SPRINGDALE – Nnamdi Olebara, a Charles Herbert Flowers High School senior, was able to obtain something that less than one percent of Americans have: a private pilot license.
Through a newly implemented Air Force initiative, Olebara was the only student throughout the Prince George’s area to complete the program and earn his certification.
Going into the third year in his high school’s Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFJROTC), Olebara wasn’t sure of the direction he wanted to take his career path. But after spending eight weeks at Liberty University studying aviation under the Flight Academy Scholarship Program with other high schoolers, he has become confident that his future will take him towards a career in aviation.
“I always knew that I wanted to serve our country, but I didn’t know what career field,” said Olebara. “But now I know for a fact that I want to be a pilot for our country, and maybe even the FBI or CIA one day after I retire from the Air Force.”
The Air Force JROTC Flight Academy, Chief of Staff Private Pilot Scholarship Program is an opportunity for young members of AFJROTC worldwide to earn their pilot certification at six different universities across the nation. But this program was created for a specific mission: to alleviate the national pilot shortage within both the military and civilian ranks, increase student interest in aviation and increase diversity within the field.
Maj. Patrick D. Stovall, a senior Aerospace Science Instructor at Flowers High School, explains further on the definition of diversity and what the vision of inclusion looks like for the academy.
“The idea of diversity does certainly include ethnicity, but it is broader than that,” said Stovall. “The idea of diversity not only includes ethnicity, not only includes gender, but it includes socioeconomic background. Perhaps it would include first-generation college students. It would include individuals who had a major life event that they’ve overcome. So those are the things that they’re looking for in this totality.”
As of right now, women make up less than six percent of pilots and minorities represent less than 10 percent.
More than 750 cadets applied to the program, with only 120 cadets being chosen based on various criteria such as letters of recommendation and passing a written test that covers general aviation knowledge. Scholarships are valued at approximately $20,000.
Once accepted into the program, students go through an intense study regimen that compacts two semesters worth of information into a six to eight-week program. With a unique classroom set in the sky, students spend eight hours in the air, mastering the techniques that would later be tested on the practical flying test for their private pilot license. Most students are coming in with zero flight hours and would have to reach the prerequisite minimum of 40 hours of practice flying time.
“So, I work as a CFI, or certified flight instructor, instructing students one-on-one from zero hours all the way up to their commercial pilot’s certificates,” said Bruce Gibson, a flight instructor for the program. “I am normally teaching college level students but this summer I had a chance to teach high school students like Nnamdi with the JROTC program.”
After that, students would return to their books, fully investing their time into learning everything about aviation.
“They learned everything from weather formations to what we call pilotage or dead reckoning, which means you utilize the simple formula of rate times time equals distance,” said Stovall. “So, if you know where you are on an aeronautical chart, you know the direction you’re heading, your magnetic heading and how long you’re heading that way at what speed, you know where you’re going to be in a certain amount of time.”
With the program being expected to double by next summer; enrolling 500 cadets by fiscal year of 2020; and open itself up to the Army, Navy, Marine Junior ROTC programs, and the Civil Air Patrol cadets; one thing that’s being emphasized is the importance of these programs for high school students.
“The impact is, on one end of the spectrum, you may have influenced a high school student to be a better citizen, and I certainly don’t want to undersell that,” said Stovall. “On the other end of the spectrum, you may have inspired a high school student to become a pilot, which is huge. So, the idea that in high school, we can shape, mold, and help to determine a high school individual’s potential or future is extraordinary. So, the importance of this program cannot be overstated.”
“The Air Force ROTC is not meant to recruit people to the military, it’s meant to build student character for our nation, and to create leaders for our nation,” said Olebara. “So, air force ROTC has definitely helped me become a better leader in my community and in my school.”