military, airlines, business jet world, and flight instructors. There have been reported pilot shortages across the country in 2021, resulting in the cancellation of flights.

Marshall said in a release, “The school will help meet the nation’s projected significant need for commercial pilots over the next 20 years.” When in full operation, the Bill Noe Flight School is expected to enroll more than 200 students and produce some 50 commercial pilots annually.

The project for the flight school dates back four years as administrators at Marshall began discussing options. In May 2018, Marshall and Yeager Airport signed a memorandum of understanding to look into an aviation school. Marshall announced several degrees in aviation in June 2019, before an aerospace industry partnership compact signing with state officials took place in August 2019.

In February 2020, Marshall purchased three airplanes including two Cirrus SR-20 valued at $500,000 each and a single-engine used plane with cable controls with a price tag of up to $175,000. The ground was broken on the flight school construction in August 2020, nearly one year to date from Tuesday.

Noe was emotional when he was asked what the day meant to him. He said he had a lot of big dreams in aviation growing up, but one he did not realize had come true on Tuesday.

“Being a Marshall University alum, growing up in Huntington West Virginia, which is why I went to Marshall. To have this today (Tuesday), it’s humbling and hard to put into words,” he said.

Gilbert, Noe, Appalachian Regional Commission Co-Chair Gayle Conelly Manchin, Charleston Mayor Amy Goodwin, Huntington Mayor Steve Williams, members of the Kanawha County Commission, and Yeager Airport CEO and Director Nick Keller all spoke during the ceremony.





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