We all love reaching milestones. Those special events or experiences in our lives often create memories that can last a lifetime. Our aviation program here at AWA- Thunderbird Adventist Academy allows students the opportunity to do just that and accomplish milestones in the air. But getting there takes work and dedication. This past semester, to get our flight training in, we spent many mornings getting up early before the sun rose. In addition to their academic classes, Thunderbird Academy offers the students optional programs for music, sports, acro, and the AWA flight training, which creates a full schedule for the students. Due to class scheduling this year, flight students usually fly before their first class or at the end of the school day.
Often it starts as early as 5:30 AM when it is still dark. We meet and hop on the golf cart to head over to where the airplane is. Then, we hook the plane to the golf cart so we can tow it to the campus gate and down the special taxiway reserved for Thunderbird Academy to get to the Scottsdale Airport access gateway, using the clickers provided by the airport to open the gate. Once we have reached this access gate, we still have one more obstacle before reaching the airport gate.
The city of Scottsdale has grown over the years, and now there is a road between the campus and the airport. The city has put in a stop light just for aircraft to CROSS THE STREET. I should say it did feel weird the first few times traffic stopped for us to cross. At any time of day that we are crossing this street, people in their cars stop and stare in disbelief. Many would say, “There is an airplane crossing the street!” It is comical at times. But this has been the way we get to the airport gate.
Once we reach the airport, we disconnect the tow bar and do a final preflight check. Then, we can hop in and fire up our Cessna 172. Once we’re in and deal with the required radio pleasantries with air traffic control and cockpit checks, we are cleared for taxi and takeoff. And if we time it right, we see lots of beautiful sunrises as we take off to start our daily flight lessons.
Accomplishing flight training multiple times during the week requires concentrated effort from students. They have to be serious about it to be training at some of these inconvenient times. But it has paid off, and the milestones are beginning to appear.
Recently, one of our flight students did his first solo flight. He was anxious and excited at the same time. The flight went beautifully, and his efforts paid off. He did fine on his own while I watched with pride. I could gently “kick him out of the nest.” These are the moments we cherish as flight instructors. Watching our students grow and reach milestones like these is what we love.
Here is how that solo student summed up his experience so far:
“My name is Elijah, and I’m taking my flight training at Thunderbird Adventist Academy with the aid of AWA. I am currently a senior and have been passionate about aviation for as long as I can remember. I started ground school as a freshman and worked my way up to taking flight school as a senior. Without the assistance of the AWA Scholarship Fund and friends who financially helped, I could not have afforded the aviation training program. I started flying with my instructor, Mrs. Simmons, in the Cessna 172 trainer. She helped me and is teaching me how to fly the airplane. I am having so much fun learning to be in the cockpit, and how everything works. I’ve been learning and sharpening the skills needed to operate the aircraft efficiently. Now after practicing ground and air operations, I have several flight hours. I also recently completed my first solo flight. It was such an incredible experience and accomplishment for me. I’ll never forget it! I am grateful and thankful for the blessings the Lord has presented to me. I am looking forward to what He has planned for me next.”
Elijah has reached this first milestone in flight with the assistance of generous folk who have collaborated to help young people have a life-changing experience. Some of these flight students have the interest to serve in the mission field. This first step is an invaluable exposure to help them as they choose their future endeavors.
If you have an interest in helping or have a love for aviation, I encourage you to consider investing in a young person and assist them to reach milestones through our AWA-Thunderbird Worthy Student Fund. Without scholarship assistance, students like Elijah would not be able to have this experience. It is a real blessing. We thank you for your prayers as we continue efforts to build this program and our much needed hangar facility.