High school cadet pursues dream of flying

  • Published
  • By Air Force JROTC Staff
  • Air University Public Affairs

For Ava Lewis, the dream of becoming a pilot was one she was able to share with two other generations of women in her family.

Lewis, a high school senior at the Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, is also a cadet with the school’s Air Force Junior ROTC unit. She spent the summer of 2022 learning how to fly, thanks to JROTC’s Flight Academy program.
“I’ve always loved to fly, but never thought I’d get to be a pilot,” said Lewis. “Flying always felt out of reach. JROTC was the first time I considered learning to fly. I found out about this program through a short presentation given in my JROTC class. I didn’t have too much knowledge on the process of becoming a pilot. All I knew is they’d provided a free scholarship to learn something most people never learn. I figured, why not apply? If I don’t get accepted, I’ll just try again next year. But, I got accepted on the first try.”

The program partners JROTC cadets with a university, where they attend an eight-week aviation training course taught by a flight instructor, and earn their Private Pilot’s Certification. Lewis did Flight Academy through Indiana Wesleyan University and graduated on Aug. 5.

The first flight Lewis logged as a new pilot was a special one for her. She was able to fly her mother and grandmother, who both attended her graduation ceremony, on a Cessna-172 around the airfield where she trained. The three generations of women took off from Marion Municipal Airport in Indiana, and Lewis showed her family the results of months of hard work.

“It felt amazing being able to show off what I’d been working on the whole summer,” said Lewis. “Being able to give them an experience that they’ve never had before made all the training worth it.”

The Flight Academy program is just the first step in what Lewis plans to make a life-long career. Her next goal: becoming a pilot in the U.S. Air Force.

“I’d like to fly the big planes; specifically the ones in the tanker and transport categories,” explained Lewis. “The plane I’m looking into the most the KC-130.”

She also wants to continue the camaraderie that she experienced through JROTC.

“From the start I’ve always loved JROTC. I love the family bond we have and the lessons I learn every day. Knowing that JROTC is just the start to something better motivates me to join the service. I love the idea of being around people with common interests, motivation, and passion. Joining the Air Force and doing something I love with other people who feel the same way and being able to build bonds that’ll last forever, while also having a positive impact on my community and nation is exactly what I look to do in life.”

One of the goals of the Flight Academy program is to encourage cadets like Lewis, an African American female, to pursue the dream of flying in one of the least diverse professions. Women make up less than 7% of pilots in the United States, and less than 12% are minorities.

“The Flight Academy, like so many other Air Force JROTC programs, provides cadets opportunities they may have otherwise never had,” said Retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Gina Humble, the Senior Aerospace Science Instructor at Lewis’ unit. “For young women like Ava, the Flight Academy can give them confidence to pursue and achieve greatness in STEM career fields, prepare them for flying careers, and ultimately diversify the aviation industry. It’s a win-win for our cadets and our nation!”

“Being a minority female in the pilot community means, to me, that I should keep working hard, never give up, and encourage those around me to do the same,” Lewis added. “I’m proud to be able to join such an amazing community and I’m so excited to inspire more people like myself to take risks and do what they love.”

Lewis also encourages others considering the Flight Academy program to make it happen.

“The best advice I can give to other cadets is to just go for it. You get to earn your PPC in only two months and have a head start in an aviation career. That’s the obvious bonus, but Flight Academy is more than just that. It’s a chance to meet people from all over the world, experience a new place, and take a look into college life. It’s a chance to push yourself more than ever, and come out of your comfort zone to become a better version of yourself. I’m forever grateful to the family of cadets I was able to become part of, and I believe anyone can benefit from this program.”