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BBQ aims to give GCC’s aviation department more exposure

Nestled in a hangar at Whiteman Airport in Pacoima about 16 miles from Glendale Community College is one of the school’s oldest and best-kept secrets.

The aviation department established ground-training curriculum in 1939 and added flight training in 1998 to a robust instructional pilot program.

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Housed in the hangar are three Cessna 172 airplanes and one Piper Arrow used for commercial flight training. All property is owned by the school.

One GCC student well aware of everything the aviation department offers is freshman Grace Newman, a member of the Aviation and Space Club and daughter of club adviser and school instructor Rob Newman.

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Wanting to show off a program she’d been around since an early age, the younger Newman made a change to a tradition.

“The aviation department throws an annual barbecue, but that’s just usually for people in the department,” said Grace Newman, great-granddaughter of aviation pioneer Charles W. Morris, inventor of the pressurized cabin. “This year, we wanted to open it up to other people to spread awareness. The aviation department is the oldest department on campus and no one knows about it. We’re hoping to get the word out. “

On Saturday afternoon, a gathering at Whiteman of around 40 students, instructors and alumni enjoyed chips, burgers, pizza and baked goods, all while discussing the memories and merits of a unique institution.

“There’s no other community college program like this in the state of California,” said Curtis Potter, chief pilot and department chair of the aviation department. “Our instructors have a combined 70,000 hours of experience, and they’re here because they love to teach.”

Potter took over leadership in 2008 and added a pair of planes, including when a vendor from Mesa, Ariz., remembered Potter from previous negotiations and donated a Cessna to Glendale Community College in July 2015.

“There were so many places in Arizona where he could have donated his plane, including to Arizona State [University], which has a pretty good program,” Potter said. “I think that says a lot about our program.”

Glendale Community College career education counselor Tiffany Nakawatase, left, gets a quick tour of a Cessna 172 by flight instructor Dave Hopkins during the GCC Aviation Club barbecue at the GCC Hanger at Whiteman Airport in Pacoima on Saturday,
Glendale Community College career education counselor Tiffany Nakawatase, left, gets a quick tour of a Cessna 172 by flight instructor Dave Hopkins during the GCC Aviation Club barbecue at the GCC Hanger at Whiteman Airport in Pacoima on Saturday, (Raul Roa/Staff Photographer)

Potter said the department’s 35-student tally from last semester was the biggest ever, and he takes pride that several of those aspiring pilots are military veterans.

One such veteran taking advantage of his GI Bill is 23-year-old Wilmington resident Victor Ruiz, who is training to become a commercial pilot.

Ruiz and fellow student Mathew Rulman, both former Marines, earned a reward from instructor Dave Hopkins for completing their course ahead of schedule.

The trio completed a 2½-hour flight from Whiteman to Las Vegas on June 12 and landed at McCarran International Airport, the eighth busiest airport in the country, according to the travel website tripsavvy.com.

“It was nervous and exciting all in one,” Ruiz said. “To land on the big runway with 747s, it was amazing. It was a little scary too because I remember hearing on the radio, ‘Hurry up, hurry up, we have a big plane coming right behind you.’ It was demanding, but it was great.”

Glendale Community College’s aviation department offers classes in meteorology, aerodynamics, airport operations and various other courses with private pilot flight, instrument flight and commercial flight training.

“We have probably the most experienced instructor cadre in the Los Angeles Basin. Most flight schools have very young flight instructors and it’s typically a stepping stone to the airlines and commercial operators,” Hopkins said.

“They’re usually building up time from 250 hours to 1,000 or 1,500 hours so they can go to corporate flight departments or the airlines. Here, our instructors are career instructors, and they do it because they enjoy it and they’re very good at it,” he added.

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