Wed. Jul 24th, 2024

Air Force flight program takes off for its fourth year

By Andrew Scalf Jun 19, 2024
The Cadets learn the mechanics behind flying a plane.

Indiana Wesleyan University and Air Marion are hosting the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps National Flight Program for the fourth year. 

Both recent high school graduates and rising seniors compete for acceptance to the program. In eight weeks’ time, cadets progress from having no flight time to earning their private pilot certifications.

“The impact that (the program) makes on the airport is one thing but then the community also. We’re proud of the kids we want to show them off,” said Andy Darlignton, assistant chief flight instructor for Jeff Air.

With a 94% Private Pilot completion rate against the national average of around 20%, IWU and Air Marion’s program is a premier training program for the U.S. Air Force. Purdue University hosts the only other Air Force JROTC program in Indiana. 

Cadets come from across the country, with this year’s cadets hailing from Hawaii to North Carolina. 

Mark Johnson, the director of the summer flight academy with Indiana Wesleyan University, said the cadets stay on IWU’s campus for the entirety of the program and train at the airport.

“It’s not just Indiana Wesleyan University with the Air Force, but it’s also created a partnership with Air Marion here at the Marion Airport where all the flight training happens, as well as other partners that we have on the flight side as well,” Johnson said.

Jeff Air supplies the program with extra planes to support this year’s 20 cadets.

“Already, it’s just been a great experience on the knowledge side, like getting a great opportunity to learn about aviation and put it into practice by actually working towards your private pilot certification,” said Liam Obray, an Air Force JROTC cadet. 

Through Air Force funding, all costs are covered, bringing roughly $500,000 to the community. 

“This is not something that we take lightly at all, and this is really, truly a blessing that our city is leading charge on a program like this,” Mayor Ronald Morrell said. 

Morrell said he believes the program and airport will continue to have a positive impact on the city. 

“Education, I think, is going to be one of the top things that push economic growth in our city,” said Morrell.

The cadets said they have felt their own growth as well.

“It’s definitely helped me a lot to prepare for the future, whether or not I want to go into the military, which I do, but even if I didn’t, I still would have had a lot of resources and tools that I could use in the workforce,” cadet Bella Familia said. 

Cadets have been active outside of this program, gaining skills through the JROTC.

“Yeah. I’ve been in since my freshman year of high school. I really got to meet a lot of cool people, pretty much all of my really good friends came from ROTC,” said cadet Avery Coffey, “And it just gives you a really great sense of leadership and responsibility.”

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