Mississippi student earns scholarship to flight program

STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) — A teen’s 16th birthday is usually an vital milestone.

That held true for Starkville native Tyler Highfield. Only his massive second didn’t happen within the Department of Motor Vehicles.

After about 20 hours of instruction with Circle S Aviation in Starkville, Highfield efficiently navigated his first solo flight on his 16th birthday on Oct. three, 2019. Because an individual can’t fly solo till they’re 16, Highfield was so amped up about getting to the airfield that he didn’t thoughts placing his driver’s license on the again burner.

“I flew a plane by myself before I could drive by myself,” Highfield stated. “That’s pretty crazy. … So far it’s probably one of the coolest moments of my life.”

The milestone was a figurative lap round Cloud Nine, contemplating the soon-to-be junior at Starkville Academy dreamt about being a pilot since he was 6 years previous. But good luck making an attempt to work out the place his love of the sky originated.

No one in his instant household is a pilot, nor can Highfield pinpoint precisely the place his fascination with planes began. Ironically, his father, Mike, would a lot relatively keep firmly on the bottom. In the center of an airborne expertise with Tyler and his teacher a number of years in the past, nerves received the higher of the elder Highfield, main to the flight ending prematurely.

But the youthful Highfield has a burning ardour for all issues aviation, nonetheless.

“I’ve always wanted to be a pilot,” Tyler stated. “I’ve always just really liked planes. I don’t know where the original idea came from. I’ve just known I’ve always loved it.”

Tyler acquired a bit of excellent information final week, being chosen as one in every of 80 highschool college students nationwide to obtain a $10,000 scholarship from the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) 2020 High School Flight Scholarship Program. The cash can be put towards coaching en route to incomes Tyler’s personal pilot certificates when he turns 17, which means he might produce other individuals within the airplane alongside him.

“It’s not only helpful to him, but helpful to our whole family,” stated Shelley Highfield, Tyler’s mom.

The utility required a number of essay questions, details about his experiences as a pilot, his transcript, a letter of reference from his flight teacher and a letter of reference from a trainer.

“I was really excited and really surprised as well,” Highfield stated. “Ten-thousand dollars, that’s a lot of money. For someone wanting to donate that to you is a surreal experience.”


Tragedy struck the Starkville group on July 6, 2019, when 18-year-old Lake Little was killed after crashing a single-engine airplane she was flying solo on the grounds of the University of Mississippi golf course.

Little went to college with Tyler at Starkville Academy, and the pair performed on the identical tennis workforce and attended the identical youth group collectively. But they each shared a love of aviation.

“We always talked about flying. She loved it,” Tyler stated. “I was just getting into it around the time she was also getting into it. She always talked to me and asked about what was going on with my flight training. She was a really big influence on my training.”

While attending Little’s funeral, Tyler spoke with Lake’s father, David. The elder Little instructed Tyler not to let Lake’s accident deter him from his goals of changing into a pilot.

“That meant a lot to me as a dad that he said that,” Mike stated. “Because honestly, that’s always in the back of my mind every time he’s in the air.”


Highfield’s first lesson with Circle S Aviation befell in January 2019.

“My parents bought me a flight lesson for a Christmas gift,” Tyler stated. “After the first flight, I was hooked on it.”

Since his first expertise within the air, Mike estimates his son has spent about 100 hours within the cockpit of an airplane.

He has much more deliberate sooner or later.

“Something that makes us confident in him continuing to fly is that he loves it so much and that he does want to pursue it as a career,” Mike stated. “We see this as an investment in his career choice, and a lot of times that’s not something you can do at 15 or 16 years old.”

Before he graduates highschool, Tyler hopes to obtain his industrial license, which means he will be paid to fly.

Upon commencement from Starkville Academy in two years, Tyler hopes to attend both the Naval Academy or the Air Force Academy for school to pursue a profession in aviation within the army.

“It’s totally different when you’re up there,” Tyler stated of the expertise of flying. “You see the world from an entirely different point of view. It’s something most people don’t get to experience, but once you do experience it, you’re hooked on it and you can’t give it up.”

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