Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., says the return of the U.S. Army ROTC flight training program at UND is a "win" for everyone.
UND celebrated the return of the program during a ceremony Tuesday morning, which included remarks from UND officials and officials from the U.S. Army.
The Flight Training Program covers the flight training costs for 15 cadets each year. Cadets now will be able to earn degrees in unmanned aircraft systems operations. Cadets also will be able to transition into military service with flight experience in fixed-wing, rotary-wing and UAS.
The nation, including the military, is in the midst of a pilot shortage, Hoeven said.
"We get more pilots, they get the best education and they serve our country. That's a win-win-win," he said. "This is the best school of aviation in the world, so where better to meet this pilot shortage?"
UND Associate Dean of Aerospace Beth Bjerke said partnerships like these are "crucial" to helping solve the long-term pilot shortage the nation is facing.
The program currently only has five cadets enrolled, but Bjerke said they hope to add more students in the future.
Hoeven, a member of the Senate Defense Appropriations Committee, helped secure $4 million in fiscal year 2019 for the Army to use flight schools like UND train ROTC helicopter pilots, which allowed the program to restart after a lack of funds grounded it in 2010.
"We've done it here before and nobody does it better," Hoeven said after the ceremony. "This brings young people from all across the country; they're awesome."
The funding will be reviewed on an annual basis.
Cadet Tristan Carlson, a UND freshman, said the flight training program "epitomizes" what UND is about. He now will major in UAS because of the program.
"I think it's an awesome program. It's great that they're bringing it back this year, and I feel super blessed to be in it and be chosen as one of the select few to participate," he said.
After graduation, Carlson hopes to be commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army and then fly helicopters for the military.
Carlson, who is from Elk River, Minn., said he has always been interested in joining ROTC and added his mother was also a military officer who went through the ROTC program. In high school he found a passion for flying and decided to go to UND because it is the "top of the line" school for aviation.
Another $4 million has been secured for the U.S. Air Force to conduct a similar flight training program that Hoeven would also like to be run through UND. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection has a similar program known as "Pathways" that was started about a year ago, which recruits students to become air interdiction agents.