May 2, 2013 Updated: May 2, 2013 at 5:45 pm
Two Colorado Springs high school students took flight Thursday morning to pilot an airplane for the first time.
Air Force Junior ROTC cadets Kenneth K. Roberts, a ninth grader from Harrison High School, and Julio Lopez, an 11th grader from Sierra High School, were surprised with the honor during a field trip to Peak Aviation Center.
Thirteen of the more than 130 cadets in the Harrison School District program were rewarded with the field trip, and Roberts and Lopez - the two recognized as outstanding cadets - got to fly.
'It felt incredible up there, ' Lopez said, when he landed and got both feet on the ground. 'It was kind of scary at first, but in the air, it felt natural. '
The students spent much of the morning learning how planes work and what goes into a safe flight. They also talked with an Air Force Academy admissions officer, Air Force veterans and pilots.
Much of the students' ROTC curriculum revolves around aviation, but the point of the program is to produce citizens of character, said retired Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Roosevelt T. Wilson, the Air Force JROTC instructor for Harrison School District 2.
'We don't mind what they go out in life to do as long as they're being productive citizens, ' he said.
Al Mathews, co-owner of Peak Aviation and the director of High Hopes for Teens, which provides flying lessons for at-risk and troubled teens, told students having a pilot's license opens doors for many careers.
An almost-graduate of High Hopes for Teens, Andre Young, shared his experiences and taught the students about aircraft. Young is a freshman at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and has wanted to be a pilot ever since he went to an air show with his parents as a child. He has been accepted to the Air Force Academy and said he is excited to start cadet training during the summer, when he'll already have his pilot's license.
Flying can be a little unnerving at first, he said. Smaller planes don't fly as smoothly as large commercial airliners.
'Once you get the hang of it, it's a great feeling, ' Young said. 'It's your job to fly it safely and get it down safely. '
There's nothing more confidence-building than that, Mathews said.
'I don't want you to tell me you can't, ' he said. ''I don't want to' is fine, but I don't like 'can't.' '