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High school students attend summer Flight Academy to pursue private pilot certification

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WARRENSBURG — Only a year after many of them received their driver’s licenses, a group of high school students are earning their private pilot’s certification from an eight-week summer program, May 31 to July 23, at the University of Central Missouri.

The group of 10 students, most preparing to enter their senior year of high school, are participants in the Air Force Junior ROTC Flight Academy, Chief of Staff Private Pilot Scholarship program. 

This initiative is part of a collective effort between the aerospace industry and the Air Force to help resolve the nation’s military and civilian pilot shortage while also giving students a valuable higher education experience. 

The Flight Academy also addresses issues such as the need for more diversity in an industry where women currently make up less than five to six percent of the pool of professional pilots and minorities only 10-12 percent.

“I’m definitely enjoying it,” Paige McCarty, a senior from Branson High School, said. ”It would be a lot harder to get my pilot’s license without this training. There’s a lot of things I didn’t realize.”

McCarty hopes to get into a career that combines aviation with the medical field.

“I want to be a medevac helicopter pilot,” she said. “I’m getting an (Emergency Medical Technician) license right now and a bachelor’s in nursing. I also want to be a fighter pilot. I’ll take whatever I get.”

David Jupp, an instructional faculty member in UCM’s School of Aviation who is working with Air Force JROTC cadets, said this is UCM’s first year to participate in the program. 

It began in summer 2018 with six institutions providing flight training. 

After the Air Force canceled it in 2020 due to the pandemic, it is continuing to grow and UCM is now one of 27 universities to host the Flight Academy. 

This is not a summer camp, but a program that leads to 12 hours of college credit specifically for students involved in Air Force JROTC. 

“The Air Force is picking up the tab for all of this,” Jupp said. “It’s a good deal for the students because those who complete this program have a very high success rate in Air Force pilot training, so this helps them (Air Force) to screen candidates for the pilot program.” 

After making it through a rigorous selection process, students are provided a scholarship valued at approximately $22,500 to attend the Flight Academy, paying for transportation, room, board, academics and flight hours required in the program. 

“We are delighted to participate in the Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFJROTC) University Flight Academy scholarship program,” Jose Mercado, dean of the Harmon College of Business and Professional Studies, said. “UCM has outstanding Certificated Flight Instructors and the necessary fleet of aircraft to help the high school cadets earn their Private Pilot Certificate. We are more than happy to support the initiative of the U.S. Air Force to increase aviation diversity.” 

According to the Air Force JROCT Flight Academy website, each partnering university also has the potential to influence student participants to become future Certified Flight Instructors who could assist with aviation training needs. 

One sixth of all licensed pilots have a CFI rating and the average tenure of a professional pilot student working as a CFI is approximately one year. 

An individual who successfully completes the Flight Academy could potentially provide a university that provides pilot training two to three years of service as a CFI before completing their college education.

Jupp said the Air Force seeks to provide opportunities for Private Pilot Certification training at facilities that are in close proximity to the student participants. 

“It’s quite an honor to work with these students,” Keaton Rex, a UCM Certified Flight Instructor, said. “They are really dedicated. It’s very tough for them in an accelerated program. We are trying to get them through it in only eight weeks, but these students have come in really prepared and it’s a joy to work with them.”

“We’ve had some basic aerodynamics and kind of got them fluid with the aircraft,” Greg Hawkins, a UCM CFI,said. “We taught them about our pre-flight process here at UCM to ensure a safe flight environment. We taught them pre-flight procedures, and we’re currently working on positive aircraft control, getting that built up so that we can start getting into landings, and getting the students ready for their first solo.”

Bruce Reinhard, a senior at Falcon High School in Falcon, Colorado, said the colonel who oversees the Air Force JROTC program at his high school encouraged him to get involved in the program, particularly considering his aspiration to become a military pilot.

“It’s pretty invaluable,” Reinhard said. “It’s a really big stepping stone to what I want to do.”

For more information about the Air Force JROTC and the Flight Academy, visit airunivesity.af.edu/holmcenter/afjrrotc. 

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