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thedrifter
03-03-09, 07:02 AM
Program allows students to fly plane with Marines
By: Tina L. Arons/Features Editor
Posted: 3/3/09

Putting an untrained, inexperienced pilot in the cockpit doesn't sound like a good idea.

But, for the U.S. Marines, it is.

The Marine Corps Flight Orientation Program will allow Texas Tech students to experience flying a plane - with an experienced pilot close by, of course - during scheduled flights from March 9 to March 11.

Capt. Josh Zaffos, a Marine recruiter for West Texas and New Mexico, said the flight orientation program helps generate more interest in available options for those interested in becoming a Marine Corps officer.

"A lot of people don't realize the program is available," he said. "The Marine Corps pays people to go through flight school training."

Zaffos said the process begins with training to become a Marine Corps officer and ends with flight school, which costs the Marine Corps about half a million dollars per student.

Capt. Rick Birt, a Marine pilot who will guide the student flights in Lubbock later this month, said many people associate flight school with the U.S. Air Force, not the Marine Corps.

However, he said, about half of Marines are involved in aviation.

The flight orientation program has had much success, Birt said, and many students he has taken up come down "excited and eager to call their parents, girlfriends or friends to tell them about one of the best experiences they've had."

Students who take advantage of the free opportunity will be allowed about 10 minutes in the cockpit and will participate in one of the nine scheduled flights in March, he said.

"There are controls on both sides," Birt said, "so I can grab control at any time."

The flight orientation program will use a King Air 200, he said, which is an aircraft with twin turboprop engines.

The military often uses the King Air 200 to transport passengers, Birt said. It is used in Iraq to fly generals from one base to another.

"The King Air is a very reliable aircraft," he said. "That's why we use it."

Birt, who has been a pilot for six years, said no problems should occur with inexperienced pilots as long as students follow his two main rules.

"Don't hit the ground," he said, "and don't try to scare me."

Ellie