Westside High School Air Force JROTC slips the surly bonds

By Keith Boles - bio | email feedback

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - Junior birdmen and women of the Westside High School Air Force JROTC program took to the skies today.

Flying in SkyVenture aircraft from the Jonesboro airport, many of these young people had never been in an airplane before.

Over half of the members of the Westside program earned the right to fly. Good grades, attendance and overall conduct was a factor in who got to fly or not.  Prior to coming to the airport the students had been learning about commercial aviation, how airplanes work and some additional information according to Heaven Howard a Senior in the program.

Howard, "We were told that if we had to throw up we had to use the bag or we'd be cleaning."

Howard herself a first time flyer was excited about the adventure. " I'm excited because I have never done it before (fly) and I've been waiting all year."

Cody Wilson said he had an "Awesome" flight but was a little freaked out at first.

Wilson, "That was our first time flying and plus I don't do heights."

Retired Air Force Pilot, Lieutenant Colonel Ed Tanner is the Senior Aerospace Instructor at Westside. He says the program is not a pipeline into the armed services, in fact he said only about 10 percent of all JROTC students nationwide go into the service. "My Mission," Tanner said, "Is to teach character and develop citizens."

We asked Tanner what kind of responses from the kids he was getting before and after the flights.

Tanner, "Some of that is just a little bit of not quite knowing what's going to be happening. But once they get on the airplanes and get off; I think for the most part, it's quite exhilarating for them."

Kathy Jo Smallman was another first-time flyer. "I've never flown before so I hope we have a safe flight."

Just to see what the kids were experiencing we went up with SkyVenture pilot Jeff Williams. SkyVenture provided two planes and pilots for the days adventure. These training planes were equipped with the latest in glass cockpit technology looking more like airliners than private pilot trainers. The two students sat in the back seat and stared out the windows at the towns and their school as we circled the buildings. Williams says first time flyers are fun to fly with.

"That's my favorite people to take up. People that have never flown before. A lot of people don't get to experience that." He continued."Amazingly enough a lot of people don't even know we have an airport in Jonesboro."

Back on the ground LtCol. Tanner said that besides flying, this day exposes his students to something new.

Tanner, "They're around the airport environment, they're around aviation. They're around the FBO and that type of stuff so they are able to see what kinds of opportunities they have for them when they graduate."

And how did Heaven like her first flight? Landing was odd she said.

"That was different. You know like flying up in the air felt normal, nothing felt weird then the landing. You're going "Oh my gosh, what's happening ?" but it was fun."

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