Aerospace program feeds into jobs at Bell Helicopter

Osprey courtesy photo
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia CommonsCrew members refuel an A V-22 Osprey, one of several aircraft products manufactured by Bell Helicopter, before a night mission in central Iraq.

Working at Bell Helicopter is why many aerospace manufacturing students at Amarillo College enroll in certificate or associate degree programs at the Career and Technical Center (formerly the East Campus).

The campus is north of Interstate 40 at Exit 80, west of J Avenue, just past the city limits.

“I just always wanted to work at Bell,” said C. J. McKnight, an aerospace manufacturing major. “I had a friend of mine who went through the program, and he’s out there at Bell now.”

Richard Whitaker, an aerospace manufacturing instructor, said many students hear about the eight-course, Bell Helicopter certificate program from relatives or friends who work at Bell.

Whitaker said there are two aerospace manufacturing programs.

“You have the certificate program that feeds into Bell Helicopter or other companies: Amarillo Gear, Pantex. I’ve had several companies hire the certificate people,” he said.

According to Whitaker, the certificate program usually takes nine months to a year to finish.

“Two courses every eight weeks –either in the mornings or at night,” he said.

And there’s the associate degree program, which consists of 20 courses, according to a flier Whitaker provided. It totals 61 hours. Six of the courses – two English and one math –are on AC’s Washington Street Campus and last 16 weeks, Whitaker said.

Four of the eight-course certificate classes are direct aviation, Whitaker said.

The other four core classes, two math-related, include a safety course, according to the flier.

It’s an introduction to environmental safety and health, said Sandra Jefferson, safety and environmental technology program coordinator.

“It’s a pretty intense class,” Jefferson said.

Aerospace manufacturing certificate classes operate for four hours during the morning or evening, Whitaker said. They last eight weeks, he said.

“Each class meets two times a week: Monday-Wednesday or Tuesday-Thursday,” Whitaker said.

According to the instructor, completion of the certificate program guarantees students an interview with Bell Helicopter.

“Doesn’t guarantee you a job, but it guarantees you an interview, OK?” Whitaker said.

“The students have to sell themselves on working out there. And they need to fit a team,” he said.

Not all aerospace manufacturing students want to work at Bell, Whitaker said.

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