Durham's Marine Corps Officer Selection Team offered students free rides in a helicopter, taking off from Boulder Field and circling 1000 feet over campus on Wednesday.
According to the mass email sent to UNH students announcing the rides, the original plan was for the event to run from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. However, after over 300 students waited in line, the rides continued until 5 p.m.
Capt. John Webb, one of the Marines who set up the helicopter rides, put together the event "to get the word out" about the Selection Team and give information to students about both the officer and aviation programs.
"A lot of people don't know we're here," Webb said. "We're the only program that can guarantee a flight contract if you qualify… And we want to build a relationship between the school and Marine Corps."
Students waited in line or, if they had a class, put their name on a numbered waiting list and came back later to stand in the spot their number would be. Some students did not get to go in the air because of the time restraint. At one point in the morning the Marines had to make more copies of their liability waivers because they ran out.
After Conor Vessey, a junior, and Kyla Jones, a sophomore, landed from their flight, they agreed that the UNH campus looked more urban from above than walking through campus.
"It's like a private city in the middle of the woods," Vessey said.
Jones also pointed out that the Whittemore Center looked much smaller from 1000 feet in the air.
Some students had to wait for hours for their turn. Seniors Donna Pohli and Sarah More waited for an hour and a half, but knew that it would be worth the wait.
"It's my first time in a helicopter," More said.
No more than three students at a time could take the five- to seven-minute ride around campus due to space restrictions in the helicopter. As the day went on and more students showed up, rides did not take longer than five minutes. The only reprieve for the helicopter – and its pilot, Maj. Nathan Hoff – was during a refueling at Pease Air Base in Portsmouth from 2:30-3 p.m.
Hoff has been flying since his graduation from flight school in 2001. In that time he took a two-year break for a ground job, during which he taught the Marines on the ground how to deal with situations that require air support, such as medical evacuations.
The helicopter, a Bell-206 Jet Ranger, was a civilian helicopter limited by Federal Aviation Administration rules. During the flight, Hoff said in the headsets that one of these rules is that the helicopter "can't turn more than 60 degrees," – otherwise, the turn would be considered "aerobatics," or trick maneuvers.
According to Staff Sgt. Dale Metcalf, another Marine organizing the rides, the team will try to set up another day because they did not expect over 300 students to show up. When the Marines went to Dartmouth University last week, only about 30 students showed up due to poor weather.
A few students cheered when Webb said that the number of students who showed up "will definitely blow Dartmouth out of the water."
While there is no set date for the next set of helicopter rides, Metcalf does want to make waiting in line more interesting by having food and live events, like tug-of-war.
The Marines also put on larger aircraft displays, called static displays, where the craft does not leave the ground.
Those who are interested in the Marine Corps Officer Programs or the flight school program should contact Webb or visit their office at 12 Jenkins Court in Durham.