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​Air Force Junior ROTC cadets take a familiarization flight in a 1st Special Operations Wing aircraft at Hurlburt Field, Fla., June 27, 2017. Headquarters AFJROTC has started a new Flight Academy scholarship program that could one day turn some cadets into pilots on military or commercial aircraft to help address the nation’s aircrew crisis. Air Force photo by A1C Joseph Pick.

​The Air Force is paying $2.4 million to teach 120 of its Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps cadets (AFJROTC) how to fly, part of the service's overall effort to address its pilot shortage.

Recipients of the newly launched AFJROTC Flight Academy scholarship will take classes this summer, each course lasting between seven and nine weeks, according to the Air Force. If all goes according to plan, cadets will return with private pilot licenses. Recipients can expect to hear whether they were selected on Friday, when the names will be released to instructors, according to Philip Berube, a spokesman at Maxwell AFB, Ala.

Each scholarship in the initial round averages out to $19,000, with an additional $1,000 in medical screenings and travel rounding that up to approximately $20,000 per cadet, according to AFJROTC’s Region 1 director and Flight Academy program acting director, Todd Taylor.  

A little more than an eighth of the unexpected 800 applicants for the scholarship will receive it. The Corps aims to award more than double this amount in the next cycle, sending 250 cadets for a PPL in summer 2019. Eventually, the Air Force hopes to award these scholarships to 1,200 AFJROTC cadets every year.

One of the “primary goals” of the program is to increase diversity, Taylor told Air Force Magazine, adding “white males remain the largest demographic group among aviators.” To this end, the program touts that 55 percent of its applicants are “non-white males,” he said, including 41 percent of those selected—120 recipients and 30 alternates. More specifically, 38 percent of applicants were minority, and 34 percent female.

“The non-white male figure best represents the diversity of this program as many of the young ladies selected may also be represented in other categories,” Taylor explained. “AFJROTC, without effort, is an extremely diverse organization based on gender, race, and geography.” AFJROTC itself claims 58 percent of its 120,000 cadets are minority and 40 percent are female, as of Sept. 30, 2017.

Summer classes will take place at six partner universities: Auburn University, Auburn, Ala.; Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, Daytona Beach, Fla; Kansas State University, Manhatten, Kan.; Liberty University, Lynchburg, Va.; Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind.; and University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, N.D.

The program works alongside the service’s Aircrew Crisis Task Force, which USAF stood up in late August to help counter a growing and worsening pilot shortage. The idea is to get potential airmen closer to becoming the pilots the service so desperately needs. This is another example of a creative means to solving that problem.

“We’re going to break paradigms, go outside of traditional methods of producing Air Force pilots, and look at all options out there on how to solve some of these problems that we’re facing,” Lt. Gen. Darryl Roberson, former commander of Air Education and Training Command, told Air Force Magazine in 2017.

However, recipients won’t necessarily become military pilots, even if they earn their private licenses. Cadets will not incur a military commitment after getting their PPL through this Flight Academy program, nor will they be guaranteed any promotion within USAF because of it.

“We understand not all of the cadets graduating from the Flight Academy will elect to take a military track, but that’s OK as those young people electing to enter commercial aviation will have a positive impact on the overall national crisis,” said Brig. Gen. Michael Koscheski, director of the Air Force Aircrew Crisis Task Force, in a release about the scholarship.

Cadets who want to apply for scholarships covering the 2019 summer courses will be able to do so between Thanksgiving and Christmas of 2018. More information will hit AFJROTC units in the fall.

“AFA has been advocating for quite some time on the Air Force’s pilot shortage, while promoting STEM programs," said Air Force Association President Larry Spencer. "We are optimistic that the Air Force’s efforts will drive enthusiasm for aerospace and STEM careers, while offering valuable opportunities for aspiring aviators.”