This week, the Fairmont State University Aviation Center of Excellence welcomed its inaugural class of cadets to the summer 2021 U.S. Air Force Junior Reserve Officer’s Training Corps Flight Academy, a program that is offered by just 25 universities across the country through a partnership with the U.S. Air Force.
“Every one of these cadets is so sharp, and you can really see their promise,” said Joel Kirk, Chief Pilot and Fairmont State Aviation Center of Excellence Director.
Of more than 2,000 applicants, the 400 cadets who were chosen for the program represent a select group of high school seniors who meet the rigorous standards of all U.S Air Force Academy candidates. Ten of those 400 airmen in training are completing the program at Fairmont State, residing on the University’s campus for a total of eight weeks while they learn objectives that will prepare them for future military and flight careers.
“The majority of our staff at the Aviation Center of Excellence are former or current military flight instructors, and therefore, have a first-hand understanding of the needs of our cadets and how we can best position their training to meet their goals,” said Kirk. “Our niche is that we are small, and students will benefit from our ‘quality over quantity’ philosophy, with more one-on-one, specialized attention.”
Ty Miller, who is one of few current Air Force Academy cadets who are also participating in the program, said he is not only looking forward to earning his private pilot’s license, but also to serving as a resource for the younger members of his cohort.
“Throughout this experience, I hope to become a competent pilot and be a sponge so I can learn as much as I can from our knowledgeable instructor-pilots,” he said. “I’m also here to answer questions and educate these high school students about the Air Force Academy and the experience it offers.”
Though training has only been underway for a matter of days, Miller said it has been off to a “fast and furious” start. According to Kirk, the cadets’ instruction is similar to Air Force Academy Flight training, in that they have opportunities to fly one to two times each day, six days per week. In fact, Logan Clarida, a rising high school senior from New Lenox, Illinois, said he is already preparing to take his first solo flight next week.
“It’s been a sharp learning curve,” he said. “But each of the instructors is truly one of a kind. They are all so very certified and professional.”
Clarida said he quickly found a sense of camaraderie within his cohort and is grateful to be sharing with his fellow cadets what he calls a “once in a lifetime opportunity.”
“Getting to know the other cadets has been wonderful. We all come from different parts of the country, so it’s been truly awesome to learn about each other’s experiences,” said Clarida. “This experience so far has been both amazing and challenging.”
Fairmont State’s participation in the U.S. Air Force Junior Reserve Officer’s Training Corps Flight Academy program was contingent on its ability to expand the Aviation Center of Excellence’s fleet from five to six operating airplanes. The opportunity became reality earlier this spring when Fairmont native, David McRobie, donated his personal aircraft to the University, ultimately creating opportunities for students for years to come.
“We strive to offer unmatched experiential learning opportunities,” said Mirta M. Martin, Fairmont State University President. “Our aviation program is one of the best of its kind in the nation. With the introduction of the Air Force Junior Reserve Officer’s Training Corps Flight Academy, our expert teacher-mentors can now offer that hands-on training to even more students, and start them on a track to a meaningful, rewarding career.”