Alumnus donates personal aircraft to Marshall Aviation Program

Marshall University’s new Aviation Maintenance & Technology (AMT) Program has landed its first aircraft, thanks to the generosity of a local alumnus.

Daniel Ward of Barboursville, a private pilot and retired manager at Marathon Petroleum, flew his Dakota Hawk one last time this month, from Ona Airpark to Huntington Tri-State Airport to deliver the single-engine plane to the new Marshall University Aviation Maintenance & Technology Program. Ward built the plane 20 years ago and spent more than 800 hours piloting the two-seat aircraft.

“Marshall has been a big part of my life,” said Ward, a 2003 graduate of the university who began taking classes in 1971. “It just seemed like a good idea to give back to the university by promoting the endeavor they’ve undertaken with the maintenance school. I think it’s great. This airplane will continue to teach others as it has taught me.”

Ward’s donation will be used as a physical teaching aid during general introduction to aviation classes, according to Jim Smith, interim director of the AMT Program. “This is the first airplane that a lot of our students actually will be able to get their hands on, start the engine and explore,” Smith said.

The plane will be housed in one of two hangars at Huntington Tri-State Airport that will soon undergo renovations and serve as home to the AMT Program. The first cohort of students is expected to begin classes in spring 2022, pending program approval and FAA certification.

Students enrolled in the 18-month program will earn FAA airframe and powerplant certifications and an associate of applied science degree from Marshall and Mountwest through a first-of-its kind dual degree in West Virginia.

Last month the program was awarded $925,000 by the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) to purchase tools and specialized teaching equipment necessary to meet FAA certification requirements.  The program also recently received $1.3 million from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) to support start-up operations.

“The federal investment from ARC and EDA coupled with private and state investments of $3 million are allowing Marshall, Mountwest and RCBI to develop in partnership with the FAA a state-of-the-art airframe and powerplant program right here in the Tri-State region,” said Charlotte Weber, RCBI director & CEO.

The AMT Program is part of the newly established Marshall University Division of Aviation that also includes the Bill Noe Flight School at Yeager Airport.

“Marshall University is pleased to offer the A&P program in alliance with RCBI and Mountwest,” said Dr. Jerome A. Gilbert, president of Marshall. “Our plan is to provide a robust curriculum for both two-year and four-year students who are interested in aviation, and we are moving toward that goal every day.”

To learn more about the AMT Program, contact Smith at or 304.781.1688.

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