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By Jimmie Earls
Sun Staff Writer
If you've ever dreamed of going up into the wild blue yonder, then now may be your chance to earn your wings. Washington County's Lebanon-Springfield Airport is the new home to Douglas Aviation.
“I formed Douglas Aviation three years ago,” said owner Kent Shilling. “I was an unemployed pilot, and I decided to go into business for myself. I lived in Danville for a while and saw an opportunity to move here when Jessica Bailey gave notice that her fixed-base operation was leaving. I rent the building from the airport board and I'm the only FBO in Springfield. We offer charter service, fuel sales, airplane maintenance and flight instruction.”
Shilling, a native of Baton Rouge, La., got started in aviation in 1995 when he was on active duty with the U.S. Navy in Florida. He served from 1990 to 1996 as an electronics technician. Shilling earned his private pilot's license in Jacksonville, and after his discharge in 1996, he worked the summer for the local telephone company digging ditches. After a hot summer in Florida digging ditches, he decided he wanted to return to college, and he went back home to Louisiana and attended college on the G.I. bill while serving in the Army National Guard.
“The G.I. bill rented my airplane and the National Guard paid my tuition,” Shilling added. “About halfway through my senior year, I got sent to Afghanistan. Those orders came through so abruptly, I had to no-show my commercial pilot exam. I was at Fort Polk and we geared up and spent a year in Afghanistan. I was due for regular discharge when we returned, so I finished my senior year and completed my commercial pilot exam. I then earned my Master's in Aviation Safety from the University of Central Missouri and I earned my flight instructor rating while working one year for the university until a job opened up in Danville, and that's what brought me to Kentucky.”
The company owns four aircraft and also uses two student-owned airplanes that Douglas Aviation leases. Many of his students are traveling in Washington County to continue their learning under Shilling. Robbie Carpenter, from Mt. Vernon in Rockcastle County, traveled an hour and a half Saturday morning to see Shilling's new operation.
“Kent is dedicated to his students and offers quality training,” said Carpenter. “He cares for the students on a personal level to accommodate them any way he can to help them achieve their goals. I've dealt with several aviation groups and Douglas has been the best so far. I've earned my private pilot's certification and I'm looking to start working on my instrument rating next, and eventually get my commercial license and offer charter service.”
The primary aircraft used by Douglas Aviation for flight instruction is an Alarus CH2000 equipped with a Garmin 430 GPS system and has a maximum speed of 160 miles per hour.
"Chris Hientz built these as kits in the 1990s," Shilling added. "He started smelling the coffee so to speak and got it type-certified normal by the FAA around 2000 and sold them to flight schools. There's about 400 of them registered in the United States, and I have four of them. It will go about 100 knots straight down at full throttle. It's perfect for building time in the pilot seat because the FAA only wants you to have time, they don't care about distance. It's great for teaching private, commercial and instrument pilots. I'm also looking into purchasing a light sport aircraft and offering training in that as well."
Not only does Shilling look to provide flight instruction to local residents, but he is also working on forming partnerships with colleges and another business called Global Aviation to provide instruction for students seeking a pilot's degree.
“If the student's come to fly via the university affiliation, then we put them in a bachelor's degree program and it makes them eligible for traditional student financial aid towards a professional pilot bachelor's degree,” Shilling said. “We're looking to work with local high schools. Private pilot is on the state curriculum for high school. I campaigned for that two or three years ago and an educator named Tim Smith in the Frankfort Independent District, who is also a pilot, helped push it through, so it's been on the state curriculum for about two or three years. The students can earn graduation credit for high school in Kentucky, earning their private pilot's license, and they can also earn four hours of college credit which consists of three lecture credits and a lab credit for private pilot through Global Aviation and the university affiliation.”
Douglas Aviation hosts a “fly-in” breakfast from 9 a.m. to noon every third Saturday of the month, but visitors can also drive.
“I would love the entire community to come out, look around, see what there is, and we'll even offer airplane rides,” Shilling said. “Beginning in November, the FAA safety team will come on those days and present a topical lecture through their WINGS Pilot Proficiency Program, where pilots can earn credit toward their biennial flight review.”
“Everybody involved has been very supportive and forthcoming,” Shilling said. “If there is anything I need, all I have to do is ask for it. I feel very good about being in Springfield.”