Penn College instructor glides into championship competition

COURTNEY HARDEN/Sun-Gazette Michael Robison, aviation instructor at Pennsylvania College of Technology, left, and Ethan Mutschlet, sophomore student, work together. Robison teaches Airframe and Powerplant Mechanics. He has been working with Penn College for 7 years full-time.

At the Pennsylvania College of Technology School of Transportation and Natural Resources Technologies, 500 Airport Road, Montoursville, Michael Robison, faculty Aviation instructor, works with students, repairs gliders in his own shop on weekends or during downtime and competes in world glider championships.

Robison has been competing since 1999, two years after he started flying, and always has had a passion for aviation. This summer, Robison will compete in his fifth world championship in the Czech Republic.

As a child, he used to fly model airplanes. At 10, his father purchased him a glider ride. As time went on, Robison got a job in high school, and the price for a ride was the same as a lesson, so he bought a book instead of another ride, and in the fall of 1997, he got his aviation license.

Prior to being an instructor, he worked in the environmental field, but soon realized he wanted to be at the airport. Robison came back to Williamsport to finish his mechanics license and grew into an instructor position. He now has his two licenses in Airframe and Powerplant Mechanics; he teaches both disciplines at the Pennsylvania College of Technology.

Through Robison’s flying experience, working on gliders and competing, he has been able to bring his hands-on knowledge to the classroom.

Students know Robison competes in glider competitions, but he tries to “not let that drive what I talk about because it’s a little too easy. If people get you started on the subject, it’s hard to get off of.”

Currently, he teaches a composite course and “most of our gliders are made of composite fiber or fiberglass or kevlar. It’s nice because that’s where most of my mechanic experience outside the school comes from — repairing gliders,” said Robison. “It’s neat to be able to bring that in and discuss the different structural properties, materials and show them how to do repairs.”

Robison has adapted one of his school projects for a project for one of his seniors.

He “is working on a mold that we can build what would basically be like a glider wing or fiberglass composite aircraft wing,” said Robison. “So we can fabricate it as a mold that they would do in a factory and then do the repairs just like they would on an aircraft.”

“It would simulate more closely what it would actually be like. So they can actually see the construction process as well as the repair process,” he said.

Robison also taught a navigation and aircraft electronic systems course. When flying sailplanes, a type of glider, often there are collision avoidance issues because they fly closely to one another, he said. Thanks to his competition experiences, he is able to bring in some of his knowledge about collision-avoidance technology, GPS navigation systems, aerodynamics and performance characteristics.

No matter what, when working in aviation, safety always is key.

“Take it easy, go slow, be safe and read a lot. We are always learning and that’s another thing to aviation, there’s so much to it that there’s no way to know it all,” said Robison. “We are always learning.”

One thing Robison has learned from his students is that communication is key. Similarly, he believes that being a teacher has made him a better pilot.

“Seeing the progress, seeing someone go from a point where they don’t know anything about the subject — especially in our discipline … to get them to the point where they can solo, where you can trust them … that’s a pretty neat hurdle to get over,” he said.

Robison has seen his students go off and have successful careers. He keeps up with them through LinkedIn or often times bumps into them at a glider shop.

“Keep after it. It’s worth every bit of it. If that’s their passion, that’s their interest — that goes for any career, you won’t feel like you’re working a day in your life if you love what you do,” said Robison.