The joy of flying

WWU aviation program celebrates 50-year anniversary

The Walla Walla University (WWU) aviation program is celebrating 50 years of flight this year. The program has come a long way since its beginnings in 1967. The fleet of airplanes has expanded from two planes—a Cessna 150 and a Cessna 182—to the current ideal training fleet of four Cessna 172s for general purpose aviation, a Cessna 182 for bush and high performance training, a retractable gear Piper Arrow, and a Beechcraft Duchess for multiengine certification. The program offerings have expanded through the years as well to include bachelor of science degrees in aviation and aviation management.

“We are attracting people nationwide to our aviation program—even from outside the Adventist community—who can see how incredible our program is and the opportunities it allows,” says Michael Gref, aviation operations manager.

Gref explains that within the aviation world, regulatory changes combined with recent high rates of retirement for pilots have created many opportunities for young pilots. WWU aviation graduates fly planes for airlines around the world, including Mountain Aviation, Skywest, and Qatar Airways. Handel Wellington, 2005 WWU aviation graduate, started his career in aviation as a load master and then became a flight instructor. Now, 12 years later, he is captain of a Boeing 777 for Qatar Airways.

“The Walla Walla University aviation program puts more responsibility on the student than most other schools,” says Gref. “Our students can take an aircraft on weekends, holidays, or quiet afternoons and go fly to different locations.”

That flexible learning approach is one of Gref’s favorite features of the program. “On any given Sunday our aircraft can be found as far north as Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, south to Loma Linda, west in Seattle or Portland, and east in Montana or Utah. Some trips have gone as far as Chicago, New York, and Florida! This is very unique to Walla Walla University and builds a student’s decision making and responsibility in the aircraft.”

In honor of the 50-year anniversary of flight at WWU, a variety of events are planned to celebrate the accomplishments, aircraft, and operations of the flight program, including an open house and alumni dinner during 2017 homecoming weekend, April 27–30.

Read more about the WWU aviation program at or on Facebook at

Posted January 30, 2017

WWU airplanes sport new 50-year anniversary decals.
The WWU Piper Arrow is rolled out for another flight from the Walla Walla Regional Airport.
The WWU airplane hangar provides space for fleet storage.