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Takeoff! Poly student earns pilots license

Extensive training, dedication and passion make her ready to take flight

Imagine this: It’s 6 am and you’re looking out an airplane window at the rising sun. Smooth, clear air streams by as the plane glides towards the horizon. You gaze down at the world below and pause, appreciating how incredible it is to be there in that moment. 

Now get this: you aren’t a passenger on that airplane. You’re the pilot! And you’re on your first-ever solo flight. 

For Ava Lewis, a senior at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, that scene was her reality last summer as she successfully completed her first solo flight at the US Air Force’s Flight Academy, an eight-week JROTC program at Indiana Wesleyan University. More than 1,200 students from around the country apply to Flight Academy every year, with only 200 being accepted. Ava was one of them - and she received a $25,000 scholarship to be there. The result: Ava secured her private pilot’s license - the first ever current City Schools student to do so!  

“Learning to fly has been an amazing experience,” explained Ava. “It’s something I never thought I’d be able to do, and I’ve built so much confidence and focus along the way.” 

Ava in the cockpit

Ava’s journey to the skies began in the classroom at Poly. She joined 200+ fellow students as a JROTC cadet and was quickly introduced to the flight simulator on campus (read about it in a recent Progress Report story). After practicing on it every day for months, she attended the Empowerment Through Aviation (ETA) program, a Baltimore-based program supporting female students as they pursue careers in aviation. In that program, Ava accessed five hours of real-world flight training. 

Thanks to those experiences, Ava had a head start when she arrived at Flight Academy. “Many cadets there were especially nervous because they had never flown a plane,” said Ava. “While my nerves were there, I was more comfortable and knew my way around the cockpit.” 

Flight Academy took notice and honored Ava as one of the top cadets after the first week of the program. When it was time to fly solo and pass her “checkride” test to secure the license, she was ready. “On my checkride day, winds were around 25 mph. I was nervous, but my instructor encouraged me, as well as new friends in the program. I felt tense, but it ended up being my best flight out of the 8-weeks! I was so proud and excited.”  Ava  poses with fellow pilots

Ava’s success is no surprise to Colonel Cristiano Marchiori, Retired Air Force, Senior Aerospace Science Instructor, AFJROTC at Poly. “Ava is an amazing leader who secured her pilot's license even before her driver’s license. She’s one of the top cadets in the Poly program,” he said. “She helps manage 160 cadets, who all follow her because of her actions. She’s going to be a leader in whatever amazing things she goes on to do.” 

According to the Air Force, only 7% of pilots are women, and less than 12% are minorities. Programs like those at Poly and ETA are helping change that. And Ava’s accomplishments are garnering well-deserved recognition. She was recently awarded the J100 scholarship with a full ride to any college with an ROTC program. More than 16,500 students apply every year, and 100 are awarded the scholarship. 

Said Ava, “as a kid, I loved to fly, but I never thought of being a pilot until more recently. Now, I absolutely love it.” 

After college, Ava plans on joining the Air Force. She dreams of one day owning her own plane and taking her family up on a flight. Check out recent media coverage of Ava’s amazing accomplishments by WMAR-TV, here

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