Alumnus and Embry-Riddle Take Virtual Learning to New Level

By bringing virtual learning to Embry-Riddle students, retired U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 4 Michael Durant (’95, ’97, WW) sees an opportunity to educate future leaders for the aviation and commercial space industry.

The founder of Pinnacle Solutions, an engineering and training services company based in Huntsville, Ala., Durant is bringing virtual technology to Embry-Riddle’s Worldwide Campus students through the development of online laboratories.

In 2014, his company partnered with Embry-Riddle to develop a virtual crash lab for students to learn crash investigation. In 2015, it developed the Aerial Robotics Virtual Lab, which will be available to Worldwide Campus students this spring. Through the robotics lab, students can design and build, virtually, their own unmanned aircraft systems, test flight capability and analyze the results from anywhere in the world.

“This is a truly interactive experience,” Durant says. “This takes the whole concept of online and distance learning to a new level.”

Kenneth Witcher (’02, WW), dean of Embry-Riddle’s College of Aeronautics at Embry-Riddle’s Worldwide Campus, says recent technological advances allow the robotics lab a wide range of functions. “It’s leaps and bounds above the initial capability we had with the crash lab,” he says.

Durant is best known as the Black Hawk helicopter pilot who was shot down in Somalia in 1993 and held captive for 11 days before being released. His story is chronicled in the movie Black Hawk Down, and in Durant’s best-selling book, In the Company of Heroes.

Retired from the U.S. Army in 2001, Durant is committed to hiring veterans, as well as students and graduates of his alma mater. Of his company’s 135 current employees, more than 50 are veterans and 13 are Embry-Riddle students or alumni.

Regarding his success, Durant says, “I took advantage of opportunities when I saw them. The one thing I’d say about me is that I don’t want to look back on life and say, ‘What if?’ I want to say that if there was an opportunity, I took it.”