In early May of 2015, Randolph-Macon Academy’s flight program added two new soloists to its roster: Falcon Scholar Anthony Vaccaro soloed on May 1st, and senior Qi “Stella” Jiang soloed on May 4th.
Surprisingly, neither student arrived at Randolph-Macon Academy (R-MA)—which is the only private school in the U.S. to offer an in-house flight program–with the goal of actually entering the flight program. Anthony tried flight simply because it was available and he was headed to the Air Force Academy. Stella tried it because it was something she couldn’t do in China, and she was curious about it.
Both students fell in love with flying to varying degrees. Anthony now hopes to fly F-22s in the Air Force, while Stella plans to major in either aeronautical or mechanical engineering at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in the fall, and continue working towards her private pilot certification for her own personal use.
Anthony’s solo was somewhat uneventful; R-MA Flight Instructor Ryan Koch surprised Anthony when he got out and told him to go solo, but Anthony took it in stride and accomplished the three take-offs and landings. “It was really peaceful and relaxing to be up there by myself,” he said.
Stella had trouble getting to the airport on a calm day on which she could solo. For two months she knew she was close, but the weather didn’t cooperate. Finally she became so adept at recovering from crosswinds that Koch deemed her ready to solo in less-than-ideal weather. She soloed in a different plane than she had trained in, and landed on a different runway than usual, but she remained undaunted and accomplished the three take-offs and landings.
Randolph-Macon Academy’s flight program consists of two Cessna 172 airplanes owned by the Academy and two flight instructors who are Academy employees, which allows the instructors to focus on safety rather than profit. Each year, approximately 30 to 40 students enroll in the program, with six to eight typically accomplishing their first solo flight and one to two earning a private pilot certification.
Randolph-Macon Academy (R-MA), founded in 1892, is a college-preparatory, coeducational day and 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 option to participate in a flight program. R-MA is affiliated with the United Methodist Church and is located in Front Royal, VA.