Sophomore Sophia Baer and senior Morgan La Mascus strive to earn their pilot’s licenses while juggling the responsibilities of high school life
The overarching theme of high school is destination: Where are you going to go to college? What classes will you be in next year? Where can I meet you at lunch?
Any self respecting adult will tell you the story: high school will take you anywhere you want to go. As soon as you sign that registration paper, it is time to hit the ground running toward the meticulously arranged path of your future. There are plenty of paths, but choosing one feels like throwing a dart at the board of possibilities while blindfolded.
For sophomore Sophia Baer and senior Morgan La Mascus, however, their locomotive of choice is an airplane. Yes, a genuine airplane, complete with a solid pair of wings to help them soar toward their futures.
Baer and La Mascus have found a way to ascend everyday responsibilities toward earning their pilot’s licenses, while most high schoolers are up to their ears in homework, sports, work, and social obligations.
“I have to [have] be tter time management. Sometimes I wouldn’t be to able to fly as much as I’d have liked to due to my homework or tests, but I’ve accomplished it,” said Baer, who juggles four honors classes, volleyball, horseback riding, and trips to the gym in addition to her aviation pursuits.
While training to be a professional pilot is rare enough, a study conducted by BBC News in 2015 states that only 3% of pilots worldwide are female. Furthermore, the Houston Chronicle found that the average age of student pilots don’t start their training until their early 30’s, and pilot status is typically not achieved until the age of 40.
For Baer, her inspiration for taking to the skies blossomed from the support of her mother, Sonjia Johnston, who is the flight instructor of both Baer and La Mascus. Much like her mother, Baer grew up between the wings of the grandfather’s small plane, and the influence of her family’s passion for aviation peaked her interest.
Baer, who is the youngest in her family to start taking to the skies, achieved her first solo flight on her sixteenth birthday, Feb.1. It was the first vital milestone toward getting an official pilot’s license.
During this first unassisted flight, Baer’s skills were put to the test as she took off, completed her flight patterns, and landed her craft without the immediate guidance of her flight instructor and mother.
“I cried,” admitted Baer with a good natured laugh. “It was very shocking, but it was like all of the work I had put into this has paid off.”
Johnston, who began flying at age 23, mentors her students on the technical aspects of flying, maneuvering skills, and aeronautical decision making. It’s the process of making proper decisions relative to the flight that follow safety requirements and successful piloting. In a typical flying lesson with Johnston, Baer and La Mascus spend at least a hour in the air practicing the necessary skills of flying an airplane, such as takeoffs, landings, flight patterns, technical speed and altitude adjustments, and proper radio communication. Before the girls can take to the skies, they spend time on the ground learning correct preflight evaluation of their air crafts and completing occasional written test work.
“They are both highly motivated, mature and focused young women,” said Johnston. “They are attentive, quick learners with great attitudes, and it is very rewarding to be part of their journey; I’m honored to have the opportunity to train them to be exceptional, safe aviators.”
La Mascus, who started taking official flight lessons in January 2017 during the final semester of high school, is on track to earn her pilot’s license this coming May. Much like Baer, La Mascus began her aeronautical pursuits at a young age. Her father, an electrician, inspired La Mascus with his passion for flight by taking her to the skies, proving alongside Johnston, a parent’s natural skill as a mentor while teaching their chicks to fly.
“When my dad would take me for rides when I was a kid, it was so much fun. It still is to me, so it’s even more special when you are the one [piloting].”
In order to obtain a piloting license, aviators must first learn ground level basics, local flight pattern mastery, successful solo flying experience, and a cross country flight which requires taking off and landing in two separate airports.
“Becoming a pilot is a multi step process… you need to have an ability to learn and follow procedures, interpret flight instruments and displays and maintain good situational awareness. You must be 17 years old and meet certain FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] aeronautical knowledge and flight requirements. You also must pass a knowledge and flight test. It is rigorous, but highly rewarding,” said Johnston.
Inspired by her mother, Baer plans to earn her own Flight Instructor’s license and continue flying throughout the rest of her life.
“There are a lot of careers in aviation that people don’t know about,” said La Mascus. “Flying helps you to pay attention to detail. You do have to be very focused and dedicated because it is a lot of work.”
While future destination plans are expected to change among high schoolers as different doors of discovery open and close, both girls remain certain of one thing: they will never fail to visit their second home in the sky.