(Media release from Georgia Northwestern Technical College):

A young pilot says, thanks to Georgia Northwestern Technical College (GNTC), he is working his way toward his lifelong dream of a career in aviation.

Benson Milam, 18, said, weather permitting, he sometimes flies back and forth to his Aviation Maintenance Technology classes at GNTC’s Aviation Training Center at the Richard B. Russell Regional Airport in Rome from his home in Rocky Face in Whitfield County.

“I became obsessed with anything that flies at a very young age,” Milam said, adding that he started lessons nine years ago. “I’m not sure where it came from, but it has been a crucial part of my life.”

He earned his student pilot’s license on April 7, 2021, he said. Four days later his parents purchased him a 1946 Aeronca Model 7AC Champion, a cloth-covered, two-seat model designed for flight training, he said.

He earned his full private pilot’s license, which allows him to carry passengers, on June 1, 2022, he said. He has clocked 380 hours of flight time to date.

As his childhood passion for aviation took flight, his mother suggested that he consider becoming an aircraft mechanic, he said.

While a student at Coahulla Creek High School, he began a work-based learning program through the Northwest Georgia College and Career Academy in Dalton. This allowed him to work at the Tom B. David Airport in Calhoun, where he had already been spending a lot of time, he said.

He became a Dual Enrollment student at GNTC in spring 2022 so that he could start working towards his airframe and power plant certifications, he said. He graduated from Coahulla Creek High School in 2023.

He soared in the Aviation Maintenance Technology high school competition at the SkillsUSA Georgia 2022 State Leadership and Skills Conference in Atlanta, earning the gold medal (first place). SkillsUSA serves middle-school, high-school and college/postsecondary students preparing for careers in trade, technical and skilled service vocations, according to SkillsUSA.

Milam said since childhood, he has “loved to take things apart just to see how they work and then put them back together.” Now he is learning how to ensure aircraft function properly.

“Because of his maturity, Benson has done well in the classroom and excels in the labs,” said Eric O. Nelson, GNTC Aviation Maintenance Technology instructor. Milam also allows classmates to examine his own airplane to boost their educational experience.

GNTC’s Aviation Maintenance Technology program is equipping him with the skills and experience he needs to earn a living doing what he loves, Milam said. He expects to earn his diploma in fall 2024.

“My coursework at GNTC gives me real-life scenarios and teaches me how to fix my problem at hand,” he explained. “I have noticed that my confidence and skill go up when I am working on planes.” 

In fact, the aluminum Cessna 150 at GNTC’s Aviation Training Center hangar shares many similarities with his own plane, he said.

After classes, he continues to work as a lineman at the Tom B. David Airport in Calhoun. There he monitors the aircraft radio, fuels airplanes, tells pilots where to park and performs general maintenance around the airport, such as changing runway lights.

“Benson has become a staple at the Calhoun airport as a pilot and as an employee,” Nelson said.

Milam said while he continues to decide his future career destination, he knows he will be happy to do almost anything with airplanes.

“Right now, I’m working on being able to give rides in a 1942 Boeing Stearman,” Milam said.

Combining his passion for aviation with the hands-on training and skills he is learning at GNTC, “the sky is the limit for Benson’s career in aviation,” Nelson said.