By Lianna Hubbard
Tristan Crimi crawled through the cockpit of a Cirrus airplane at Punta Gorda Airport. He was helping with a routine checkup, with a trainer at his side. Learning to complete a maintenance inspection is one among many aspects of Crimi’s education in aviation.
Crimi is part of the small branch of Western Michigan University located on the Charlotte campus of FSW.
WMU is a successful, affordable place for aviation higher education. The Charlotte County location is the university’s first branch out of its home in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
This branch has enrolled 25 students since it began two years ago. It occupies a hangar and a classroom building at Punta Gorda airport in addition to part of a building on campus.
Crimi was the first student to sign onto WMU’s new Charlotte branch.
“My senior year I was just looking at a good aviation college. I was looking at Western Michigan,” said Crimi. “After some search, I realized ‘Hey they’re actually setting up something down here in Punta Gorda.’ So I reached out to them.”
WMU found itself in Charlotte County after searching up and down Florida’s coasts.
“The college of aviation decided it wanted to expand its operation. We started looking all up and down the east coast and around to the west coast of Florida,” said James Williams, the director of flight operations and safety. WMU wanted to branch into an area with an active airport and a welcoming community.
“We came up the west coast of Florida and hit Punta Gorda and it was kind of like a meshing of all the things we wanted,” Williams said. “It was actually, an excellent choice.”
WMU partnered with FSW and began setting down roots in Charlotte County.
“The community was very, very excited about the university coming here,” said Williams.
WMU uses rooms at FSW’s Charlotte campus to teach its “ground class”, which make up the majority of its bachelor’s degree. FSW teachers are also employed to teach some of WMU’s general classes.
The shining glory of WMU’s FSW setup is the immersive flying simulator in E Building on Charlotte campus.
“We can simulate any normal procedure, any abnormal procedure, any emergency procedure, any weather condition that anyone could hope to encounter when they’re flying,” said Williams. “So anything that’s going to happen to you at the airplane can be done in the simulator and you can be trained for it.”
This five million dollar machine is half of a Cirrus airplane, the same kind the school uses for flying, surrounded by 220 degrees of screens, controlled by five computers.
Students fly through an accurate simulation of the Punta Gorda Airport and surrounding sky. Trainers control the wide ranges of weather and technical conditions that students can encounter in the air.
Outside of FSW, WMU was also welcomed by the larger Charlotte County community.
“The community response has been exceptional. They welcomed us with open arms,” said Williams.
When WMU first moved into the area, Charlotte County helped refurbish the university’s hangar and administrative building.
Armed with the aviation training and opportunities WMU supplied them, students due to graduate look to the future.
“I’ll either go into the airline or fly in the military,” said Crimi.