Flight Orientation Program makes comeback to Rutherford High

An opportunity of a lifetime has some Bay County students on cloud nine.
Published: Mar. 24, 2023 at 6:33 PM CDT
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PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - For the first time in nearly five years, Rutherford High School is providing the Flight Orientation Program to its JROTC students. The program is facilitated by the Civil Air Patrol.

Friday morning students gathered at the Sheltair FBO in Panama City for the training program. The 11th graders received a lesson in aviation.

Dillon Johnson is a retired Chief Master Sergeant and the Aerospace Science Instructor for Rutherford High Air Force JROTC program. He says the return of the program is monumental for his students.

“It’s awesome to see them get this opportunity because they work so hard, they do so much for the community. Not only is it a reward for them, but it also exposes them to opportunities that they might not otherwise have,” said Johnson.

The students received a briefing from Civil Air Patrol Instructor Dillon Johnson before heading outdoors to the landing strip.

“They’ll get exposure to the ground handling side of it, the flight planning side of it, basic instrumentation so they’ll be able to see what all goes into preparation for a flight to be able to do that safely and effectively,” said the CMSgt(Ret).

Under Johnson’s supervisor each cadet got to fly inside the Cessna and even steer the plane.

“Aviation is a very complex and lot of dynamic moving parts out there, so I just want to make sure that they’re doing everything correctly head on a swivel meaning they’re not going to be zoning out or anything and pointing out air traffic as they see it and just being an active crew member is what I want them to be,” said Johnson. “What we’re going to do is a little under an hour flight. I’m going to take a cadet up, we’re going to explore the area, show them some sights then they’ll be able to take control of the aircraft.”

Lillian Kaiger was one of three cadets who got to experience the orientation Friday. She says it was her first time ever on a plane.

“It makes me really excited because I’ve never been on a plane let alone flown it, so I think I’m going to have a really good time.” Kaiger said.

The group got to fly to Apalachicola and Panama City Beach. Each flight was approximately 45 minutes long.

According to Johnson, the Civil Air Patrol offers a Wing Scholarship which allows recipients to get a private pilot license.