Retired pilot inspires aircraft maintenance students as he donates aircraft

FEBRUARY 3, 2016

Retired pilot inspires aircraft maintenance students as he donates aircraft

Captain William Wilkerson and his wife, Tisa, have donated a 1952 Cessna 195 aircraft to the Aircraft Maintenance Technology program at Greenville Technical College (GTC). The plane will be used to enhance the hands-on training offered through the Federal Aviation Administration-approved program, which prepares students to become maintenance technicians.

The donated aircraft, valued at $78,900, was purchased by the Wilkersons in 1980. They restored the neglected plane and used it for local transportation in and around their Greensboro, NC home, going sightseeing and to air shows. Considering the aircraft a member of the family, they were hesitant to sell it when they no longer needed it, thinking that a novice might harm the plane.

So they decided to donate it to Greenville Technical College. There, it fulfills a wish list item for a vehicle with a radial motor that students learn about but had never had equipment on which to practice. In addition, the five-seat plane features a tail dragger and Hamilton Standard propeller.

Wilkerson grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee, raised by a single mother. Though she wasn't a high school graduate, she brought books home to increase her own knowledge and teach her children. One of those books was titled, Library of Universal Knowledge, and featured a page on flying an airplane. That page, which Wilkerson still considers the best single page of instruction he's ever encountered, sparked the interest in aviation that became his career. He and his brother, known in their neighborhood as the "Wrong Brothers" (not the Wright Brothers), built and flew model aircraft. Eventually Wilkerson took his first plane ride at the local airport, a trip that cost $5, and allowed him to be aboard a Cessna 150. That, he says, was it for him, and after that, he pursued flying lessons so that he could be the one at the controls.

Wilkerson joined the Air Force and spent 10 years in aviation, performing both mechanic duties and flying, before he decided to become an airline pilot at the age of 27. Hired by Piedmont Airlines as a co-pilot, he was only the third African American pilot to be hired by the company.  In 1980, he became only the second African American to earn the rank of captain. He retired after 32 years of flying.

At GTC, he told the aircraft maintenance students not to be content with simply earning a passing grade. "Look for a knowledge grade rather
than a passing grade," he said. "Ask for additional instruction if you don't understand something. It's not just about making a grade but understanding what you are being asked to do."

He suggested that they study in groups rather than working alone. "People hear things differently," he said. "Share information and talk it out. You can pull each other along."

"We are very grateful to the Wilkersons not only for their generous gift, but for the time they spent with our students," said Dr. Keith Miller, president of Greenville Technical College. "The aircraft is an excellent addition to our teaching tools, and the experiences that Bill shared with our students were inspirational."