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Plum student dreams of soaring experience

| Thursday, June 3, 2010

Dom Markham has dreamed of being a pilot since he was in fifth grade.

Markham, a cadet with the Air Force Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps program at Plum Senior High School, got his wish when he took the controls of a small plane through a program offered by the Civil Air Patrol, an auxiliary of the Air Force.

The patrol routinely conducts air and ground search-and-rescue missions.

"Once you feel you are in control ... it is amazing," said Markham, 16, a sophomore who got to fly one of the planes from the Allegheny County Airport in West Mifflin. "You're defying the laws of gravity."

The Air Force this year gave Plum's JROTC, now in its fourth year, $3,000 to conduct the flight program.

Each cadet in the program gets an hour of flight time. About 32 have taken advantage of it so far, said Maj. Scott Kolar, one of three instructors.

Chief Master Sgt. Tim Conley said the program represents "curriculum in action" because the cadets in the classroom learn about the parts of a plane and aerodynamics.

"Being up there was awesome," said Alex Harrington, 15, a freshman and first-year cadet who aspires to be a pilot.

Markham, who plans to attend college and later join the military, flew the small aircraft except for the takeoff and landing.

"When I told my mom about the opportunity, she said, 'certainly.' She knows I want to fly. And I come from a military family."

Harrington, who hung out with a "bad crowd" as a student at Oblock Junior High School, said the JROTC program has turned his life around.

"I used to be a couch potato," Harrington said. "Now I stay after school every day. There's so much to do. And now I'm an honor roll student."

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