San Bernardino Valley College Aeronautical Department

Okay, avid Flight Lines readers, you are already up to speed on the awesome San Bernardino Valley College Private Pilot Ground School with Dr. Richard Thompson, which starts  the next session in August, thirty five years and still cranking out 100% test scores left and right, go Dr. Dick.  And now there’s a great new Instrument Rating classroom with all the simulator goodies. You will receive Instrument Rating written prep plus four hours of loggable instrument simulator time with classes  starting in January each school year at Valley.
But now let’s go somewhere new, let’s meet Kevin Kammer, the power plant instructor and head of the school’s aeronautical department and check out the Airframe and Power plant training classes and their facility.
We arrived in the middle of lab, which runs everyday from noon to three.  It is held in a giant room filled with aircraft, and engines and workbenches and very absorbed students. Their ages looked to be everywhere from teenagers to one white haired enthusiast, David Carr, who describes the program as “very impressive”.  All were male except for wonderful Carah Durell, the darling of EAA’s video series on fabric work for aircraft. She told us “It’s fun, it’s a lot of work, but it doesn’t seem like it if you love it.”
One really outstanding aspect of the program is that the airframe portion is run by  Allen Moore, a long time department fixture who still teaches fabric work, an area long absent from most program’s labs.  Once a student, working in teams of two, completes an aileron fabric recover, Mr. Moore cuts a jagged gash in it and gives it back to them for repair and reinspection.
Mr. Moore covers the areas of sheet metal, composites, rigging, fuel systems, wood structures, welding, hydraulics, landing gear, both analog and digital instruments, navigation systems and communications, everything except the engine and prop.
As we head outdoors to trail a team to an engine run up stand it seems good hearted sabotage is a staple of the program.  A team of three students is preparing to run up an IO 540 engine they have just dismantled, cleaned, repaired and reassembled.  They are unaware that  Mr. Kammer has crimped one of their spark plugs so that it has no gap at all.  We watch as they discuss and run tests to determine the cause of the rough run up.
The students in the power plant section work through first a  Continental A65, then a Lycoming IO 540 and finally a Jacobs R755 Radial engine.  Alum have secured great jobs with employers such as NASA, SkyWest Airlines, General Atomics, Cessna Citation and many others.  A and P licenses have been used as a basis for hiring in fields far from aviation such as electrical generating power plants, pumping stations, RV Maintenance and it is rumored, even in amusement park ride maintenance.
Student, Tim Solis, explains that, “Mr. Kammer teaches by making sure you know what you’re doing by saying ‘you know where to find it, go look it up’. So you feel powerful because you see that you can figure out what you need to know.  He taught us that when we get out there in the real world we won’t have anyone to ask, we will have to depend on ourselves”.  Amhad Kaoud told us that Mr. Kammer always “double checks everyone’s work to make sure it’s the best and safest it could be”.
It is obvious that not only do the students have huge love for their instructor but Mr. Kammer has a passion for teaching. He genuinely cares about the well-being and personal growth of each one of his students. It was inspiring to see the high level of respect consistently played out between students and teachers.  It is an environment where everyone understands  that there is no swearing and no unkindness allowed, all members of the community must adhere to the standards or publically apologize.  From this world they are placing not just excellent mechanics into the aviation community but excellent people as well.
Since taking the reins of the department last year Kevin has made major improvements to an already top-drawer program.  He talks about the innovations and changes with energy and excitement.  He sees the program as so much more than a school for teaching mechanics or technical skills but a place where people have an opportunity to come together and learn to make a better life for themselves and their families by learning skills far beyond the descriptions listed in the course catalog.
This is an expensive program for the institution to maintain, with high overhead dependant on grants and donations to stay afloat.  A community advisory committee meets often to insure the program is meeting the needs of the market.  With similar programs at private institutions costing tens of thousands of dollars, a student can complete Valley’s program for well under 3 big ones, much of which can be covered by traditional education funding sources.
So the next time you’re in the market for someone to work on your airplane, ask them where they earned their license and if they say San Bernardino Valley College, be impressed, they earned it well.
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