Teens earn Private Pilot License at Washington-Warren Airport

Published 8:00 am Sunday, July 23, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

In as little as eight weeks, high school students are earning their Private Pilot License (PPL) through a training program being hosted at the Washington-Warren Airport in Washington. 

Starting in June, twelve high school students traveled from other areas of North Carolina as well as South Carolina, Georgia and Florida to spend eight weeks learning how to fly through a program developed by D2 Flight Academy. Within 60 days, they will take their first flight and earn at least 40 hours of flight time. They have been piloting Cessna 172 airplanes – a standard plane with four seats. 

All of the students are members of Air Force Junior ROTC at their high schools, and it is through funding from the U.S. Air Force that helps make this program possible. The purpose of the program is to encourage young people to pursue careers as pilots.  

Dylan Radulski, of Georgia, completed the program in as little as six weeks. “The flying has been amazing,” he described. Radulski has not been nervous to fly this summer. He has already obtained 40 hours of flight time. 

Radulski does not have plans to pursue a career in aviation, but is glad to have his PPL so that flying can be a hobby. 

Seeing cadets develop a joy for flying, like Radulski, is a gratifying experience for flight instructor Vanessa Stevens. 

When Vanessa Stevens wanted to seek out other employment opportunities after working in Washington state, she decided to obtain her Private Pilot License. Today, she is an instructor with D2 Flight Academy and is sharing her passion for flying with cadets. 

“It’s been a real joy to see them develop an interest in aviation and conquer their own obstacles and barriers to learning how to fly. Seeing their progress itself and finding that joy in flying has been really rewarding,” Stevens said. 

In sharing about teaching young people how to fly, Stevens said, “There have definitely been moments where you realize you’re in a plane with a 17 year old. You want to teach them how to do well so that they’re safe and that they’re ready to go out and fly by themselves without an instructor on board.” 

D2 Flight Academy is based in New Bern where the Coastal Carolina Regional Airport is located. Though that airport has been used in the program’s history, the program was hosted in Washington partly because there is less air traffic in Beaufort County. In New Bern, there are planes flying to and from Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point as well as commercial and private aviation activity. 

“From the instructor’s point of view, flying at Washington-Warren has been such a better way of going about this program just because we have so many student pilots going up that New Bern the traffic pattern can get very congested and it makes teaching them a bit harder when it’s such a high volume concentration of planes going at once,” Stevens said. 

She continued to say Washington-Warren has a wide variety of air traffic which helps cadets plan their traffic patterns for landing while up in the air which gives them the freedom to learn at their own pace in a relaxed environment. 

Hosting a flight training program at Washington-Warren Airport has been Earl Malpass’ goal for the last five years as airport director. To see it in action this summer has been a “rewarding” experience, he described. 

“Maybe one day you will get on an airline and one of these students will have worked all the way up into the airline,” Malpass said. 

Malpass explained that programs like the one hosted at Washington-Warren are needed, because as older airline pilots retire, the gap between them and younger pilots widen. Therefore, greater interest among young people is needed. 

“Nationwide, we are having difficulty feeding that pipeline with younger students,” Malpass said. 

Malpass described the aviation industry as a “wide open field” plentiful with opportunities for young people who want to be pilots, airplane mechanics or airplane inspectors.