Aviation Faculty Bios

To ensure UNK’s Aviation students are taught the reality of operations faced in the global aviation industry, all our Aviation faculty and instructors have extensive operational and teaching experience from around the world.

In fact, our aviation faculty have worked in over 120 countries, flown more than 30,000 hours in over 50 aircraft types, from commercial airliners to fighter jets, helicopters to gliders, high performance aerobatic trainers to spacecraft simulators, and have achieved over 100,000 takeoffs and landings. Our aviation faculty and instructors have flown from the snowcapped Arctic to the jungles of Southeast Asia, from the tropical Caribbean Islands to the deserts of the Middle East and North Africa, from North America’s Rocky Mountains to the Alps of Central Europe, and from the fjords of Scandinavia to the most remote islands of the South Pacific.

With experience flying in a variety of roles from commercial passenger transport, cargo and logistical transport, search and rescue, medical evacuation, tourism, law enforcement, humanitarian disaster relief, and military operations, our aviation faculty have a combined 150+ years of aviation experience.

Captain David Ballinger, CD, MA, ATP – Director, Assistant Professor

ballingerd@unk.edu
Office: (308) 865-8803

Captain David Ballinger’s primary goal is to guide UNK aviation students toward obtaining gainful employment in the global aviation industry. With over 45 years of flight experience in private, commercial, military, and government operations and training, Captain Ballinger’s research interests lie in aerospace and astronaut training, aerospace human factors, aviation leadership, and maximizing pilot physiological and psychological performance. A Doctor of Education in Global Leadership candidate, he holds four Airline Transport Pilot Licenses (ATPL) (United States, Canada, Eastern Caribbean, United Arab Emirates), a Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies (Global Aviation Management), and a Diploma in Aviation Studies from the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

Captain Ballinger holds a Space Pilot Certificate from the National Aerospace Training and Research (NASTAR) Center, the first Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved center able to meet the training requirements for commercial human spaceflight, with training in space physiology, high G loading in multi-axes, high altitude and decompression, multi-axis accelerations, and zero G flight. Qualified as a civilian and military fixed-wing and rotary-wing pilot, he has taught the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) ATPL and Multicrew Pilot License (MPL) programs for one of the world’s leading international airlines. He previously held military positions including United Nations Aviation Liaison Officer, Squadron Flight Commander, Squadron Training Officer, and Aviation Tactics Instructor pilot with combat experience.

Dr. Dan Smith, LtCol USMC (Ret), EdD, MSc, BSc – Assistant Professor

smithd3@unk.edu
Office: (308) 865-8395

Dr. Daniel B. Smith graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in History from the United States Naval Academy in 1996 and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant. Upon graduation from The Basic School in February 1997, he reported for flight training at NAS Pensacola, Florida, and was designated a Naval Aviator in December 1998. Assigned to Marine Aircraft Group 29 at Marine Corps Air Station New River, North Carolina, First Lieutenant Smith trained as a CH-46E pilot with Marine Helicopter Training Squadron 204 (HMT-204). Following training, he joined Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 263 (HMM-263), the “Thunder Eagles.” In March 2000, he deployed to the Mediterranean Sea as part of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) aboard the USS Wasp and participated in operations throughout Europe, to include Kosovo. Upon completion of this deployment, Captain Smith was selected to transition to the MV-22 and reported to the 24th MEU to deploy as the II Marine Liaison Element Detachment Officer in Charge as the Team Leader and Forward Air Controller.

In January 2002, Captain Smith opted to delay V-22 transition and instead transferred to Marine Aircraft Group 39 at Marine Corps Air Station Camp Pendleton, California, and joined Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 364 (HMM-364), the “Purple Foxes.” He assumed the duties of Standardization Officer and Aviation Safety Officer for the squadron. He immediately deployed to South Korea to participate in Exercise Foal Eagle, followed by a deployment in January 2003 to Kuwait to support Operation Iraqi Freedom I and the initial operations in Iraq. During this tour, Captain Smith performed dozens of safety mishap investigations.

In June 2004, Captain Smith reported to the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California, where he earned a Master of Science degree in Management in March 2006.  Upon completion of graduate school, he reported to Headquarters Marine Corps, Manpower and Reserve Affairs at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia. During this tour, he was the Aviation Planner for the Marine Corps. As the Aviation Planner, he was responsible for planning for the MV-22, UH-1Y, KC-130T, and F-35 transitions for the Marine Corps.

In June 2008, Major Smith transferred to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Training Squadron 204, MCAS New River, to transition to the MV-22B Osprey. Upon successfully completing the transition, he reported to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 261, the “Raging Bulls,” to assist with the transition of the squadron from the CH-46E to MV-22B aircraft. He was assigned as the Squadron Logistics Officer and deployed the squadron to NAS El Centro, California, and then to Camp Bastion, Afghanistan. From 2009-2010, Major Smith participated in Operation Enduring Freedom as part of the first V-22 squadron in that theater of operations. Upon redeployment, Major Smith assumed the duties as the squadron Aircraft Maintenance Officer. In 2011, Major Smith reported to Marine Aircraft Group 26 to assume the duties as the Personnel Support Detachment 26 Commanding Officer. He held this position until February 2012 when he was transferred to Naval Air Systems Command, Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland.

LtCol Smith was assigned to PMA-275, the V-22 Joint Program Office from 2012-2015. Initially, he performed the duties of the MV-22 Class Desk Officer, then as the Deputy Lead for the V-22 Joint Development Team, and finally as the V-22 In-Service Team Lead. In May 2015 LtCol Smith reported to the Marine Aviation Detachment, Patuxent River as the Manpower Officer to oversee the development and management of the Marine Corps’ Aviation Acquisition Professionals. On 27 May 2016, LtCol Smith retired from the Marine Corps. 

In July 2016, Dr. Smith joined Clarion University to assume his first civilian role as the Director of Budgets and Academic Planning in the Office of Academic Affairs. In 2017, he opened the Clarion University Veteran Service Office to serve the student veterans on the Clarion and Venango campuses, and online. Dr. Smith performed these roles until August 2020, when he transitioned into the role of adjunct faculty member in the Department of Management and Marketing. In August 2020, Dr. Smith also successfully completed the program of study to be awarded the degree of Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership and Management, with a concentration in Human Resource Development, from Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In August 2021, Dr. Smith assumed his current role as an Associate Professor of Aviation Systems Management at the University of Nebraska at Kearney.

LtCol Smith’s personal decorations include the Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal w/ Combat Distinguishing Device “V”, Air Medal with Eleven Strike/Flight awards, the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with two gold stars, and the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal with one gold star. Credentials include Helicopter Aircraft Commander, Tiltrotor Aircraft Commander, USMC Instrument Evaluator, USMC NATOPS Standardization Evaluation, Functional Check Pilot Evaluator, Section Leader, Division Leader, Tactical Systems Instructor, Defense Acquisition Corps Level 2 Program Manager, Defense Acquisition Corps Level 2 Systems Engineer, and Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership and Management.

Captain Al Spain, MBA, BSc, ATP, CFII – Assistant Professor

spaina@unk.edu
Office: (308) 865-8504

al-spain.jpg

Captain Al Spain brings over 50 years of operations leadership to UNK. His background reflects a career spanning general aviation, military, airline, and corporate aviation operations. Most recently, Captain Spain served as a founder and Senior Vice President Operations of JetBlue Airways Corporation in New York. He retired from JetBlue in 2006 and prior to JetBlue, he was Vice President Flight Operations for Continental Micronesia Airlines, a subsidiary of Continental Airlines. Captain Spain retired from Continental Airlines in 1998 after serving in Flight Standards and Training Division as well as a Captain in line flight operations. He was the FAA designated Director of Operations for both Continental Micronesia and JetBlue. He was domicile Chief Pilot for Oceanic Contractors, a privately owned airline operating in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Most recently, Captain Spain served on the Board of Directors of Pinnacle Airlines, Inc.

Captain Spain has recently served the US Federal Government’s Joint Planning and Development Office (JPDO) as an Independent Assessment Team member. He also was a member of the National Academies of Science, National Research Committee on Research and Development for Wake Turbulence and NAOMS review committee. He recently served on the FAA Safety Team (FAAST) as a Safety Representative. He is currently involved with Civil Air Patrol at the Wing and National levels, is working with Unmanned Aircraft System development, and is also a member of the Association of Unmanned Vehicles International.

Captain Spain holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Louisiana Tech University and a Master of Business Administration from Concordia University (Montreal, Canada). He is a Senior Member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, has served as a member of the Industry Advisory Board of MIT’s Global Aviation Industry Program, and was a member of the Aviation Department Advisory Committee of the State University of New York at Farmingdale. Captain Spain served on the board of The Low Country Economic Development Alliance and the Beaufort County Airports Board. He previously served on the Aviation Management Advisory Board of Auburn University and is a member of the National Association of Corporate Directors. Captain Spain flew as a combat pilot in Vietnam (Forward Air Controller) and among his awards are the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and Air Medal for Valor. His last military assignment was as Chief, Flight Evaluation Branch, USAAVNS.

Captain Denis Boissonneault, BSc, ATPL(A) MEL, CPL(A) SEL/S, CFII – Chief Instructor

boissonneaultd@unk.edu
Office: (308) 865-8149

Captain Denis Boissonneault began his aviation career in 1993 when he joined the United States Marine Corps as an Aviation Ordnance Technician. He worked on the AV8B Harrier and F-18D Hornet. During his seven-year tour in the Marine Corps, Captain Boissonneault traveled to Mogadishu, Somalia; Kaposvar, Hungary; Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Kuwait; Perth, Australia; Okinawa and Iwakuni, Japan; Osan, South Korea, and throughout the United States. He was honorably discharged having earned the rank of Sergeant.

While in Marine Corps VMA-214 he was deployed to Mogadishu, Somalia, for combat operations for the extraction of United Nations forces. He was assigned the billet of Technical Publications Librarian where he learned how to efficiently navigate and update technical manuals. He also earned the billet of Quality Assurance Safety Observer (QASO) making him responsible for the inspection and signoff of both maintenance and ordnance loading events. He also became the only authorized Ordnance Technician to start the AV8B aircraft and bring the power up to 60% for aircraft diagnostics. Mr. Boissonneault also was the technician in charge of the production of checklists for the new ATHS modification in the AV8B which would be used in the future development of the 5th generation aircraft and weapon systems. He attained nearly 300 hours of AV8B Simulator time during his time in the squadron.

During his tour with VMFA(AW)-533 Sergeant Boissonneault was nominated the Squadron Training Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO).  Sergeant Boissonneault tracked, logged, and maintained the training records for all personnel in the squadron. Sergeant Boissonneault deployed to Iwakuni and Okinawa, Japan as well as Kurat, Thailand, for joint forces exercises.  Sergeant Boissonneault also deployed to Tazar Airfield in Kaposvar, Hungary in support of combat operations for the liberation of Kosovo. During this deployment Sergeant Boissonneault oversaw airfield security. Sergeant Boissonneault was honorably discharged from the US Marine Corps in October 2000 with a strong love for aviation.

During his separation from the military Mr. Boissonneault began to fly with a friend in a small airplane called the Sonerai, and this only fueled his love of aviation. While working as a quality assurance member of a construction company, he witnessed the horrors or September 11, 2001, and soon joined the US Army National guard where he was soon activated into the US Army. He was deployed to Shaw Air Force Base for two years. During his second year of the tour, he travelled to Charleston Air Force Base where he earned his FAA Private Pilot Certificate.

Shortly after his honorable discharge from the United States Army and the Army National Guard, Captain Boissonneault continue to earn his pilot ratings in Florida. He earned his Instrument, Commercial and Flight Instructor ratings. Captain Boissonneault began his flight instructing at Dean International Flight School in Miami, Florida, working with Indian, Spanish and US students. Later, Captain Boissonneault moved to Savannah, Georgia, to perform flight instruction and move closer to his family.  He later become a corporate pilot for a small company flying a Cessna 182.

Captain Boissonneault wanted to grow his training experience and headed back to Florida to become the Assistant Chief Flight Instructor for Orlando Flight Training, a large international flight school, before taking a job at a smaller flight school in Clearwater Beach, Florida. Having extensive experience in how both large and small flight schools operated, Captain Boissonneault opened his own flight school in Savannah, Georgia, in August of 2008. With the recession hitting the economy hard, Captain Boissonneault applied his business acumen and his school not only survived, but flourished, opening three new locations and hosting over 500 students with nine aircraft and nine instructors by August 2009. His flight school offered Aerobatic, Seaplane, Private Pilot, and Instrument Pilot training. He also streamlined the rotary-wing to fixed-wing pilot training program that was eventually echoed throughout the aviation training industry.

Captain Boissonneault ultimately sold his flight school and moved his family to Indonesia under contract to help build two new flight schools. In Batam, Indonesia, he worked with the Director General of Civil Aviation to create a new Part 141 program mixing EASA and FAA training programs. He also worked with airline Chief Executive Officers to formulate new hiring requirements for all new airline cadets in Indonesia. Captain Boissonneault completed his 2 ½ year contract and returned to the United States where he began teaching and flying aerobatics and simulated air-to-air combat in the Extra 330 and Waco YMC-5F aircraft as well as performing the duties of Chief Flight Instructor in Las Vegas, Nevada, and San Diego, California. Captain Boissonneault later moved on to fly with Boutique Airlines as the Captain of the Pilatus PC-12 aircraft. He flew from Atlanta, Georgia, to Nashville, Tennessee, route almost daily.

Missing the joy of training student pilots, Captain Boissonneault then moved to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where he helped to start up an FAA Part 141 program and turned a local flying club into a successful flight training establishment. Captain Boissonneault then returned to Charter flying along the southeast coast of the United States with the same company. Captain Boissonneault soon earned his Airline Transport Pilot Certificate and flew the Embraer 175 for Expressjet Airlines. He continued flying with Expressjet until the airline shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Captain Boissonneault has attained more than 7,200 flight hours and given more than 4,000 hours of flight instruction. He brings his extensive general aviation and commercial aviation experience in his role as a Chief Instructor to the University of Nebraska at Kearney.

Nebraska Flight School Certificated Instructors


  • Captain Luke Zrostlik, ME CFII
  • Captain Matt Clemens, CFII