GEORGETOWN — Cleared for takeoff!
Expansion of Delaware Technical Community College’s existing aviation maintenance program is set to take flight, powered by local-to-federal level collaboration and inspired by the aeronautical dream of a Lewes boy who might have flown to and walked on the moon if not for sacrificial tragedy.
Amid a couple aircraft and state-of-the-art equipment, dozens of officials and scores of others applauded as Delaware Tech President Dr. Orlando George Jr. and Gov. Jack Markell snipped the ribbon, dedicating the new Theodore C. Freeman Powerplant Education Building at the Sussex County Airport.
On hand for the dedication were some very special VIP guests: family and friends of the late Theodore C. Freeman — a 1948 Lewes High School, 1953 U.S. Naval Academy graduate and pioneering pilot and NASA astronaut.
“His whole life, his passion was flying,” said Capt. Freeman’s daughter, Faith Johnson.
On Oct. 31, 1964, at age 34, Capt. Freeman died on a routine flight — McDonnell-Douglas training center in Missouri to Ellington Air Force Best in Texas — when during his landing approach a snow-goose struck the intake of his T-38 Talon Jet causing immediate engine failure.
“In order to avoid crashing into homes, Captain Freeman remained in his plane until he was too low for the parachute to fully deploy,” said DTTC Vice President and Owens Campus Director Dr. Ileana smith. “His unselfish act cost him his life.”
The $1.4 million hangar/building, located on county-donated land across from DTCC’s airframe maintenance facility at the airport, now bears his name. And it will enable Del Tech to double its educational offerings in the aviation field.
“The college will now be able graduate 24 students skilled in both airframe and power-plant every year. Twenty four graduates every year,” said Dr. George.
Constructed with private and state funds, the 9.800-square-foot hangar facility features classroom and hands-on learning space.
An additional $1.1 million in latest-technology equipment was provided through state and federal sources.
“Especially in today’s economy it takes everyone committed to working together to make sure that we protect the jobs we have, support opportunities of new jobs and provide our residents with the education they need to be successful. When we work together everyone wins,” said Dr. George. “Delaware Tech’s unique mission of connecting Delawareans with jobs makes us a lynchpin in the state’s workforce and economic development. Over the past few years the college has been listening very closely and responding to the needs of the aviation industry.”
Ms. Johnson, who made the trip with son Tyler from Austin, Texas, fought back tears as she spoke of the dedication honoring her father on what would have been his 84th birthday.
“He died so long ago, I sometimes feel like he is forgotten. To have something like this, where it is an ongoing support of aviation - which was his dream - I just think it is a perfect tribute to him to have the building named after him,” said Ms. Johnson, who was 10 at the time of her father’s death. “And he was always studying. So it is even more fitting that it is an educational facility. That was his passion; to keep learning and growing.”
“He was always looking for out other people,” said Milton resident Joe Hudson, Capt. Freeman’s childhood.
In a biographical reflection, Dr. Smith noted that Capt. Freeman’s family moved to Lewes when he was one year old. “He grew up during WWII, hanging around the Rehoboth Airport interacting with anyone in aviation,” Dr. Smith said. “He saved money, not for candy and movies, but for airplane rides.”
“They said every penny he made he did for that,” said Ms. Johnson.
On a lighter note Dr. Smith added that “Ted and his best friend Joe Hudson began piloting airplanes with no official license to fly ...”
A year before his death, Capt. Freeman was one of 14 astronauts selected for the Gemini and Apollo programs.
“It is considered virtually certain that Capt. Freeman would have flown to, and walked on the moon,” said Dr. Smith.
“I’ve been to several events — the Columbia and the Challenger — and talked to his peers and they said without a doubt … he would have been on one of the first flights to the moon. He was an amazing man,” said Ms. Johnson, who was 10 at the time of her father’s death. “I just wish I had more of him …”
The new educational facility will provide more opportunities for Del Tech to prepare students for positions in Delaware’s aviation industry, which includes PATS Aircraft based at the nearby industrial park and others beyond the First State border.
“This industry is really taking off,” said Delaware Economic Development Office Secretary Alan B. Levin.
“In this particular case this fabulous investment is a direct response to what we have been hearing from the wonderful aviation industry in Delaware now for a few years,” said Gov. Markell.
The power plant program is the second part of a three-phase Associate Degree program being developed by Delaware Tech at the Sussex County Airport as part of Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training grants providing funds to community colleges for career programs in areas with growing need for trained employees.
“I am thrilled that this new facility is opening its doors,” said U.S. Sen. Thomas Carper, who was unable to attend the dedication and forwarded a video. “In doing so, it opens the doors to world class training and fruitful careers in aircraft maintenance for students – not just now but for years to come. This dedication represents the best of federal and local government working together, with Sussex County donating the land and hangar and the federal grant that makes the power plant program possible. Along with Vice President Biden, former Governor Mike Castle and former Senator Ted Kaufman, I worked hard to make the Sussex County airport an economic driver for Southern Delaware. There is great potential to attract more aviation-related businesses and a primed talent pool will certainly help to propel them here quicker.”
“This is the way it is supposed to work,” said U.S. Rep. John Carney.
After the dedication, a mural was unveiled in the building’s main hallway entitled: “On the Wings of a Dream, the Ted Freeman Legacy,” chronicling his extraordinary life.
“They (students) will be inspired by that - a local guy, a farm boy who saved money and started to fly,” said Ms. Johnson.
“We are honored to carry on the Freeman legacy with the naming of this building,” said Dr. George.
News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at 629-5505 or email@example.com.