A helicopter took off one recent Wednesday morning from Mesa’s Falcon Field for a nearly two-hour flight around Arizona.
Aboard it was Gilbert’s Emma Allinger, who would celebrate her 18th birthday the next day. But she didn’t get a chance to sight-see during the flight.
She was too busy at the controls, flying the helicopter.
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Allinger, a senior at Gilbert High School, is one of the first two female students at Mesa’s East Valley Institute of Technology to complete solo flights while still in high school. Her “cross-country’ flight April 24 was with her instructor as part of her path to earn her private pilot’s license. She and Donica Wolf, 17, a junior at Queen Creek High School, both did their short solo flights in the last two months. While Allinger is flying helicopters, Wolf is focused on fixed-wing planes.
The girls are both part of the East Valley Institute of Technology’s aviation program, based out of the school’s east campus near ASU Polytechnic and Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport. The program gives high school students a look at different careers, from pilots and mechanics to air traffic controllers and flight attendants. For those who choose, it also provides a way to gain a pilot’s license and college credit.
While female students have gone through the program before them, they did not complete solo flights until after high school.
Wolf and Allinger have earned a few bragging rights.
Allinger’s first interest in flying came from her dad, who was a pilot when he was younger. But then Allinger saw a program about animal rescues.
“At first, I wanted to be a marine biologist,” she said.
The television program also showed a helicopter pilot helping the animals.
“I thought, maybe I could help that way.”
When Allinger learned about EVIT’s program, she came in with plans to fly helicopters. During her first class, her instructor took her up in one.
She was hooked.
But with 12 female students in the aviation program sitting elbow to elbow with 100 young men this year, Allinger confesses, “It can be intimidating.”
“The guys all know a lot more about engines and stuff,” she said.
Allinger made her choice to stick with it, and it’s paid off. She’s on her way to complete her pilot’s license before graduation and she hopes to continue helicopter training at Mesa’s Falcon Field next year. Eventually, she said, she wants to fly for a medical company or fight forest fires from the air.
Wolf’s older brother came through the program, sparking her interest.
“I won’t lie. I’ve almost quit. I’ve had my breakdowns,” Wolf said of the intense schooling of the program.
But she’s kept going because, “No one thought I could make it this far. No one thought a little junior girl could fly.”
Most EVIT students start the school’s career and technical classes their junior or senior years, but Wolf got permission to start her sophomore year because she was so focused on her goal.
She spends three hours a day at Queen Creek High School, and then spends four to six hours in flight training. At night, she’s in ground school.
She’s also taking three online classes.
Her next goal is to get as many licenses as she can before graduating high school. With EVIT’s partner program, she can transfer to the University of North Dakota to complete her college degree. Then Wolf has her eyes set on the Air Force as a captain.
“I’m the type of girl where the bigger the plane, the more fun it is. I don’t want the little fighter jets,” she said, this coming from a girl who doesn’t stand 5-feet tall and uses (by choice, not mandate) an FAA-approved booster in the pilot’s seat.
“My dad is proud of me because I used to be a really social girl, but you have to end your social life to do this. I’m not even going to prom because I have to study for my Stage,” she said.
Stage is one of several exams given on the path to being a licensed pilot.
Students only pay a $150 supply fee for the first year of the EVIT program, a class called aviation spectrum. But students must pay for their private pilot’s license training, about $12,800
Capt. Al “Gusto” Mittelstaedt directs EVIT’s aviation program. He believes the reason few girls think about aviation as a career is because they’re not exposed to it early on or because they’re exposed to so many different activities, from dance to gymnastics.
“It comes a little later. It seems they’re more diverse in interests,” he said.
But once they catch the bug, he said, “Where there’s passion in the girls, there’s also a lot of ambition.”
When it comes to scholarships to study aviation programs in higher education, “the gals have the guys outgunned probably 5-to-1,” he said. “If you have an ambitious young lady, she could probably fund her whole education in scholarships.”
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