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Veteran Don Culp: A Spark in Aviation Through STEM

News > Veteran Don Culp: A Spark in Aviation Through STEM
Don Culp

Veteran’s Day is an annual way to celebrate the service, sacrifices, and freedoms afforded to us by our veterans. Veteran’s Day is celebrated on November 11 and in the spirit of honoring our service men and women, we are highlighting a veteran who is using his military aviation background to train the next generation of aviators.

My name is Don Culp. I am a Flight Consultant at the Challenger Learning Center of Richland County School District One. I am also an AH-64D Apache Longbow helicopter pilot in the military.

Image courtesy Don Culp.

My passion for aviation began as a young boy. My stepfather was in the Navy and worked in aviation. He served on various aircraft carriers and aircraft and worked with both rotary and fixed-wing aircraft. In 1989, he was selected to become a member of the Blue Angels, the United States Navy’s flight demonstration team. My first opportunity to see him perform with them was at Naval Air Station (NAS) Jacksonville. I was in the Boy Scouts, and we camped on the grassy side of the runway for the air show. I was completely blown away; I knew at that moment that this was what I wanted to do. In addition to this experience, the movie Top Gun was out and further sold me on aviation.

Flying the AH-64. Image courtesy Don Culp.

I made the decision to join the military in 1997. I came into the military as an enlisted soldier and went to basic training during the summer between my junior and senior year of high school. Two days after graduating high school, I left to finish my Advanced Individual Training to become a Chemical Operations Specialist, not an aviator. I attempted several times to transfer to become an aviator. In 2008, after five attempts, I got my chance. I transferred to the South Carolina Army National Guard. I was an E-6 at the time and reverted to a Warrant Officer Candidate (WOC). I moved to Fort Rucker, Alabama and started Warrant Officer Candidate School (WOCS) just five days after my daughter was born in 2009. One month later, I graduated WOCS and pinned Warrant Officer 1. I remained at Fort Rucker until 2011. While at Fort Rucker, I flew the TH-67, OH-58 A/C Kiowa Warrior, and the AH-64D. Three weeks after graduating flight school, I deployed to Iraq for a year. I currently serve as a Chief Warrant Officer 3 and anticipate retiring within the next year.

On the civilian side, I wanted to be around aviation. I did not want to fly all the time because I wanted aviation to remain my passion, not just a job. I took an opportunity to work as a Flight Consultant at the Challenger Learning Center of Richland One. We are a center that promotes Aerospace and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) in memory of the Challenger 51L Crew, who lost their lives on January 28, 1986. My role is to instruct students in the various sciences behind flight. Each summer, we offer aviation-themed summer camps, such as Intro to Aviation and Intro to Drones. These camps provide students with an overview of aviation and the opportunity to learn some fundamental skills.

Don Culp teaches students at the Challenger Learning Center. Image courtesy Don Culp.

We are currently developing Advanced Aviation and Advanced Drone curricula for next year’s summer camps. Gleim Aviation’s Learn to Fly and Private Pilot Syllabus books will help me design the outline and timelines and incorporate fundamental skills in order to ensure that students learn and retain the information provided. They are welcome tools to aid in the development of these new camps.

Aviation has always been my passion. Working at the Challenger Learning Center affords me the opportunity to share that passion with the next generation of pilots, military aviators, and aviation/aerospace professionals.

Don Culp is working on his airplane single engine land certificate in a Cessna 172. Image courtesy Don Culp.

Don, his wife, and their four daughters reside in Columbia, South Carolina. He continues to attend airshows featuring the Blue Angels, now with his own children. He currently has 15 hours toward earning a fixed wing add-on certification to his commercial rotary wing license with instrument rating.

The mission of the Challenger Learning Center is “Engage students and teachers in dynamic, hands-on exploration and discovery opportunities that strengthen knowledge in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), inspire students to pursue careers in these fields, and provide an outlet to learn and apply important life skills.” The centers are on 3 continents, in 4 countries, and in 27 states–to find one near you to book a space mission or other STEM activity, visit the official website.

About Gleim Aviation

Since 1980, Gleim Aviation’s team of pilots, instructors, writers, designers, and programmers has helped aviators pass millions of FAA knowledge and practical tests using the unique Gleim Knowledge Transfer System. Gleim is an environmentally-friendly company headquartered in Gainesville, FL.

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