Sowela Receives $35 Million Donation of Air Force E-8A Joint Stars Jet

Aircraft Was Flown in during a Special Ceremony Today at Chennault International Airport

(Lake Charles, Louisiana – September 19, 2023)

SOWELA received one of its largest donations to date from the U.S. Air Force with an E-8A Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System aircraft valued at $35 million. The jet was flown in and signed over to SOWELA from the Air Force during a special ceremony today at Chennault International Airport.

The Joint STARS is a modified Boeing 707-300 series aircraft. According to the Air Force, Joint STARS evolved from Army and Air Force programs to develop, detect, locate and attack enemy armor at ranges beyond the forward area of troops. The first two development aircraft deployed in 1991 to Operation Desert Storm and supported Operation Joint Endeavor in 1995. Team Joint STARS men and women have flown over 137,000 combat hours supporting Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, Odyssey Dawn and Unified Protector. The Chief of Staff of the Air Force decided in December 2021 to retire the E-8 fleet, paving the way for the USAF to donate the aircraft to SOWELA.

“The acquisition of this surveillance military aircraft is an extraordinary accomplishment for SOWELA,” said SOWELA Chancellor Dr. Neil Aspinwall. “This jet will provide the students in our Aviation program the opportunity to work with avionic systems and technologies they would otherwise not have access to. We are extremely grateful to receive this $35 million aircraft training platform. We are fortunate to have a great business partner such as Chennault International Airport that provides convenient airport access to accommodate such a massive aircraft.”

The massive airborne ground surveillance aircraft will be added to SOWELA’s growing fleet for its popular Aviation Maintenance Technology program. It is the only program in Louisiana to offer students a military-modified large-body turbofan aircraft for hands-on instruction. The Boeing 707 will be fully integrated into each area of the FAA-certified curriculum, including Airframe and Powerplants (A&P).

“Most A&P programs utilize smaller aircraft in their curriculum because it is financially difficult to purchase large aircraft or large aircraft components,” said School of Transportation and Applied Technology Dean Robert Null. “Due to this jet donation, SOWELA’s program will provide students the necessary exposure to the systems, engines and airframe components unique to the aircraft commonly used in the airline industry. Because of this, our students will have an advantage when seeking employment after their training.”

The mission of SOWELA’s Aviation Maintenance program is to provide a hands-on learning environment and practical application of aircraft maintenance training. The program is a federally regulated Aviation Training School certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). It is accredited by the Association of Technology, Management and Applied Engineering (ATMAE). Students who complete the program can test for FAA Airframe and Powerplant certification.

“While E-8 Joint STARS was still in development, this aircraft deployed in 1991 and flew 49 combat sorties in support of Operation Desert Storm, testing and proving the new capability,” said Col. Scott Rothermel, Air Force Material Command senior materiel leader. “It was later modified to be a pilot trainer aircraft and used by hundreds of aircrews in that capacity. Upon its Air Force retirement, it is being transferred to SOWELA in accordance with GSA’s determination, where it will surely provide technical education value for many years to come.”

In addition to its Aviation Maintenance Technology program, SOWELA offers more than 30 technical and academic programs including Chemical Laboratory Technology, Machine Tool Technology, Culinary Arts, Drafting and Design Technology, Surgical Technology, Accounting Technology and Forest Technology.

SOWELA was recently named #1 community college in Louisiana by Niche. SOWELA is also nationally recognized as a “Great College to Work For” by the Great Colleges to Work For program and ranked #36 on the “Top 100 Community Colleges in America” by Stacker.

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About SOWELA Technical Community College

SOWELA Technical Community College provides traditional, distance, and lifelong learning experiences and awards associate degrees, technical diplomas, and certificates. The College empowers learners in career and technical education and enables transfer students to pursue a four-year degree, so all learners excel as globally competitive citizens. The College has been educating the region’s workforce for 85 years.

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