Three North Allegheny students accepted into Air Force Flight Academy Scholarship program
Three North Allegheny High School students were among the five Air Force Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (AFJROTC) cadets from Pennsylvania, and the 120 from across the country, chosen to participate in a new Air Force Flight Academy Scholarship program, which helps cadets learn to fly and earn their private pilot license.
Vaibhav Gupta and Christian Spengler, both 18, of McCandless, and Sam Haver, 17, of Franklin Park, were selected from more than 800 applicants nationwide, based on results from a three-hour online test and a physical exam.
All three completed the program and earned their private pilot licenses in August.
“It’s such an honor just to be selected. To actually complete the program is an amazing accomplishment,” said Maj. Scott Kolar, who leads the AFJROTC program at North Allegheny.
Six universities throughout the country partnered with the Air Force to offer the flight school program to 20 students at a time. Each scholarship was worth about $20,000.
Spengler attended the program at Purdue University in Indiana.
“I started on June 11 and six days later I was flying solo,” he said.
He worked 60 to 70 hours a week in the classroom, a flight simulator, and the cockpit of a Cessna 172 Skyhawk single-engine, fixed-wing aircraft. In addition to the basics, he learned to maneuver steep 45-degree turns, perform slow flights with the flaps down, recover from mid-air stalls, and achieve short-field and soft-field landings.
He completed the eight-week curriculum in 39 days.
“My first solo flight was at 8 a.m. on a Sunday. It was a beautiful morning. I remember everything about it,” Spengler said. “When I first got in the cockpit, my legs were shaking. Then it was very exhilarating. The acceleration of the plane was amazing and the view was better than anything in the world. It was an experience like no other.”
Spengler, who graduated from North Allegheny this past spring, will attend the University of Pittsburgh -- Greensburg this fall and will be active in the campus AFROTC program. Upon his graduation from college, he hopes to be commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant in the Air Force, where he plans to fly fighter jets, something he has dreamed about doing since he was in kindergarten.
Gupta and Haver attended the program at Liberty University in Virginia.
“Nobody works harder than Vaibhav (Gupta),” Kolar said. “Whatever he wants, he gets. Not because he’s necessarily gifted, but because he goes after what he wants and works harder than anyone else to get it.”
Gupta, who also graduated from North Allegheny this past spring, is attending Penn State University on a full AFROTC scholarship.
“My goal is to be the best pilot in the United States Air Force,” he said.
Haver, currently a senior at North Allegheny, got involved in ROTC because he was intrigued by the name of an ROTC class that North Allegheny offered: The Science of Flight.
“I was always interested in how airplanes can go so fast and not run into each other,” he said. “I was fortunate enough to fly a lot on family vacations. I started talking to pilots when I was 10. I’d ask them how they learned to fly planes.”
Two years ago, he participated in the Young Eagles program in Oshkosh, Wis. There, he learned about the engineering and manufacturing aspects of aeronautics.
This summer’s flight school taught him how to actually fly an airplane.
His most memorable moment occurred when his instructor stepped out of the airplane and told him to take the plane up by himself.
“Returning from that first solo flight, I remember looking down and seeing my instructor standing on the ground below, waiting for me to land. It was surreal,” he said.
Haver hopes to attend the Air Force Academy upon graduation from high school, but is unsure whether he wants to be in the air or on the ground.
“I want to serve my country, but am not sure what I want to do. I can work with experimental drones or maybe fly fighter jets or cargo planes,” he said.
The Air Force Flight Academy Scholarship program was established in 2018 to address the nation’s pilot shortage. Civilian airline industry experts project a demand for 117,000 new commercial pilots over the next 20 years, while the Air Force is currently short of at least 1,500 pilots to fulfill its requirements.