Education for Kentucky’s Aerospace Workforce

Kentucky’s aerospace industry is taking flight! At $7.7 billion, aerospace parts and products were Kentucky’s largest export category in 2014 and Kentucky exported more aerospace and aviation products that every other state, except California and Washington.

Lexington and the Bluegrass Region are particularly appealing to the aerospace industry because of the area’s extensive network of colleges, universities, and other educational institutions with aerospace and aviation programs working to develop the region’s workforce.

NASA Kentucky is located in downtown Lexington on the University of Kentucky campus and operates the Space Grant Consortium and EPSCoR program. The Space Grant is a higher education program funding students and supporting research and workforce development in STEM areas, as well as expanding access to other educational resources through networking. The NASA Exprimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) award programs support research and partnership with NASA and offer improved access to workshops, conferences, and seminars through grants.

The Aviation Museum of Kentucky (AMK)located in Lexington’s Bluegrass Airport, houses 20,000 square feet of restored historic airplanes and modern aircraft. Visitors learn about how aviation came to Kentucky and about the science of flight. The Museum strives to introduce young people to aviation and encourage aviation as a career. With the Learning through Aviation program, the AMK helps teachers bring aviation into the classroom and shows how STEM subjects build a foundation for successful aerospace and aviation careers. During the summer, the AMK’s Summer Camp introduces 10 to 15 year olds to aviation, teaching them the history of aviation, the principles of flight, aircraft and engine design, about aviation careers, and gives them hands on experience with a flight simulator and actual flights with instructors. Besides the primary Lexington location, camps are also held in Hazard, Bowling Green, Louisville, and Pikeville, and nearly one third of the campers attend for free through the Museum’s scholarship program.

Nearby, Eastern Kentucky University’s Aviation program offers the nation’s first FAA-approved 1,000-hour power aviation degree program. Students graduate with a concentration in Professional Flight, Aerospace Management, or Aerospace Technology, with supporting courses in mathematics, physics, and business management. Graduates are prepared for an array of aerospace and aviation careers, including piloting, aviation/aerospace management, military, and aerospace technology.

The National Air & Space Institute/Air & Space Academy is a four-year program operating in high schools throughout Kentucky, including several in the Bluegrass Region, that teach high school students aerospace concepts and skills through a STEM curriculum designed to prepare them for college and the aerospace industry. Students engage in online  course study, flight training, and competitions that apply knowledge and skill to create functioning aviation products, such as high performance wings or nanosatellites. Students can receive college credit for participation in the program, giving them a boost into their future careers.

How important is Kentucky’s specialized training and growing aerospace workforce? The Kentucky Legislature has directed the Cabinet for Economic Development, the Transportation Cabinet, and the Commission on Military Affairs to conduct a study on the aerospace and aviation industry in Kentucky. The report will look at where aviation/aerospace parts manufacturing facilities are located, their workforce needs, tactics to grow the industry and create more jobs, an understanding of the industry’s economic impact, and will provide an overall better understanding of how the aerospace/aviation industry affects Kentucky’s economy. Stay tuned!

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