Fairmont State’s Aviation Center of Excellence is the first and only (CFR) part 141 established collegiate pilot training program in West Virginia, a designation enabling the program to offer students Federal Aviation Administration approved and structured training, syllabi, training aids and facilities, allowing for a reduction in required training hours.
The Aviation Center of Excellence is led by Joel Kirk, Director and Chief Pilot, who was presented the opportunity to expand Fairmont State’s Aviation program offerings through the launch of the U.S. Air Force Junior Reserve Officer’s Training Corps Flight Academy, comprised of incoming high school juniors from across the nation. The Summer Flight Academy is an elite program including 25 universities throughout the country partnering with the U.S. Air Force to conduct flight training for JROTC cadets, with the ultimate goal of expediting pilot candidates into fleet aircraft by exposing them to flight training while they simultaneously complete undergraduate degree requirements.
For Fairmont State, however, a key component was missing to secure a partnership with the U.S. Air Force, an aircraft. The Fairmont State Aviation Center of Excellence’s fleet consisted of five operating airplanes at the time of application, and a sixth aircraft would be necessary to complete the required flight training for cadets within the allotted timeframe. Each cadet must individually complete 40 hours of flight during the seven-week course, and the University was unable to accommodate the demand with its flight school at its current capacity.
“When this Junior ROTC program opportunity started becoming an option, we knew we wanted to get involved, but we just didn’t have the number of airframes to take it on,” said Kirk. “In this business though, we always have to lean forward.”
Earlier this spring, Kirk and Fairmont State President Mirta M. Martin took a leap of faith and committed Fairmont State University to the program with only five airplanes, and outlined four courses of action to obtain the sixth aircraft.
“The first was to purchase another airplane, with a price tag ranging anywhere from $300,000 - $400,000,” Kirk explained. “The second option was to lease an airplane, requiring a $40,000 commitment from the University and dramatically increasing the costs submitted to the Air Force for the program. The third option was to upgrade a non-flying sixth airplane that belongs to the University, with an estimated cost of $60,000 in repairs to restore. The fourth and most unlikely option was that a miracle would occur and someone would donate an airplane.”
As Kirk worked with administration to weigh the pros and cons of each scenario, he thought back to conversations two years prior with Fairmont native, Dave McRobie, a circumstance he would later describe as “miraculous fate.”
“I met Mr. McRobie when he stopped by the ACE on a random visit seeking help with a piece of equipment for his plane,” Kirk said.
Kirk and McRobie bonded over their passion for flying and prior military service, and by the end of the meeting McRobie mentioned in passing the University could use his aircraft “anytime” if the need ever occurred.
“Of course, putting an aircraft into a university training program is not as easy as it may have been in years past, but the gesture was certainly kind,” Kirk said. “As a follow up a month or so later, I attempted to call Mr. McRobie to see how he was doing and found the number I had been given was incorrect, so contact seemed to be lost.”
A week after the paperwork was signed committing to the Air Force, by chance, Kirk asked a maintenance technician operating out of the Fairmont Airport if he knew of or had contact with McRobie. Coincidentally, the technician had recently completed maintenance on McRobie’s aircraft and had contact information for McRobie’s daughter.
“I asked my mechanic if he could reach out to Mr. McRobie’s daughter to see if her father was interested in leasing his plane, and we scheduled a meeting to explore our options,” Kirk noted.
Kirk met with McRobie and his daughter in hopes of leasing the airplane, but instead learned McRobie wished to gift the Fairmont State Aviation program his aircraft. The exchange was made under one condition; the plane would spend the entirety of its life teaching young people to fly.
“It appeared the most unlikely ‘miracle option’ might in fact occur,” said Kirk. “Mr. McRobie outlined the criteria, and simply requested that his plane spend the rest of its operating life training students to fly. That was his passion – teaching young adults to fly, and I assured him that’s exactly what his airplane will do. There’s no better place for it than right here in his hometown.”
The University will recognize McRobie at a press conference where the aircraft will be dedicated in honor of McRobie’s generous gift on Friday, May 21 at the Fairmont State Aviation Hangar in Bridgeport.
“David McRobie represents the best of what our Falcon Family spirit is all about,” said Mirta M. Martin, Fairmont State University President. “He has a huge heart and a generous spirit that is focused on our students. David’s gift will truly help Falcons soar for years to come.”
McRobie enlisted in the United States Air Force in April 1955, where he would actively serve until 1976 upon retiring as a Senior Master Sergeant. While stationed at the Grissom Air Force Base in Indiana, McRobie earned his private pilot’s license. McRobie later became instrument rated, and was an active private pilot for 46 years. McRobie currently serves as a member of the Civil Air Patrol.