SPRINGFIELD — Only a select few students have achieved the heights that Effingham County’s Tayler Weckbacher reached this summer.
Weckbacher, a 17-year-old junior, was one of 230 Air Force JROTC cadets from around the world who was chosen to participate in the Flight Academy Scholarship Program. More than 1,340 cadets applied for the prestigious scholarship from Headquarters Air Force JROTC at Alabama’s Maxwell Air Force Base.
The scholarship, valued at approximately $25,000 covered eight weeks of transportation, room and board, academics and flight hours.
Weckbacher, dressed in a flight suit that she received during her training at Fairmont State University in West Virginia, shared details of her experience during Thursday’s Effingham County Board of Education meeting.
“Getting a head start was key,” she said.
Weckbacher credited Lt. Col. Andrew Wichers with helping her excel in the program.
“He arranged with a CFI, which is a certified flight instructor, to come and help us with the tests that we had to take in order to get this scholarship,” she said.
Five other Effingham County cadets also applied for the scholarship.
Weckbacher said she also benefitted from some training she received as a birthday present from her parents.
“This helped me a lot, a lot, a lot, a lot,” she said. “It helped me how to do a pre-flight (check), it helped me know how to read the instruments and it helped me know basic knowledge about an aircraft.”
Weckbacher was also aided by a flight simulator program she received for Christmas.
“This helped me work with my AT, which is air traffic,” she said.
After about three weeks of training, Weckbacher took her first solo flight in a training aircraft.
“It was definitely a memorable moment in my life,” she said. “I was the first cadet who landed with a 25-knot crosswind, which was not the plan at all. It was extremely stressful in the air. I had air traffic constantly trying to help me while I was in the air.
“Once I got on the ground again, though, it was a huge confidence booster ...”
Weckbacher’s goal is to pilot a C-17, a large military transport aircraft.
“Thinking about one individual person being able to control this huge plane is mind blowing to me,” she said Thursday after telling the Effingham County Board of Education about her summer experience.
Weckbacher has been enamored with thoughts of flying since she was young.
“When I was little, I sat in the cockpit of a Delta plane and that is when I knew what I wanted to do,” she said.
For more information on the Flight Academy Scholarship Program contact AFJROTC Public Affairs at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Those who participate in the program do not incur a military commitment to the Air Force or other branch of service, nor does completing the program guarantee acceptance into one of the military’s commissioning programs.