Taking Flight: Students earn their pilot’s license


Media by Sabrina Epstein

Shravya Sunkugari, senior, graduated from flight school this summer and is certified to solo pilot a small aircraft. While Sunkugari is unsure about working in the Air Force, she appreciates the opportunity to learn the skill.

When Zach Tracy, senior, saw the Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) Flight Academy posters throughout the hallways his freshman year, he was immediately intrigued. 

Three years later, Tracy graduated from the academy with a Private Pilot’s Certification. Tracy along with Shravya Sunkugari, senior, were the first two from MHS to be accepted and participate in the program. 

“It feels pretty good to have my license,” Tracy said. “But it definitely opened my eyes to what the next steps are and how much there is left to accomplish.”

The Flight Academy is an approximately eight-week, free aviation training program conducted by 24 private universities nationwide. Beginning in the summer of 2018, the program was created in collaboration with the Air Force and the aerospace industry to address the national pilot shortage and increase diversity within the field. 

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  • Shravya Sunkugari, senior, smiles for the camera while she sits in the airplane she soon will fly. Sunkugari has flied solo before which was one of her favorite memories at the Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFJROTC) Flight Academy.

Minorities represent 58% of the Air Force JROTC student body in comparison to minorities representing less than 12% in the industry. In general, the program aims to grow by 2,000 cadets annually. 

Tracy said his program took place at Purdue University in Indiana, where the first four weeks had rigorous academic training consisting of lectures and tests and the remaining four weeks consisted of flying practice. 

“I always wanted to fly as a career and I figured this would be a great first step,” Tracy said. 

Sunkugari has been part of ROTC since her freshman year and has been hearing about the program since then. She participated in the program at Minnesota State University. 

I always wanted to fly as a career, and I figured this would be a great first step

— Zach Tracy, senior

“I’m not sure if I want to go into the Air Force but this is a cool opportunity so I thought, ‘why not?’” Sunkugari said. 

The chaperone and pilot training officer both helped with flying the plane Sunkugari said, but one of her favorite memories was flying solo.

“My engine was about to die twenty miles away from the control tower and I was panicking when trying to talk to them,” Sunkugari said. “It was scary but it was fun because I would have never imagined myself doing that.”

Major Terri Zuber, ROTC teacher, said this opportunity is great for high school students to explore the airline industry.

“I’m honestly jealous,” Major Zuber said. “To be a private pilot at no cost, that is just such an awesome experience and even if they don’t decide to go into aviation, they have that experience and there’s so many cool things they can do with that.”

Major Zuber said both Sunkugari and Tracy were perfect candidates for the Flight Academy scholarship. 

“It’s a huge accomplishment,” Major Zuber said. “I just wanted them to explore this as a potential career option and that’s exactly what they were able to do.”