By Betsy Simon
Apr 3, 2019
Indiana State University department of aviation technology instructor Richard Swindell always says that everyone’s path to the cockpit is different and his own story is proof.
Starting out as an Army infantry officer, Swindell made his way in to Army aviation to fly UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters, which led him to carve out a path to the airlines, working his way through flight instruction, small planes, big planes, props, jets, airlines and fleets, ultimately becoming a United Airlines captain.
A member of the Air Line Pilots Association, the largest airline pilots union in the world, Swindell volunteered as a member of the outreach program to promote aviation and support pilots training for the airlines.
“Through this program, I ended up making trips from Indianapolis on my days off to speak with students in the professional flight program about what it’s like to be an airline pilot, how to prepare for the interview process and what you can expect from the industry and the job,” he said. “This led to building rapport with faculty members and the more formal and long-term position of sharing my knowledge and expertise with the full spectrum of students in the aviation technology program.”
Swindell started teaching at State in the fall of 2017, when the then-chair of the department of aviation technology asked if he would be interested in part-time lecturing. He currently teaches air transportation, aviation safety and has added to the department’s academic offerings the last two semesters by teaching elective special topic courses in rotorcraft operations as well as organized labor in the air transport industry.
“I enjoy the classroom, as a student as well as an instructor,” he said. “The privilege of teaching keeps me sharp and engaged as I continue to learn myself. But, more important, it allows me the opportunity to give back to the industry and profession as well as guide and build a relationship with future professionals with whom I will share this industry with – in the cockpit itself, in the aircraft they design, in the airspace they control, or in the airport they manage.”
Swindell knows how critical it is for students to leave his classes understanding language, history, structure, processes, operations, economics and a safety-oriented mindset, but he also knows the importance of students enjoying what they’re learning about their chosen career field and understanding that they can and will impact the future of the aviation industry.
“I am fortunate that I get to talk about what I do for a living with people who want to work in the same industry as I do, which makes teaching enjoyable for me and I believe for the students as well. I often begin a lecture by answering student questions about flying or air travel, or discussing a current event, incident or accident. We learn through the positive as well as the negative,” Swindell said. “Generally, though, my goal is to take the academic material, and mix it with actual experiences and stories in order to bring the lecture to life – make it more tangible. The goal is in demonstrating how concepts students are learning in class apply to actual day-to-day air transport operations.”
There’s no better time for students to seek a degree from Indiana State’s aviation program.
“Every sector of the aviation and air transport industry is in need in young, enthusiastic professionals with diverse backgrounds, skill sets, knowledge and interests in order to take this dynamic industry to the next level and remain competitive globally,” Swindell said. “Whether a student wants to fly, design, repair, control, manage or direct aircraft, or whatever comes next terrestrially or in space, the ISU department of aviation technology provides a solid foundation from which to build and launch an exciting and successful career in one of the world’s most dynamic and impactful industries.”