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Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Aiming High

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High School Senior, Emma Elferdink, accepted to Air Force Academy with the goal of becoming a fighter pilot

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Weeki Wachee High School senior Emma Elferdink may have her feet planted firmly on the ground, but her heart and mind are soaring into the “wild blue yonder.” This fall she’ll be pursuing her education at the Air Force Academy and fulfilling her dream of becoming a fighter pilot. Emma states that her pilot father, Brian, is the inspiration for her wanting to fly. He was a pilot for Emirates Airlines and now flies cargo planes. She is presently taking flying lessons.
When her father flew for Emirate Airlines, Emma and her family lived in Dubai. By seeing how other people lived−their governments and their rules−she learned to appreciate the rights and freedoms we have as Americans. She also learned about other cultures because they lived in a community with people from all over the world.

Emma decided at quite a young age that she wanted to join the Air Force. It happened when she was in middle school. “One particular event I remember. It was my eighth-grade year and I attended the Field of Honor ceremony. My mom ran the ceremony. She brought about 100 flags. We had one for my grandfather who was in the Air Force. There were a lot of speeches that day. There were active duty and retired officers talking about their experiences. I was sitting there thinking ‘I know I want to be a pilot why had I never thought of the Air Force.’ From that day on I started researching it and decided rather than just enlisting in the military why not apply to the (Air Force) Academy so I wouldn’t waste my potential.”
As she knew she wanted to join the military and pursue a career in aviation, the Air Force was a logical choice because she discovered that they offered the most pilot slots for officers (than the other academies). Not only does Emma want to become a pilot, she wants to fly fighter jets.

Emma started the application process for the Air Force Academy at the end of her junior year by attending a week-long summer seminar at the school located near Colorado Springs. During this program, prospective applicants find out what the Academy is all about. It familiarizes the student with what it’s like to be a cadet–living in the dorms, etc. Emma fell in love with the place and who wouldn’t? Nestled in the foothills of the Rampart Range of the Rocky Mountains, it’s at an elevation of 6,500 feet. The architecture of the buildings on campus is modernistic. The Academy even has its own airport–convenient for someone studying to get her private pilot’s license.
“I especially liked the cadet chapel,” Emma states.

Entering the Air Force Academy is not simply a matter of applying. You have to be nominated by your congressman or some other official, such as a high-ranking military officer. While working on getting her nomination to the Academy, she was set up with Richard Newton, a lieutenant general who helped her through this process. She learned about the experience of being in the Air Force. General Newton was the one who actually recommended her.

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Emma is confident in her ability to make it through the five years in which she’ll be attending the Academy, but admits that basic training scares her somewhat−how physically demanding it is. However, before they even apply, candidates have to pass a fitness assessment and Emma was above average on all her scores. Her years as a competitive swimmer was a big factor in her success.

Her mother, Michelle, and her father, Brian, have been her biggest cheerleaders. Emma also has a younger sister, Dylan, a sophomore at Weeki Wachee High School. Emma’s favorite subject in school is English and in her spare time she enjoys creative writing, especially fantasy. She explains that it’s a way of expressing her feelings and creativity. Emma also enjoys calligraphy.

The future Air Force cadet has not decided on her major but is leaning towards aeronautical engineering. She has plenty of time to decide. In the fall, Emma will complete her six-week basic training first and then begin taking her basic studies courses. This coming year will be a preparation for her actual freshman year in which she’ll repeat the same courses. Emma wants to take this extra year so that she can excel in these courses. This will give her a better chance of being accepted into the pilot’s program, which is extremely selective.

Emma knows that there will be challenges when she enters the Academy. “The most challenging thing about the Academy will be the change in the environment. You go from being a high school student, with a lot of freedom to a strict structured environment. You have to wake up at a certain time, then you go to practice, then you go to school. You don’t have too much freedom, especially your freshman year.”

“The Air Force Academy is ranked very high in their research programs. It’s a very prestigious school, so I’m looking forward to using all their resources to better myself,” Emma adds. She plans to make a career in the Air Force. Her five years of schooling count towards her service requirements. After that, she’ll only have to serve five years of active duty to be halfway to fulfilling the requirement of twenty years’ service in order to retire, if she wants to.
Her parents have been the biggest influences in her life, especially her dad, whom she describes as the adventurous type. “He’s provided for my family and he’s always been the happy person that everyone can turn to. His being a pilot influenced me, as well. He took me out on my first flight lesson. He’s been cheering me on since I started this process. His saying ‘You can do it’ has helped me a lot.”

Leaving home to go to college more than 1,700 miles away from home can be daunting. However, Emma is up to the challenge. “Having the support from my family, friends and teachers makes me more excited than nervous. I’m going in with a positive attitude.”

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