Student earns pilot license through Air Force ROTC Flight Academy

Mishuk sits at table in libraryWhile most DeKalb County School District students were vacationing with family during Summer 2019, Dunwoody High School junior, Mishuk Turja, was earning something very few teenagers hold in their possession: a private pilot’s license.

Turja was one of a few students throughout the country selected for the Air Force Junior ROTC Flight Academy. As a selectee, Turja attended Liberty University’s New Horizon’s High School program free of charge, where he learned how to fly a plane by himself, interact with college professors, and earn a private pilot’s license.

What’s more, Turja was also named the recipient of an accompanying scholarship worth approximately $20,000. The funds took care of Turja’s transportation to Liberty, room and board, academics and flight hours. The Dunwoody junior was chosen as one out of approximately 1,500 applicants nationwide.

“I’m overjoyed,” Turja said. “I really can’t think of anything more I can ask for.”

Turja was exposed to the program last year by Dunwoody JROTC Air Force instructors Kenneth Bennett and LaTerance Dyson. Shortly after learning of the program, he filled out an online application. A short while later, he was notified of his admittance and planning a trip to Liberty’s campus in Lynchburg, Virginia.

“I tried my luck to see if I could qualify, and the next thing I knew my name was being announced,” said Turja.

To obtain a private pilot’s license, an individual must be 17 years of age, obtain a Class 3 medical certificate, be proficient in English, complete 40 hours of air-time with an instructor, and 10 hours of air-time alone. While at Liberty, Turja did all this and more, flying to airports in Martinsville and Farmville, Virginia.

He also met plenty of people he plans to keep in touch with, with some from as far away as Utah, Florida, Michigan and Massachusetts.

“I met a lot of great people. We still are staying in touch on group chats on Snapchat,” Turja said. “We bonded the very first day we were there. To be honest, the first few days I missed my Mom and Dad, but I thought to myself ‘Well, I came here to do what I love, so what’s there to miss?’”

Flying a plane is no joke. There’s lot to look for outside and inside, and many functions to analyze and maintain. For Turja, doing this every day – not to mention consistently waking up before the sun rises– required a lot of mental discipline.

The hard work, however, paid off. The first time Turja took the controls of an airplane – known as the yoke – an indescribable feeling took over.

“It’s the best feeling you can feel,” he said. “You’re 3,000 feet in the air. You have a whole airplane to yourself, and you can go wherever you want. It’s not like the road.“

Turja can remember the very first time he saw a plane. It gave him feelings of exhilaration, curiosity and joy. He wondered aloud, ‘Wow, how does it do that? I want to do that.’ His mother told him yes, he could eventually do that, all he had to do was work hard. After following his mother’s advice and gaining access to the Air Force JROTC Flight Academy, Turja plans to keep that advice in mind for the rest of his life.

Instructor Bennett, a retired lieutenant colonel in the United States Air Force, takes great pride in helping Turja succeed in following his dreams and take to the skies. His recommendation played a big role in sending Turja to Liberty.

Mishuk stands by plane“Mishuk is a great reminder of not underestimating the abilities of our students,” Bennett said. “They can do great things when motivation meets opportunity.”

Bennett’s sentiments reverberate throughout the Dunwoody High School community.

“We are so proud of Mishuk’s accomplishment!” said Principal Priscilla Cole.

According to the United States Air Force, the Air Force Junior ROTC Flight Academy’s mission is twofold: increasing the luster of aviation by getting teenagers excited about aviation and increasing diversity in the aviation community.

In 2018, the Air Force Junior ROTC was found to be one of the most diverse education programs, with 125,000 cadets at almost 880 units worldwide. That same year, almost half of all newly licensed female pilots between the ages of 17 and 19 were graduates of the Air Force Junior ROTC Flight Academy, with 45 percent overall being either female or minority.

Turja, originally from India and now an avid aviator, is yet another great example of that mission’s success. Turja is now looking into joining the Civil Air Patrol through the Air Force Auxiliary to keep in practice and take to the skies whenever he wants.

After graduating from Dunwoody High School, Turja plans to return to Liberty University’s School of Aeronautics to study and continue flying. He would love to become an officer in the Air Force and fly either a bomber or fighter plane.

“I just want to be up in the air,” Turja said. “There’s more than just going for a commercial pilot job. In the Air Force, you’re flying the best aircraft in the world. You get to fly it – who else can do that? Who wouldn’t want to be an ace pilot?”