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Cessna Internship Offers Aviation Students Once-in-a-Lifetime Opportunities

Ausust 12, 2013

Listen to a NBAA Flight Plan podcast on the Cessna Discover Flying Challenge.

Middle Tennessee State University student Brian Simmons and five other interns from flight schools around the country were given a remarkable opportunity this summer. For six weeks, they fanned out across the country in new Cessna 172s, tasked with creating excitement for flying and volunteering with different charities.

“When you think about an internship, you figure you’ll get coffee, you’ll make copies, you’ll pay your dues,” said Simmons. “This is the only internship...in the world that allows a collegiate aviator to get into an airplane...take what they’ve trained years for and go use it.”

The Cessna Discover Flying Challenge, which just wrapped up its second year, was dreamed up by college students and Cessna staffers at Experimental Aircraft Association’s AirVenture in Oshkosh, WI, two years ago.

“We were talking with the students and asked, ‘Hey, what do you think about flying for the summer?’” recalled Jodi Noah, Cessna’s senior vice president for single engine and turboprop aircraft. “They just asked, ‘Where do I sign up right now?’”

Noah had been in her new job less than two weeks when she hit upon the idea, which went on to win the Textron Chairman’s Award for Innovation after its first year.

“The interns would fly out and work with our Cessna Pilot Centers and our affiliates around the country and participate in their events, where they’re trying to interest people in learning to fly,” said Noah. “Then during the week, they partnered with charity organizations, creating a whole different network of followers” on social media. Charities included EAA’s Young Eagles program, United Way, Red Cross, Special Olympics and the Veterans Airlift Command.

The interns competed with each other, trying to put out the greatest number of social media updates and garner the largest number of followers.

Simmons was awe-struck at the opportunity.

“I flew 140 hours in six weeks,” he said. “I got to see places I never thought I’d ever see. I saw the Mississippi River, I saw mountains, deserts, canyons... I met all sorts of people from different areas. The opportunities that were put in front of me, most people wish they could do it in a lifetime. I got to do it in the span of two-and-a-half months.”

Simmons worked primarily with the Red Cross during his internship. Cessna sent him to Moore, OK, which had been devastated by two powerful tornadoes.

“I was able to take the president of the local chapter and another affiliate up on their first flight,” he said. “I took them over the damage and it was the first time they’d seen it from the air. Sharing that moment of silence with them was incredible.”

Simmons, who has hundreds of Facebook and Twitter followers who kept track of his activities this summer, said the internship was great preparation for achieving his career goal of becoming a business aviation pilot.

“We did have to report in to dispatch. We did have to create flight plans....It felt like we were Part 135 pilots in training,” said Simmons.

The Cessna Discover Flying Challenge will continue, Noah said, likely remaining at its current size of six interns. “There are a lot of moving parts,” she said. “I think we’ll keep it right where it is for now.”

NBAA Supports Internship Programs

Undergraduate student internships are perhaps the best way to introduce aviation students to careers in business aviation.

Through internships, a company's flight department will provide exciting work in business aviation and a rewarding learning experience for young professionals, who are the industry's future. Interns also will gain insight into the demands and tasks of the many roles in the flight department, as well as the important internal and external interactions that make up the team.

Learn more about setting up an internship program.