Corinne Dorsey Washington Post
‘A bit of a rush’: Summer academy lets teens train to become pilots 
August 12, 2023
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  • Ryan Tran, a rising freshman at the University of Southern California, didn’t spend his summer packing his bags for college. 

    Instead, he found himself piloting planes. 

    Tran spent eight weeks at the U.S. Navy Summer Flight Academy at Delaware State University, a tuition-free program designed to enhance aviation expertise while promoting diversity within the field. 

    “Flying planes was kind of scary,” Tran said. “I thought I wouldn’t get it at first, and what surprised me was on the second week of the program, we’re already flying planes ourselves.” 

    Launched in 2021 under the auspices of the Commander, Naval Air Forces division (CNAF), the summer flight academy was created to help broaden representation in naval aviation. The Navy’s sponsorship of the program — with an approximate value of $28,000 per student — lets participants attend without imposing financial burdens, officials said. 

    This year, 28 high school juniors and seniors from across the nation participated in the program, of which 25 students graduated with private pilot licenses. 

    The program begins with primary ground school, where students learn concepts about flight skills and aviation. They begin solo flying early in the program in either a Vulcanair V.10 single-engine aircraft or Piper Warrior to boost their number of flight hours and comfortability with the aircraft. 

    After a few solo flights in their second or third week, they must take an official Federal Aviation Administration knowledge exam to earn their pilot license.


    “The goal of this program is to expose high-performing diverse U.S. students to naval aviation and inspire them to join the profession,” said Lt. Olivia Barrau, CNAF Flight Academy program manager. “By giving them hands-on experience with aviation, they prove to themselves and build that confidence to know that they could actually become a naval aviator. They can make this a career; it’s possible for them.” 

    Guided by instructors, the curriculum comprises 32 hours of classroom aviation lessons and over 40 hours of hands-on flight training — including 17 hours of solo flights. 

    Tran, who had no flying experience, initially felt discouraged by the learning curve. He said one of his instructors in the Marine Corps Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps encouraged him to join the program because of his interest in aviation. 

    However, he said the learning environment of the program enabled him and his fellow participants to recognize their potential. 

    Leland Boxer, a senior at Osbourn Park High School in Manassas, Va., recounted his initial solo flight experience as “a bit of a rush.” 

    “The feeling of being the only one in the plane for the first time ever, it’s all up to you. There’s all the responsibility that falls onto you,” Boxer said. “Once you’re in the air, you’ve got to bring the plane down somehow, and it’s up to you to make that decision about landing.” 

    While aviation had long fascinated Boxer, he initially thought it would be a challenging field to enter. But after he gained flight experience and obtained his pilot’s license, he said the allure has grown. 

    “We see that the solo flight stage is a really critical confidence-building point,” Barrau said. “They really have this confidence and this realization that I just flew a plane by myself. I could do this.” 

    Reva Jogdand, an incoming senior from Richmond, Tex., has held a passion for aviation since middle school. She flew her first aircraft during her sophomore year of high school. 

    She said her time in at the flight academy has increased her interest in pursuing a career in aviation. 

    “I’m looking towards aerospace and aeronautical engineering, and the camp actually got me more interested in that and maybe even becoming a recreational pilot,” said Jogdand. 

    “When you’re in the air, you gain like a new perspective which you see everything from like a bird’s-eye view.”