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Air Force Junior ROTC Flight Academy Helps Turn Dreams to Reality

  • Published
  • By Keith H. Bland
  • Air Force Junior ROTC Public Affairs

COLLEGE STATION, Texas-- Every child dreams about what they’ll become as adults, but for many, those dreams fade as life takes unexpected turns. Among those who steadfastly pursue their childhood ambitions, Maria Hall is a standout.

Cadet Maria Hall is a fifth-year senior majoring in Mechanical Engineering at Texas A&M University. An active member of the Corps of Cadets, Hall continues to pursue her passion to become an Air Force fighter pilot, a dream she’s had since she was 11 years old.

When she was 11, Hall’s father was completing his light sport pilot’s license at a flight school in Arizona. After passing his final check ride and receiving his certification, he took young Maria up as his very first passenger, “And instantly, I caught that flying bug, and I knew, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. And fast-forward six years later, I got the Air Force Junior ROTC Flight Academy scholarship. I got my PPL [Private Pilot License], and I got to take my dad flying as my first passenger. So really cool, full circle moment,” Hall added. 

Hall attended Tivy High School in Kerrville, Texas, where, as a freshman, she immediately enrolled in the school's AFJROTC program to propel her aviation dream. Retired Col. Bobby Woods, the Senior Aerospace Science Instructor at Tivy, would become an instrumental mentor in guiding Hall's aviation journey. As Hall recalled their initial conversation, Woods was direct in his inquiry, "What do you want to do? What's your goal in life? What are your aspirations?" Hall's response was unequivocal, "Sir, I want to be a pilot in the Air Force. You know, I had this experience when I was 11. I know this is what I want to do. Help me get there." Woods then sat down with her and meticulously charted her path to Texas A&M in pursuit of securing a pilot slot.

In 2018 while enrolled at Tivy, Hall was a member of the inaugural AFJROTC Flight Academy, which included 120 scholarship winners from an applicant pool of 621 cadets. Describing her Flight Academy experience at Purdue University in Indiana, Hall recalled, “everything about it was pretty challenging,” but she was “surprised and in awe of how much the instructors trusted us and how much AFJROTC trusted us to go to Purdue, take 6 to 8 weeks, and learn how to fly.” Since its inception in 2018, the Air Force has significantly expanded the program, partnering with 24 universities in 2023 to host more than 300 cadets from a pool of 1,241 applicants.

AFJROTC Flight Academy was established to widen the aperture for pilot applicants by encouraging AFJROTC cadets, who represent a diverse population, to explore aviation careers during high school. The competitive scholarship program covers expenses for an 8-week flight training program, culminating in cadets earning their private pilot certification. A private pilot certificate allows a pilot to carry passengers and provides for limited business use of an airplane. Flight Academy's remarkable success is evident in its over 80% success rate for students who complete their pilot training, compared to the national average of about 20%. In addressing gender diversity challenges in the pilot field, it is worth noting that in 2018, only 6% of Air Force pilots and 7% of all Federal Aviation Administration certified pilots were female. However, the first Flight Academy class was comprised of 23% females, more than tripling the national representation.

Reflecting on how the program impacted her, Hall said, "Flight Academy really helped me to 'A,' know for sure where I wanted to go with my career, and 'B,' it gave me the confidence to know I could get there." In offering advice to those considering aviation as a career, Hall emphasized the importance of finding a mentor who has achieved success in that field, networking, and asking questions.

Subsequently, Hall applied to Texas A&M and secured an Air Force ROTC college scholarship. She wholeheartedly embraced the rich traditions and unique culture of the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets. As a junior, she was selected to serve as a member of the prestigious Parsons Mounted Cavalry, a horseback unit representing the university at various events, most notably riding into Kyle Stadium to the delight of over 100,000 rowdy Aggie football fans.

Hall’s impact on the school has been far-reaching, according to Texas A&M’s AFROTC Detachment Commander, Col. Kevin Parker. “In her time at Texas A&M, Maria has been a standout leader in AFROTC and across the university. Whether as a Platoon Sergeant leading 40 cadets and their horses in the Cavalry unit, developing plans within the largest Cadet Wing in the nation, or leading in hand-picked jobs in the Corps of Cadets, Maria made a positive impact in every challenge she took on. Her AFJROTC leadership experience prepared her well for the challenges of college and cadet life.”

Drawing on leadership lessons from her high school AFJROTC program, Hall co-founded Texas A&M's first-ever student aviation organization. She crossed paths with another Texas A&M student, Emily Smith, at the 2019 International Women in Aviation Conference in Florida. Although they had not previously met on the College Station campus, their shared interest in aviation prompted them to establish a Women in Aviation chapter upon returning to school. Exhibiting resilience despite the onset of COVID-19, Hall and Smith found innovative ways to develop the fledgling organization.

The chapter has since grown to include over 50 active members, hosting professional development events, social gatherings, and fundraising initiatives to support their members. Since its inception in 2020, the chapter has provided nearly $10,000 in flight scholarships to students. The Texas A&M WIA chapter has also welcomed military aviators, commercial pilots, flight attendants, air traffic controllers, and other aviation professionals to offer development opportunities and inspire fellow college students to consider aviation careers.

Hall was notified earlier this fall of her selection for an Air Force pilot training slot. She received more great news this past week when she was informed she had been selected for the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program, the world's only multi-nationally manned and managed flying training program chartered to produce combat pilots for NATO. Upon graduating in May with a degree in Mechanical Engineering, the sky is indeed the limit for this young Airman.