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Blue Angels aviator impressed by young pilot during Indiana school visit

By SUE LOUGHLIN | The Tribune-Star, Terre Haute, Ind. | Published: August 18, 2018

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (Tribune News Service) — As a pilot with the Blue Angels, Marine Corps Maj. Jeff Mullins is doing what many aspiring aviators only dream of accomplishing.

But as he spoke at Terre Haute North Vigo High School Friday, among those in the audience was an Air Force Junior ROTC cadet who has earned wings of her own.

Cadet First Lt. Latyshia James, a North Vigo senior, earned her private pilot's license in just 6 ½ weeks during a training course at Purdue University; she wore her flight suit and wings Friday and has already flown solo.

She was one of only 120 Air Force Junior ROTC cadets around the world, and the only cadet from Indiana, to receive a scholarship – valued at about $20,000 – from the program's headquarters at Maxwell Air Force Base, Montgomery, Alabama. More than 750 cadets had applied for the 120 scholarships.

To qualify, she had to have a good GPA and she took a test described as "grueling" by Col. Tom Greenlee, who heads up North's Air Force Junior ROTC program along with Josh Hall, chief master sergeant and instructor.

Not everyone who attended the training program, offered at six colleges, earned their private pilot's license. But James did.

"It's just a huge deal," Greenlee said. "We're very proud of her. We'll be talking to her about maybe being a pilot physician" in the Air Force, he said.

Even Mullins, the Blue Angel who will participate in breathtaking flight demonstrations this weekend at the Terre Haute Air Show, praised her accomplishment. "It's very impressive," he said. "The fact you were able to do it [earn her private pilot's license] in such a short amount of time is pretty incredible. Generally it takes people a lot longer."

Being able to learn that quickly "is one of the most challenging things in the military, and you were obviously able to accomplish that this summer. It's really cool to see," he told James after he had spoken to Air Force Junior ROTC cadets and other students in the North Vigo auditorium.

Could she be a future U.S. Navy Blue Angel? "She's going into the Air Force, probably," Mullins said. The U.S. Air Force has its own air demonstration squadron, the Thunderbirds.

He told James, "I'm sure you have the mentality and the ability to succeed in the military" as a pilot, based on her track record of success so far.

The most important attributes in becoming a military pilot are learning quickly, being humble – and "learning from every mistake you make," he told her.

In describing her experience at Purdue, James said, "We ate, slept and breathed aviation. ... I wouldn't trade it. It was such a great experience." She completed the eight-week course in 61/2 weeks.

She's already made multiple solo flights, including from Purdue to Terre Haute and back.

The most memorable part of the course for her was when an instructor "pulled zero G's on us. It was like we were in outer space ... and things floated up for a second." By zero G's, she meant weightless flight or zero gravity.

Asked if she'd like to be a Blue Angel, she said, "I'd have to think about that. I kind of want to go into the Air Force for aviation and medical."

Graduates of the Flight Academy Scholarship Program who earned their private pilot license do not incur a military commitment to the Air Force or other branch of service.

In his talk to the North Vigo audience, Mullins – who is in the U.S. Marine Corps – encouraged students to "be the best version of themselves they can be and chase their dreams."

He told them to take ownership of their mistakes and learn from them, and also to have the dedication, determination and grit to achieve success.

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