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VIDEO: Famed Aerospace Program at Middle Tennessee State University to Build Relocated Campus

Mon October 02, 2023 - Southeast Edition
Middle Tennessee State University

A new era in the growth of Middle Tennessee State University's (MTSU) renowned Aerospace program was ushered in recently when the school held a public unveiling of its plans to relocate and build new facilities at the Shelbyville Municipal Airport, about 25 mi. south of the college's main campus in Murfreesboro.

With MTSU Aerospace-branded planes flanking the stage, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee joined MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee and other state, local and university officials on Sept. 21 when the school signaled a new flight plan for one of the top aviation programs in the nation.

Using a mix of state and university funding, MTSU plans to spend $62.2 million to move the aerospace program to temporary facilities by the end of 2024's spring semester, followed by the start of construction on a permanent training campus in either the summer or fall.

The university noted that part of the move will include relocating 10 to 20 of the Aerospace program's aircraft next spring to the Shelbyville airport, off U.S. Highway 231.

MTSU officials said the overall construction project is projected to be completed in time for the aerospace department to move in by the summer or fall of 2026.

"What an important day for the university, Tennessee, Shelbyville and Bedford County," Lee said in his remarks to a crowd of more 200 people at the airport. "We've been advocating for this, and MTSU and Shelbyville have created an environment for this to work.

Calling the funding "money well spent," Lee added that MTSU boasts "one of the leading aviation programs in the nation and we need to invest in it."

The state of Tennessee will contribute $57.2 million to the project, with MTSU kicking in the remaining $5 million in construction costs.

Aerospace Program Reaching for New Heights

Months in the making due to the program's extraordinary growth, the MTSU Aerospace-Shelbyville announcement detailed the program's need for expansion and an eventual departure from its longtime home at Murfreesboro Airport.

The aerospace department plans to eventually have everything it currently uses in Murfreesboro at its new home in Shelbyville, includes its Flight Operations facilities (dispatch, briefing spaces, office), aircraft, simulators for the professional pilot concentration and fleet maintenance space. For the maintenance management concentration, lab spaces, classrooms and all equipment will be transported south.

With one of the university's Piper aircraft parked behind him, McPhee said MTSU "marks a … beginning of a new age in aviation education, not only in Tennessee but in the United States. MTSU will build on its reputation as one of the nation's preeminent aviation schools, providing educational opportunities for future pilots, as well as those who seek careers in the vast field of aviation services.

"As the transportation needs of our state and nation continue to evolve and expand, we are positioning ourselves to better serve the needs of our communities and students," he added. "Our new aviation campus promises to expand our capabilities even further, allowing us to expand our program, increase academic offerings and provide our students with the finest hands-on aviation program in America."

Bright Future Ahead for New Campus

Shelbyville Mayor Randy Carroll said that when he took office in December 2022, the MTSU Aerospace campus' proposed move to his community's airport was an important decision, and one which led the Shelbyville City Council and staff to research, refine and record each step of the proposal as well as hold public meetings to inform citizens and get their input.

Carroll noted that city officials met multiple times with McPhee and MTSU staff to work through the complex lease terms and agreement to solidify a 40-year lease proposal. In addition, he said Lee's support, along with that of the Tennessee General Assembly, led by Rep. Pat Marsh, R-District 62, and state Sen. Shane Reeves, R-District 14, were integral in securing the needed funds for the move.

"We look forward to the future and being a partner with MTSU by offering careers in aviation to the students of the Aerospace Program," Carroll explained. "MTSU-Shelbyville is grateful to be part of their future. As we look toward progress, we applaud those that have been and will be a part of the MTSU-Shelbyville Aerospace Campus."

‘A Defining Moment'

Chaminda Prelis, chair of MTSU's Department of Aerospace, called the announcement of the proposed Shelbyville airport campus "a defining moment in our history. Our vision is that MTSU will become the premier collegiate aerospace institution in the country in supporting the next generation of aerospace professionals."

During the ceremony, he thanked several program supporters, including partners Delta and Southwest Airlines; longtime supplier Diamond Aircraft Canada; representatives from Piper Aircraft; scholarship supporters such as the family of the late Shanda Carney Fanning, an MTSU Aerospace graduate; and Bernie Doubler, the department's first graduate in 1972 with a degree in aviation technology, and who said he would continue to support the program as it continues to grow.

Prelis also acknowledged the university's Department Aerospace faculty and staff, who he said will be integral in the transition to the new campus in coming years.

"The dedication and hard work of these extraordinary individuals are immeasurable as they all go far above and beyond their calling to support our students," he explained. "I will rely on their knowledge and expertise when we meet with the engineering and architectural teams, as they will be involved in helping to design the spaces, ensuring the labs and hangars are well-equipped, determining the logistics of class schedules, and ensuring that the students have a seamless transition."

Established in 1942, Aerospace is a signature department at MTSU and has grown into one of the most respected programs of its kind in the U.S. With 20 full-time faculty members, 100-plus flight instructors and over 1,000 students, the department is among the nation's largest collegiate aviation programs. Students from 32 states and 16 foreign countries have been drawn to study within the department. Aerospace graduates hold responsible positions with companies around the globe, according to the university.

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