By Alexandria Williams, Media Relations Intern, Student Pilot
True confession: In high school, I was constantly in the principal’s office. Because of my immature behavior, my mother placed me in the Eagle Flight Squadron, a program she hoped would take me in a new direction.
Founded by Rev. Russell White – a 1998 inductee into New Jersey’s Aviation Hall of Fame at Teterboro Airport – Eagle Flight Squadron teaches teenagers about aviation, discipline and leadership. Yet I had no idea what I was in for when I arrived as a green “cadet” in 2010.
We drilled as if we were in the military. We learned public speaking and how to perform under pressure. There was only one way: The Eagle Flight Way. We came to understand there is no room for error in the sky.
My first flight lesson in the aircraft wasn’t anything I could have anticipated. I had attended ground school for some weeks, and I had scored 100 percent on the basic knowledge test.
So on my training flight out of Essex County Airport, I was feeling a little cocky as I fueled up the Cessna 150 and prepared to explore what my flight instructor, Captain Stephen Lind, called “my new playground.” That playground turned out to be the airspace immediately adjacent to the large, busy and super-intimidating airspace shared by Newark Liberty, John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia airports.
During that first nervous flight, I was introduced to the basics of piloting — how to roll, use the stick and rudder, keep the nose on the horizon and exert a smooth and steady pressure on the throttle. I had been thinking about a career in the music business. After a few hours in the air, I completely changed my mind. I was hooked on aviation.
I fell in love with the aircraft itself, the scent of jet fuel, the sound of the engine as I pulled back on the throttle. I was even in love with the words, “my airplane.” The responsibility for a safe flight was in my hands. I was using my brain in ways that no professor or parent could teach me. As my training progressed, we aimed for certain headings, and practiced touch-and-go landings. My instructor identified visual landmarks to navigate by, especially in case of an emergency.
After completing the Eagle Flight program in 2012, I was accepted at Purdue University. Today, I am a proud 2015 Purdue graduate, with a degree in Aviation Technology, which encompasses aviation safety, flight operations, meteorology and many other related areas. Purdue is where Amelia Earhart worked as a career counselor almost 80 years ago, inspiring students to pursue aviation. The famous aviatrix routinely flew above campus in her Lockheed Model 10 Electra, which would eventually disappear with her over the Pacific Ocean. The university is home also to the world’s largest compilation of Earhart-related papers, memorabilia and artifacts.
Thanks to Eagle Flight Squadron, 19 students have gone to the Air Force academies; 37 are commercial pilots and 190 attended aviation schools such as Embry-Riddle in Florida and Daniel Webster in New Hampshire. Two hundred fifty-nine are working in aviation-related positions. For more information on the Eagle Flight program, contact Director Michael Chisolm at email@example.com. He is also the Terminal B Manager at Newark Liberty.
The next destination for me? Hopefully, it will be an exciting career in the Air Force.
Hear from Reverend White how Eagle Flight Squadron began: