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AIM HIGH Flight Academy gives youth opportunity to fly

Air Force Force Recruiting Service  Detachment 1 hosts AIM HIGH Flight Academy.

Keeley Shaughnessy and Aditya Nair, Air Force Recruiting Service Detachment 1 AIM HIGH Flight Academy participants, conduct pre-flight checks on their Cessna 172 June 1, 2021, in Milton, Florida. The three-week academy is designed to inspire students with limited aviation knowledge who are interested in aviation and provide them the skills necessary to achieve their initial solo by the end of the camp.

Air Force Force Recruiting Service  Detachment 1 hosts AIM HIGH Flight Academy.

Erin DeHart, Air Force Recruiting Service Detachment 1 AIM HIGH Flight Academy participant, prepares for her flight June 1, 2021 in Milton, Fla. This three-week academy is designed to inspire students with limited aviation knowledge who are interested in aviation and provide them the skills necessary to achieve their initial solo by the end of the camp. (Courtesy photo)

MILTON, Fla. --

Students traveled to Peter Prince Airfield to attend the inaugural AIM HIGH Flight Academy hosted by Air Force Recruiting Service’s Detachment 1, May 29, 2021. The 24 students selected will get exposure to the fundamentals of flight and will have the opportunity to tour U.S. Air Force aircraft, while working with aviator mentors.

The first of three sessions will run from May 29 - June 18. The AIM HIGH Flight Academy is run by AFRS’ Det. 1, which was created as the execution arm of the chief of staff of the Air Force’s Rated Diversity Improvement strategy.

Over the course of the three sessions this summer, a total of 72 students will have the opportunity to spend three weeks immersed in aviation education, character development and mentorship. 

More than 150 students from all over the country, to include the U.S. Virgin Islands, submitted an application package explaining why they were the ideal fit and what inspired them to want to earn their wings to become an aviator.

“We knew the selection process would be tough” said Lt. Col.  Jay “SPINS” Park, Det. 1 commander. “Each student was scored on a rubric 1-10 in three categories; how they informed, inspired and influenced the board to select them. Any staff members who scored students more than three points of each other, were discussed at length and rescored, to ensure everyone had a fair and equal opportunity.”

The impact this program can have on rated board application scores can be up to 20 points for their Pilot Candidate Selection Method score, which can be the difference in earning a pilot training spot for some. 

The debut year for the AIM HIGH Flight Academy was scheduled for summer 2020, however, due to the novel COVID-19 virus pandemic, it was postponed to 2021 for the safety of the students and instructors and quality of the experience.

“This year there are established COVID-19 prevention measures in place to prevent the spread of the virus including smaller pairings and transparent, plastic dividers in the classrooms,” said Maj. Tolan Hicks, assistant director of AIM HIGH Flight Academy Operations. “Additionally, students and staff are requested to obtain a negative COVID-19 test up to three days prior to their arrival at the camp.”

In addition to groupings and dividers, students will also have their own rooms and be assigned a wingman. This wingman is to ensure accurate accountability and function as their academic partner to study with on their evenings and check in with on weekends.

“They have a robust schedule every day which includes a rotation of three lessons,” said Maj. Kenneth Thomas, the AIM HIGH Flight Academy director of operations. “They will be divided into three groups of eight, and will rotate between classroom instruction, flight time, and skills application in the simulators.”

These schedules will follow the same format for all three camps and include many topics. The outline is designed to provide the students the steps they need from the beginning, from essential basic flight knowledge through completion of their solo.

“It’s an exciting time for these students to have the opportunity to earn 10-15 flight hours with hands on instruction with Air Force rated officers,” Thomas said.

Det. 1 has employed its AHFA staff from around the Air Force with a variety of Air Force Specialty Codes to make this summer’s camp a reality. Almost every MAJCOM, and the total force components, to include the Air Force Reserve, are providing Airmen to bolster the backgrounds represented with the camps. 

“The Aviation Inspiration Mentorship Team is comprised of motivated individuals who volunteer their time to give back to the community,” said Park. “This camp wouldn’t be possible without them and their willingness to help others fulfill their dream and succeed.”

This year, local Air Force bases are also planning on participating in their own way to show the students what the Air Force has to offer. 

“Unique to this summer are the AIM HIGH Inspiration Flights which will be hosted by the 6th Air Refueling Wing and 33rd Fighter Wing,” said 1st Lt. Federico Barrios, the AIM Program Manager. “We are excited to be able to provide the option to this year’s students and hope to see all students not only visit their first Air Force base, but experience flight in an Air Force aircraft.”

These AIM HIGH Inspiration Flights are a new initiative designed to allow unaffiliated youth the experience of flight aboard U.S. Air Force aircraft.  Det. 1 is exercising these new authorizations as of the initial Inspiration Flight with the 6th Air Refueling Wing in April 2021.

“We are looking forward to working with these wings throughout the summer with the critical support they are providing,” Park said.

It will be a summer of opportunity for these 72 students with a dream to fly, and an opportunity to achieve that dream.

“Many times, flying is cost prohibitive for youth and their families,” Thomas said. “AIM HIGH Flight Academy is that opportunity to change a student’s life whether that’s through aviation or our mentorship. We are here for the students and whatever they need to achieve their dreams.”