MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. --
Aviators from all over the country traveled to sunny Long Beach, California for the 30th annual Women in Aviation International Conference March 14 – 16, ten of the female aviators attending were Air Force Junior ROTC cadets who recently earned their pilots wings.
The cadets completed the Air Force JROTC Flight Academy program last summer, where they had the opportunity to earn their private pilot’s certificate.
Among other conference events, the cadets were inspired by listening to well-known female pilots who have overcome adversity, including Jessica Cox, the first armless pilot, and Tammie Jo Shults, one of the first female Navy pilots and now a commercial airline pilot.
The Air Force works with numerous external groups, such as WAI, to increase awareness and opportunities for underrepresented youth and Airmen.
“The Chief of Staff of the Air Force Flight Academy Scholarship is designed to bring back the ‘luster’ of aviation amongst the nation’s youth as well as increase minority and female participation,” said Lt. Col. Willie J. Allen II, director, Air Force Junior ROTC Flight Academy. “The current minority and female presence in aviation is around ten percent and six percent respectively. The Flight Academy scholarship has surpassed these statistics based on the fact that 37 percent of our applicants and 25 percent of our selects were female or of a minority demographic. Collaboration with organizations such as Women in Aviation and our partnering universities enables real growth for the industry as well as providing mentors in both civil and military aviation career fields.”
Junior ROTC Cadet Maria Hall, a senior at Tivy High School, Texas, aspires to be an Air Force fighter pilot, and the Flight Academy brought her one step closer to her dream.
“The Flight Academy quite literally gave me my wings and afforded me the opportunity to grow and learn as much as possible in the field of aviation,” said Hall.
She said it was incredible to see and meet women who paved the way for aspiring female pilots and looks forward to carrying on their legacy.
Women in Aviation International is a non-profit organization that encourages the advancement of female aviators all over the world in both the military and civilian sector.
“The conference is absolutely amazing,” said Air Force Junior ROTC Cadet Jailyn Rivera, a junior at Citrus High School, Florida. “I’m so thankful for this experience. I have met so many amazing women who have accomplished so many things, and it really gives me hope for my future, because I’ve had some things that I’ve had to overcome. It reminds me that as long as you work hard and keep pursing your dream then anything is achievable.”
Demographically, careers in aviation have been dominated by white males. Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. David L. Goldfein and Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson want to ensure young women are aware that careers in aviation are viable options for them.
During a podcast interview with Politico in February 2019, Wilson said that America is building a more lethal, ready Air Force in which women will play a key role, the nation must change how it talks about its nation’s protectors. She also added that hard work and talent are valued in the defense of our nation and the doors are open to women.
“Flying is incredible, and it should not be limited to just one gender or one ethnicity,” said Hall. “We see the challenge that, yes, it’s predominantly been a male-dominated industry, but there’s no reason why women or men can’t do it. I look forward to the challenge and working with both men and women from all backgrounds and walks of life.”
The Flight Academy is a response to Air Force senior leadership’s priority to increase diversity in aviation and return the thrill of aviation to high school students.
These cadets were among the 120 chosen to participate in the inaugural Air Force JROTC Flight Academy in the summer of 2018. The program sends selected cadets to attend an accredited aviation program at partnering universities and work toward a private pilot certificate. For the summer of 2019, the Flight Academy is preparing to increase the scholarship numbers to 176 with the inclusion of 22 Air Force ROTC units and two Civil Air Patrol units.
During the conference, the cadets explored the exhibit hall and met representatives from aircraft manufacturers and all of the major commercial airlines, while upholding the professional standards of the Air Force. Their poised, professional demeanor led many attendees to forget these cadets were high school students, exemplifying the role Air Force JROTC has on young adults.
Hall said she credits Air Force JROTC for molding her into the well-rounded person that she is and that through the program she has been given incredible opportunities and a community from which to learn from.
Rivera said she has gained similar benefits from participating in Air Force JROTC and plans to pursue a future as an Air Force pilot, but believes that teenagers who are not seeking a military career can benefit from what the program offers.
“JROTC is not only for the military,” said Rivera. “I think that’s where some cadets and students get misinformation. It really is just to create a better citizen and help you create better organization for your life and become a focused person so you can establish a good foundation for possible careers. It really just sets you up to be a successful individual.”
Among the 10 cadets who attended the conference, six have expressed their intentions to pursue a military career as pilots and four received Air Force ROTC scholarships.