As of 2020, the Federal Aviation Administration decreed that a professional pilot must have 250 hours of training. Additionally, Flying Magazine reported that most commercial pilots have to log between 1,000 and 1,500 hours in the sky before being hirable. If that’s the case, then Falls Church resident Sarina Winters has gotten off to a great start.
Winters, a rising high school junior at Falls Church’s Meridian High School, is currently enrolled in Randolph-Macon Academy’s summer program where she splits her time every day between learning the mechanics of flying in the classroom and private flying instruction. She has also been accepted for regular term admission where she has the option to finish her high school career at the Front Royal campus.
”I feel like there are more kids who are like me [here],” Winters said about her experiences at Randolph-Macon Academy so far. “People who have goals and constantly want to learn more.” Winters’ love of flying came from her parents, who were both a part of the Air Force.
Her father, Mike, eventually served on the Joint Staff at the Pentagon and was selected to be the Vice Wing Commander at RAF Mildenhall UK. Meanwhile, mom Rohini served as a jack of all trades with the Air Force. She was in major weapon system acquisition and financial management as well as assignment operations. She ended her career as a financial analyst at the Air Staff Long Range Plans division. She is currently retired and works in the private sector.
“My parents and I are very alike. I’m very strong-minded and have a lot of determination,” Sarina added.
Mike got accepted to University of California Berkeley despite leaving home before finishing high school. Though he initially studied physics and had a knack for motorcycle repair (he worked in a repair shop to pay for college), he was impressed by the military when attending his older brother’s wedding.
His brother was a Marine and he was inspired by hearing from many members of his squadron. He enrolled in ROTC and within a week was steered towards the Air Force branch because he had a physics major, good eyesight and a mechanical aptitude.
Winters herself has a similar combination of interests in both engineering and aviation. She spent her summer and winter breaks over the past couple of years traveling across the country to work alongside her father with his company.
The company, Mission Analytics, LLC, was founded in 2013 and specializes in system design, audiovisual system installations, data analytics and technical consulting. Winters and her father spent the summer installing screens across the country.
“That’s been a really good job because, for one, I get closer to [my dad], and I also got to talk to people in the military,” said Winters.
She came across Randolph-Macon Academy when she was looking for private schools with a Junior ROTC program and saw that there was a school nearby where she could fly planes. Randolph-Macon Academy owns two Cessna planes at nearby Front Royal Warren County Airport.
“One of the many reasons we like having students like Sarina is that she has the drive and goals and Randolph-Macon has the wherewithal to support her goals with our flying program,” said Academy Enrollment Director Sung Chu. “This is because the flight program not only teaches flying, but also includes the grounds and engineering component.”
It didn’t hurt that the school’s academic pedigree has it ranked very high among prep and boarding schools in the region. According to Chu, while the school has a military tradition and is heavily focused around ROTC, the primary purpose of the school is to make sure every student graduates and gets into a good college.
Last year, they graduated all 50 of their students who collectively received over $12.3 million in scholarships to schools as prestigious as Cornell, George Washington, Northwestern and Johns Hopkins. In addition, 15 members of the 2021 graduating class went to military service academies.
Winters’ goal is to either go into an armed forces academy or a school with a good ROTC program and is eyeing her dad’s alma mater UC Berkeley. She plans on keeping up a rigorous course schedule with AP classes. Her main sports so far in her youth have been cheerleading and gymnastics and she has an opportunity to try her hand at other sports.
But for now she’s focused on flying, which she describes as a war of attrition.
“It takes a lot of skill and determination and you gotta continue to show up, and when you don’t get the landing right and you forget something on your checklist, you gotta keep learning,” she said. “I’ve only been here three weeks and I already know so much but I feel like there’s so much more I have to learn,” she said.
Another big challenge for Winters is to apply what she’s learned in the air. Her program also involves a lot of mathematics and understanding weather patterns that affect flying.
Winters began flying with the Young Eagles program in sixth grade. Launched in 1992, the Young Eagles is dedicated to inspiring aviation in youth by giving kids their first flying experience. The program is run off pilots donating their time and money and is free for kids. Before enrolling this Summer, her previous flying experience was three Young Eagles flights.
“It was exciting, and yes, I was nervous when they took off,” said mom Rohini. “But having been part of the USAF and always in awe of the Thunderbirds at airshows, I was really just thrilled that she might want to fly and serve her country someday.”
The family does not know where Winters will attend school in the Fall. They have been looking at a civil air patrol squadron in Burke and a program at Manassas Regional Airport. Whether she continues her high school education with Randolph-Macon Academy or back at Meridian High, there is no doubt that she will continue flying.