ELKHART — Air Force Junior ROTC cadets at Elkhart Central High School recently took a field trip soaring through the clear blue skies.

Nearly 20 cadets in ninth through 12th grades gathered at Elkhart Municipal Airport on Monday morning with many experiencing their first flight while also learning what it’s like to be a pilot by testing out the controls.

The pilots brought two Cessna 172s carrying two to three cadets at a time for a 30- to 40-minute round trip, allowing the students to see the city and surrounding areas from a bird’s eye view.

The cadets got a lesson on how to inspect the plane before takeoff and what each of the controls does.

The planes took different routes, with one traveling east of Shipshewana and the other traveling west of Michigan City.

Frank Rossi, Air Force Junior ROTC instructor at Elkhart Central, said the goal behind Monday’s experience was to get the Junior ROTC students in a plane and up in the sky.

He said the school takes a trip twice a year to the airport – one in the fall and one in the spring. The field trips are designed to support the program’s curriculum.

“Air Force Junior ROTC is a program – it’s a citizenship and leadership development program,” Rossi said. “So, we look at things that are going to try to reinforce that.”

The students study flight as part of the curriculum. Right now, they’re studying the science of flight – learning what makes airplanes fly.

“So it’s natural to bring them (to the airport) and reinforce those lessons by giving them a hands-on experience where they actually get to fly and see what makes an airport operate,” Rossi said.

When not flying, the students participated in airport tours. This involved going to the control tower and getting a tour of various airplanes.

Many of the students have never flown before, but despite a few nerves, the response to the experience was affirmative.

“It was a really good experience,” Diana Jimenez Flores, a sophomore, said after getting off the plane. “I never had the experience of flying or being on an airplane. I will remember this day forever.

In fact, Jimenez Flores said she may now even consider becoming a pilot.

“So, I’m really happy I got this exposure,” she said.

Students Dae’Leanna Jackson and Carlos Ordonez, both sophomores, were anxious as they were waiting to get on the plane. Although both students said they were scared of heights, they said they were looking forward to facing their fears by flying for their first time.

Jackson said she’s looking forward to joining the Air Force but would like to be an emergency technician. However, if her experience with flying a plane goes well, she could have a change of heart.

“I’m planning on being an emergency technician, but if this goes well, I could see myself wanting to be a pilot,” she said.

Ordonez, however, doubts that the experience will inspire him to want to be a pilot.

“If I join the Air Force, I think I want to be a chef,” he said.

Aside from exposing the cadets to airplanes and flying, Rossi said he hopes the experience teaches the students the value of teamwork and leadership.

“It’s important they understand the value of supporting one another because some of the cadets flew and got a little airsick and hopefully they were supporting one another through that experience,” he said. “Some were very nervous, so their flight mates supported them by saying, ‘Hey, it’s OK’ and giving them that moral support. Also, leadership is equally important as the older cadets were leading and managing all cadets on the trip.”

Follow Blair Yankey on Twitter @Blair_Yankey

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