Auburn Spotlight, James Birdsong

"Our goal is for Auburn to be the aviation program of choice for students and employers as we embark on the next 75 years of aviation education."
James Birdsong
Aviation Lecturer

Spotlight Interview

Tell us about your background and what inspired you to join the Air Force and teach at Auburn.

Like many aviators, as a child, I dreamed of flying and becoming a pilot. I fulfilled that dream by serving in the Air Force for 20 years and was very fortunate to fly the C-130. I flew with a lot of Auburn grads and knew that the university had a great aviation program.  As luck would have it, my last assignment was a teaching appointment at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, which became the perfect bridge to a teaching career at Auburn University. The week after I retired from the Air Force, I began working at Auburn University, first leading summer youth programs, and then teaching aviation.

How has your time at Auburn shaped your passion for aviation?

Teaching aviation at Auburn is an honor, especially given that so many of my Air Force friends are program graduates. The passion and enthusiasm that our students, alumni, staff and faculty bring to the program make it a very inspiring place to teach. 

Since coming to Auburn in 2010, how has your teaching evolved?

Aviation is an ever-evolving industry and becoming a lifelong learner is key to industry relevancy. I’ve learned to emphasize this with students who have been exceptional in reaching out to industry and finding new experiential learning opportunities. Through these experiences, students develop wisdom and the importance of becoming a lifelong learner is reinforced.

Tell us about your role in the youth aviation summer enrichment program. 

I serve as the lead faculty for our aviation summer youth programs, which are designed to help high school students learn about the many careers available in aviation.  During the course of a week, students get a wide assortment of experiential learning opportunities that include tours of Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, Atlanta Air Route Traffic Control Center, Delta Air Lines Technical Operations Center, Cox Enterprise’s Aviation Department, and GE Aviation.  Participants learn about aerospace design from engineering faculty and get to build and launch model rockets.  We tour the Tuskegee Airmen’s Historic Site to learn about the Airmen’s Double Victory firsthand.  Students take a discovery flight around Auburn in a C-172, operate small Unmanned Aerial Systems and enjoy fly-ins by regional airlines, military aircraft and local aircraft owners.

What are your long-term goals at Auburn?

We are celebrating the 75th anniversary of flight education at Auburn this fall. Economic globalization has resulted in more people traveling by air than ever before – making aviation a growth industry. This growth, coupled with an aging aviation workforce, means the industry is ripe for a new generation of leaders. Our goal is for Auburn to be the aviation program of choice for students and employers as we embark on the next 75 years of aviation education.