University News

Thunderbirds Fly into Future as Aviation Grads

Published: March 17, 2015 | Category: Academics

Rich Cannon, ULA assistant chief flight instructor Since it first partnered with Southern Utah University in 2013, Upper Limit Aviation's partnership with SUU has drawn students from across the country to Cedar City as hopeful pilots-in-training in one of the nation’s very best fixed-and rotor-wing university flight programs. Many of them come to SUU on the GI Bill, military veterans eager to reach new heights in a fast-growing, global industry. Others, like Richard Cannon from Davis County, Utah, are simply eager to fly and ready to invest in the very best.

“When it all comes down to it,” Cannon explains of this investment in his dreams, “Life is too short to be doing something you don’t love.”

After working in northern Utah as a construction lender for seven years, Cannon, a construction management graduate from Weber State University, felt confined in his corporate America job and, as he explains it, “always felt like I was meant for more.”

“I just wasn’t satisfied going to work every day.”

After attending an open house for Upper Limit Aviation (ULA), where he went on an introductory flight, Cannon was hooked.

“I don’t like doing anything slowly,” said Cannon, who received full support from his wife in his newfound dream, “so I jumped right in and completed everything in eight months.”

Cannon, who already had an undergraduate degree, finished flight school from ULA in Salt Lake City in May 2013 and was hired in August to work in Southern Utah University's program when it opened. The SUU aviation program takes longer to earn than a simple pilot's license, as students earn a degree as well as licensure over the two-year program.

The first cohort of SUU’s aviation grads are set to march this spring; while graduation rates are not yet available, ULA touts a more than 85-percent pass rate. The ULA helicopter hovers above SUU's Carter Carilloncompany is known for its exceptional reputation across industries, thanks to a rigorous university-based aviation program that includes flight labs and six to 10 hours of weekly flight time on top of a full 12-15 credit hour university course load.

SUU, which is known for an experience-based instructional model that yields higher graduation rates than any regional university in the state, is an equal match to ULA’s model, which carries students through the ranks, from student to instructor to marketable pilot.

This model is not unlike those at aviation programs across the country, though ULA has a bigger network for outgoing students to continue on in their training and flight time as they work toward their dream professions. Most industry jobs require more flight hours than a student can amass in educational flights at any aviation program. SUU’s aviation students leave with a college diploma that includes additional business-related coursework that better prepares them as instructors and, for many, as businessmen and women in a booming market.

Helicopter pilot jobs range from emergency medical transit to work with oil contractors to travel and tourism. Nearly two years after completing his licensure, however, Cannon has yet to venture beyond SUU's program, happily working as the assistant chief flight instructor in Cedar City.

“I would do what I do every day even if they didn’t pay me,” he says.

Cannon is not alone. SUU’s instructional model provides many meaningful experiences for its instructors and aviation students, who are considering their eventual career path while learning to fly. At 5,800 feet above sea level, SUU's Cedar City base gives students easy access to high altitude mountain training—something many new pilots have yet to experience for any meaningful amount of training time, giving SUU’s aviation students and instructors a competitive edge in the work force. SUU pilots and students also fly the region’s air-based search and rescue efforts free of charge, earning real world experience while making a difference in their community.

“Upper Limit Aviation is by far the best school in the country,” Cannon asserts while reflecting on the whirlwind experience of changing his life, made much easier, he says, by ULA’s supportive programming and competitive edge. “In my mind, there was nowhere else to go.”

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