Monday, February 20, 2012

Mechanicsburg student uses flight training to be better pupil

MECHANICSBURG - Jennifer Mastoris openly admits she is not like others her age and is proud her priorities are different than those of many other 17-year-olds.

This is evident when speaking about her most recent accomplishment, obtaining her private pilot certification.

"My soul is up there," she said about flying.

Daughter of Lori Cook of Mechanicsburg and John Mastoris of Springfield, the Mechanicsburg High School senior said her path to flying "just kind of happened."

She remembers flying for the first time the summer after eighth grade when she took a commercial flight to visit her aunt in Arizona. She loved it. Mastoris said her grandmother and uncle both have a love of aviation, and it was passed to her.

It's been almost three years since her first flying lesson, which Mastoris said is more than enough time to earn the certification.

"It was hard to pay for ... and it's a lot of studying," she said of the process.

Mastoris, however, made it one of her top priorities, along with her education. She's a member of Student Council and National Honor Society at Mechanicsburg High School and attends Clark State as part of the two-year professional pilot program. After completion, she will have her associate's degree in science, aviation and technology, along with a variety of certifications that will allow her to be a flight instructor.

She also is training to be a state-tested nurse's aide (STNA) at Clark State.

"Education comes first for me," she said, and she puts it and flying before almost everything else in her life.

"Flight school has helped me become a good student," Mastoris said.

Her flight training has come from flight instructor Aaron Coleman of Mad River Air, located at Grimes Field for just over a year. He has 10 students, but said Mastoris is a student who stands out.

He said it's "pretty rare" to have a teenager become certified as a pilot. Only 0.5 percent of pilots in the United States are 19 years or younger.

One reason for this is it can be costly, $6,000-$7,000 on average, to reach certification, he said. He has had many young people come to him for lessons, then never return for more.

He said Mastoris had a few rough times during training, "but we pushed it through."

"She worked really hard," Coleman said.

Mastoris took her written pilot's test last winter, but took the next year to complete the necessary flight hours, finishing with her check ride in January.

"I flew whenever I could schedule time," she said, working hard to master certain maneuvers she found most difficult. Landing was rocky in the beginning, but now it is smooth and natural for her to do.

"I always thought that I connected with the plane on a certain level ... I could depend on it," she said. It's hard to believe she once was afraid of heights.

Mastoris said she gets a "natural high" from flying. "It gives me a chance to let go and be me."

She credits her father for helping her make the decision to pursue her dream.

"So much of this is because of him," she said. She hopes one day to take her father up in a plane with her. The only relative who has taken that ride is one of her older sisters.

At one time Mastoris considered going into the military for flight. Her favorite jet is the F-16. She, however, decided she wants to be an instructor to help others.

"I want to inspire myself," she said, and eventually inspire others.

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