Troy University and the Air Force has partnered to host one of several Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps Flight Academies in the country.
SkyWarrior, the Pensacola-based flight school the University partners with for its Aviation Operations minor, is delivering the training to nine high school students and one student from the U.S. Air Force Academy. The students hail from Alabama, Georgia, Florida, New York and Texas.
It’s the first year the University has participated in the program, said Dr. Hal Fulmer, Associate Provost and Dean of First Year Studies.
“It seemed like a really cool opportunity when the scholarship was presented to us in class by our colonel,” said Madhumati Mirel, a junior at Buchholz High School in Gainesville, FL. “I thought ‘I can’t drive a car yet but I can fly an airplane’.”
At “five-foot and three-quarters,” Mirel said she might not be tall enough to fly in the military, but she is still looking at the joining after high school.
Casey O’Neill, a rising senior at Timber Creek High School in Orlando, FL, another of the three female students in the flight academy, is also looking at a military career and believes having a private pilots license will help bolster her resume.
“This will open up more doors for me if I choose to go into the military and really opens up any flying opportunity,” she said.
The participants are housed in Newman Hall, and the University supports them with meals, evening and weekend activities as well. The living environments have been supportive of the students’ success.
“Overall, the living arrangements have been good and they’ve helped us have group study sessions where we can keep each other accountable,” Mirel said.
SkyWarrior supplies three instructors for the academy, and Summit Troutman, a junior at Marietta (GA) High School, said each had their own teaching style.
“Each instructor is really good, but I’ve learned a lot about how I learn. I can learn better if I’m more verbal,” he said. “I wasn’t learning as fast as I should and I figured out that if I asked my instructor to talk me through something, then I could get it instead of her having to do it and me watch.”
For Cameron Allan, who will be a “Firsty” (senior) on his return to Colorado Springs, the chance to punch his private aviator’s ticket puts him a step up the ladder within the cadet corps.
“Last year, the average completion rate for this program was about 80 percent. For cadets, it was 100 percent,” he said, adding that he intended to keep it that way.
Aviation is built into the academic program at the Air Force Academy, but for those who attend the Flight Academy, there’s the added benefit of the private license.
“I’ve gone from the driest place in the country to the most humid place,” said the Tarrytown, NY native, “But the flying is good here and it’s my time in the South. The experience has been exceptional.”
For Greg Sigler, SkyWarrior’s vice president and one of the academy instructors, it is exciting to help the next generation of pilots succeed. His company has been providing flight training for TROY students and those at Pike County Schools since 2019, when they took over from Trojan Aviation.
“It’s awesome because aviation not only is a job, but for most people in it, it’s a passion. It’s unbelievable helping the next generation – especially when you know what’s at the end of the rainbow,” he said.
That rainbow ends in high-paying jobs and careers for pilots.
“Aviation is just booming right now. If you pass the medical and have the aptitude for it, there’s a job. You will get hired because they just cannot find enough pilots,” he said. “It’s a great field.”
For Sigler, a former football coach at New York’s Columbia University, providing flight training for TROY’s Aviation Operations minor blends both his passion for teaching young people and his love of flying.
“Hopefully, we can turn this (academic program) into an associates or bachelors degree at some point,” he said. “I love the relationship we have with TROY. I am all about hoping we grow this thing to help young people have viable jobs that are good paying jobs that follow their passion.”
“What a great time to be an aviator,” he said.
Students will graduate from the academy on July 29.