(WACO) – Less than 10 miles apart are two schools connected by their students’ passion for aviation.
Texas State Technical College’s Aircraft Pilot Training Technology program and Baylor University’s Aviation Sciences department work together to give students like Natalie Verhoog the chance to reach new heights.
“I’m really getting a unique college experience going to both schools, and it’s an amazing opportunity. The programs mesh together really well, and I get to fly planes for college credit,” said Verhoog, a Baylor Aviation Sciences sophomore with a Professional Pilot concentration from Redding, California.
TSTC and Baylor’s partnership allows Baylor students to complete ground training on their home campus while attending TSTC to complete flight training.
“The Aviation Sciences program at Baylor could not exist without TSTC. Partnership between our two institutions has been the basis for this program since its beginning in 1991,” said Trey Cade, director of Baylor’s Institute for Air Science.
Students earn a 500-hour reduction in the required total flight time by completing the Baylor-TSTC partnership. The Federal Aviation Administration requires pilots to have 1,500 flight hours to enter the airline industry, but these graduates will earn a restricted Airline Transport Pilot license, allowing them to enter with 1,000 flight hours.
“This marriage between Baylor and TSTC offers these students the right environment to enter the industry with (certification for) ground and flight training. Once they meet certain requirements, these students can get into the airline industry well-trained and quickly,” TSTC lead flight instructor Rick Connor said.
The aviation field was the last thing Verhoog expected to love, but when an impromptu flight lesson in her California hometown swept her off her feet, she knew she had found her calling.
“I fell in love with it. I had never shown any interest in airplanes or flying. I had traveled a lot, but I had never looked at it like that. And then I was instantly in love with it. I knew that’s what I had to do,” Verhoog said.
To feel like she was on the same page with her classmates, Verhoog put in extra hours studying and asked countless questions.
“I asked multiple times to go in the maintenance hangar and would ask for one hour to ask as many questions as I could about the planes that were being worked on,” Verhoog said. “I went from being someone who had never lifted the hood of a car before flight training to now — I can describe every aspect of a fuel-injected engine really well.”
Helping to guide her on her journey is fellow Baylor Aviation and TSTC grad Bond Henderson. Henderson works as both a fixed-wing and helicopter flight instructor for TSTC.
“Natalie is a joy to work with. Her constant positive attitude and persistent drive for excellence are by far her most noticeable qualities. Beyond that, she is a fantastic student, always wanting to improve and learn,” Henderson said.
With the FAA requiring first officers to have 1,500 flight hours and more captains reaching the mandatory retirement age of 65, there is an enormous demand for pilots.
“There was a huge bottleneck created, and we are seeing a great need for pilots. Age, hour requirements and huge expansion means these positions are paying more because there is a great lack of people” Connor said.
As the aviation industry clamors for more pilots, Henderson and Verhoog see it as an opportunity.
“As in many other industries, women provide a dynamic of diverse thinking that drastically benefits the aviation community,” Henderson said. “The women I have met in the aviation industry are assertive, problem-solving and safety-minded.”
For young women dreaming of entering the aviation field, Verhoog advises them to stick to it and do the work.
“I did have to thicken up my skin a little bit, that’s for sure. But my experience has been nothing but positive,” Verhood said. “My mom said, ‘show up on time or be there early, and never give them a reason to doubt your ability to be efficient and to do it well and do it right, and they won’t treat you any different.’ It’s 100 percent true.”
Verhoog will graduate in spring 2020. She is a member of the Tri Delta sorority and is in the Honors College at Baylor. After graduation she hopes to fly with international airlines or charter flights.
Registration for fall classes at TSTC is underway. For more information, visit tstc.edu.