In the fall of 2011, Dikun “Tommy” Yu came to Randolph-Macon Academy (R-MA) from China as an eighth grade student with only a mild interest in flying. As a sophomore at R-MA this past year, Tommy decided to give the flight program a try—and might have found his lifelong passion.
“Our school has the benefit, so why don’t we try it?” he said. “I think if I don’t try, it’s a waste.”
That first test flight on February 11, 2014, might be the best decision Tommy has made so far in his 16 years. With a natural talent for piloting an airplane, Tommy managed to complete his first solo flight, consisting of three take-offs and three landings at the Front Royal-Warren County Airport, on May 22, 2014.
“He has been working hard this semester to solo by the end of the year. Tommy and I began flying together on February 11th and now he soloed on May 22nd. That is awesome progress for our program,” observed R-MA Flight Instructor Ryan Koch. Because students in Randolph-Macon Academy’s flight program must fly during class time, they can only fly one to three times each week, which means most students take longer to attain the skill level required to fly solo.
“The first solo flight was kind of scary,” said Tommy. “Then I calmed myself down. All those hours of learning how to solve situations paid off. You do so many landings it’s habit.” His next two take-offs and landings went perfectly.
“The first thing I did was tell my parents and a couple of friends in China,” he said with a smile. “I want to thank my instructor and my parents. Without my father I wouldn’t think of doing this. My instructor for his patience and teaching. All my subject teachers because to fly I have to miss their classes, and they understand.”
In spite of missing classes to fly, Tommy managed to earn a 3.9 grade point average this year and was named to the Dean’s List. He also participated in sports, earning the Most Improved Player Award in junior varsity basketball and the Coaches’ Award in varsity golf.
This summer, Tommy plans to attend a flight school in Louisiana to work on his private pilot certification. His goal is to take the required check ride on his seventeenth birthday, August 26th.
“I might do flying as a career,” he said.
Randolph-Macon Academy (R-MA), founded in 1892, is a college-preparatory, coeducational boarding school for students in grades 6 through 12. Students in grades 9-12 participate in R-MA’s 91st Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC), and have the opportunity to fly in a unique flight program. R-MA is affiliated with the United Methodist Church and is located in Front Royal, Virginia.