Liberty Partners With Air Force to Train JROTC Cadets

To address its pilot shortage and build interest in aviation among youth, the U.S. Air Force is partnering with collegiate aviation programs like Liberty University School of Aeronautics to train Air Force JROTC cadets as private pilots.

The program — AFJROTC Flight Academy — will take place at six flight schools across the country: Auburn University, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, Kansas State University, Liberty University, Purdue University and the University of North Dakota. Cadets can earn their private pilot’s licenses in as little as seven weeks, according to Air Force Magazine.

“The Air Force … is 2,000 pilots short today,” Jim Molloy, dean of the School of Aeronautics, said. “In an effort to try to solve this problem … (the Air Force) is looking to the future and developing future Air Force officers and pilots by reaching down into the high schools … to help … kids get interested in STEM, in aviation and in many of the career fields we’re coming up short in.”

Molloy said that 120 of 800 cadets who applied will be selected for the summer 2018 program across the country. Liberty is training 54 of those cadets over two eight-week camps.

“(The cadets) went through a selection process,” Katelyn Wagner, the manager of high school programs at the School of Aeronautics, said. “They had to be recommended by their JROTC instructor and then they had to complete an application … and also a pilot aptitude test. Their application went to an Air Force board that made the selections.”

The camps, scheduled for May 27 through July 21 and June 17 through August 11, will prepare students to test for their private pilot’s licenses with the Federal Aviation Administration. During each 8-week session, students will learn both in the classroom and in the air to prepare for the FAA-administered oral and skills test, which is similar to testing for a driver’s license. They will also stay in dormitories on campus and eat at the Reber-Thomas Dining Hall.

Molloy said students coming through the program can get a free private pilot’s license without having to “pull a dime out of their pockets” because the Air Force is paying for everything. A private pilot’s license can cost anywhere from $9,000 to $12,000 if the student is dedicated to learning, Molloy said. However, a license often costs more because a student may have to spread their training out over a longer period of time and repeat some steps.

Instead of cadets paying out of pocket, the Air Force has a contract price of approximately $20,000 for each cadet’s training — which includes tuition, room, board and transportation. Molloy said that the AFJROTC Flight Academy is garnering around $1 million for Liberty with just over 50 cadets participating this summer.

With $2.4 million set aside for the summer 2018 cadets at each university, the Air Force hopes to grow the program each year, according to Air Force Magazine. Molloy said that the branch expects to fund 250 cadets in the summer of 2019 and hopes to grow the program to 1,200 cadets every summer.

“The idea is to get these kids interested and hooked … the Air Force wants to hook them early,” Molloy said. “Because it’s a competitive selection, they’re getting top tier of the JROTC. Because it’s a rigorous program, if you pass this program and get a private pilot’s license, then you’ve demonstrated the potential to do this, and to the kid, it says, ‘I can do this. I like it,’ and so it hooks them.”

In addition, the cadets who participate in the program will receive four three-credit courses with grades on a Liberty transcript, which they can keep if they decide to further their education at Liberty or transfer to another college.

“Our objective is that 54 cadets decide they want to come to (Liberty),” Molloy said. “This is what’s really great about the program. Besides being an excellent opportunity for us to mentor future leaders of the Air Force, it’s a really great recruiting program.”

After graduating from U.S. Air Force pilot training, Air Force pilots commit to 10 years of active duty service. However, Air Force JROTC cadets who obtain their private pilot’s licenses through the AFJROTC Flight School do not have an active duty commitment.

“Even if they get their private pilot’s license and decide, ‘Hey, flying isn’t really for me,’ it still gets them into aviation,” Wagner said. “They might become a mechanic, they might fly drones, or do something else within aviation because there is not just (a) pilot (shortage).”

Air Force Magazine said in an article that the branch is offering incentives to current service members and trying to bring back retired airmen on a voluntary basis, in addition to training JROTC cadets as private pilots. However, the pilot shortage is not limited to the Air Force.

The Fair Treatment for Experienced Pilots Act enacted in 2007 raised the mandatory retirement age for passenger airline pilots from 60 to 65 to help alleviate the upcoming pilot shortage, but Molloy said that the act was merely a temporary fix. CNN reported that more than 42 percent of U.S. airline pilots will retire by 2027, and North America alone will need 117,000 new pilots over the next 20 years.

“For some reason, the youth just aren’t (as) interested in (aviation) as they used to be,” Molloy said. “There is a perception and a reality that flight training is very expensive. And so, if you don’t have that kind of money (and) you don’t want to take out the loans, it can be difficult. There’s a return on investment eventually, but it’s expensive up front.”

Though the AFJROTC Flight Academy will not solve the Air Force’s pilot shortage overnight, the branch is thinking long-term. Molloy knows that the program will also foster an interest in aviation and Liberty University.

“As far as this program goes … we see it as a great opportunity for the school, number one,” Molloy said. “Being one of six universities, it gives us great visibility with the Air Force … and just great visibility nationally.”

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