Public 2-Year Schools

Bergen Community College’s Donated Airplane Contributes to College’s Flight Path

From flight simulators to drones and high-altitude balloons, in recent years, Bergen Community College has distinguished itself as a hub for aviation-related study.

And now, thanks to donor Woody Saland, its fleet includes an airplane.

Saland personally constructed the “Onex,” a 16-foot, single-seat plane, from a kit produced by Sonex Aircraft. Completion took 1,500 hours over two years. But, after 40 hours of flight time, Saland spent the last year searching for a nonprofit organization that could benefit from his handiwork. Bergen’s focus on aviation education drew him to the institution – and Dean of Math, Science and Technology PJ Ricatto, Ph.D.

Bergen Community College Dean of Math, Science and Technology PJ Ricatto, Ph.D., Onex builder and donor Woody Saland and Bergen Vice President of Academic Affairs William Mullaney, Ph.D.

“Bergen has developed a nationally recognized STEM curriculum that responds to workforce needs and prepares students for entry into the best research institutions in the nation,” Ricatto said. “The institution has also received considerable support from grants, foundations and individuals like Woody Saland. Their generosity enables the College to raise the bar even further, which is very exciting for our students.”

The Bergen Community College Foundation officially accepted the Onex at the main campus in December.

Independent appraisers have valued the aircraft at $65,000. Saland also donated a trailer that will enable the College to bring the plane to local events such as parades and even high school “college nights,” according to Ricatto.

Aside from its status as a showpiece for the aviation program and the institution as a whole – plans exist to brand the aircraft with Bergen logos and colors – students will use the plane for hands-on training in instrumentation, engineering and repair, complementing the skills learned in the College’s flight simulators and avionics courses. The aircraft will not, however, fly.

The donated Onex builds on the institution’s aviation program, which originated with a $2 million grant from the Emil Buehler Perpetual Trust, and Bergen’s comprehensive commitment to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education. Earlier this year, the federal government awarded the institution a five-year, $5.3 million grant to prepare 2,500 students for graduation and STEM careers. The College received a $3.8 million grant in 2011 that helped raised STEM enrollment by 67 percent during the project.

A recent study by online salary database PayScale found that seven of the top 10 highest paying careers for associate degree graduates are in STEM fields. With average annual earnings of $65,600, Bergen graduates ranked No. 11 in the U.S. for mid-career salaries in the same research.

Bergen’s flight path also includes clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration to operate unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) on campus, making it one of only three community colleges to receive such an exemption. The exemption allows the College to enter the U.S. National Airspace System and offer educational programs featuring the operation of the popular technology.

STEM students also launched a high-altitude balloon this summer to photograph images of the Earth at approximately 96,000 feet.

For information on Bergen’s aviation program, please email

Based in Paramus, Bergen Community College (, a public two-year coeducational college, enrolls 15,000 students at locations in Paramus, the Philip Ciarco Jr. Learning Center in Hackensack and Bergen Community College at the Meadowlands in Lyndhurst. The College offers associate degree, certificate and continuing education programs in a variety of fields. More students graduate from Bergen than any other community college in the state.