Air Jordan

At 17, Senior Jordan McGinnis is one of the nation’s youngest female pilots

By Julia Bell

When school ended last June, most students threw their backpacks in the closet and didn’t even consider picking up a book.  Jordan McGinnis, a senior at Dexter High School, spent hours every day with her nose inside of Gleim Test Prep, a textbook used to prepare for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Private Pilot License Exam. 

A private pilot license (PPL) is a certification that allows the holder to act as the commanding pilot of a private aircraft.  In the United States, you must be 17 years old to hold a private pilot license. 

Jordan turned 17 this May, and earned her PPL in September, making her one of the youngest female license-holders in the nation.  She is one of only 423 young women in the the United States between the ages 17 and 19 to hold a license.

Jordan discovered her passion for flying in seventh grade, but it has always played an important role in her life. Jordan’s father, Colonel John McGinnis, recently retired from the United States Marine Corps after 28 years of service. He spent many years as a fighter pilot and now flies commercially for Delta Airlines. Jordan has always been proud of her dad’s work, and now he feels the same pride towards Jordan.

“It’s been amazing watching Jordan work towards a goal over the course of two years,” he said. “[She’s made] a lot of sacrifices to complete what she started.”

Jordan began flying during the summer before 11th grade.  She participated in flight lessons every day from July through August.   The day before her father retired from the Marine Corps, after 20 hours of instructed flying, Jordan completed her first solo flight. “I didn’t know I was doing it that day,” she said. “I was up practicing take offs and landings and they were going well. When we landed my instructor asked how I felt about them and then asked how I felt about doing my first solo flight.” Jordan’s response was simple, “Let me call my mom first.”

During her junior year, school work took precedence over flying. “During junior year I only flew four times,” she said. “One was my first cross country flight, which was definitely scarier than my first solo flight. There was a really strong headwind, so we had to make an unexpected stop for fuel.” Once school ended, she began studying for her licensing exam. 

Jordan is a drum major for the Dexter High School Marching Band and a varsity cross country runner.  Between drum major responsibilities, cross country practice, flight lessons, and studying, Jordan was left with little time to relax this summer.  “As a student pilot you aren’t allowed to fly at night. One morning I got up at 4:45 to get to the airport at 6 so I could start flying as soon as it was technically day,” she said. “I had a band leadership seminar at 9 and had to go straight there from the airport. Afterwards we had a full band rehearsal.”

The FAA private pilot knowledge exam is a 60 question written exam. In order to pass the written portion, one must receive a score of 70 percent or above.  Jordan’s dedicated summer of studying earned her an exceptional score of 88 percent.  “I know that while I didn’t necessarily spend my summer how I hoped, I went in to both my check ride and FAA test feeling confident. That was huge for me,” she said. “I didn’t want to barely pass. I wanted to do well enough that when I finally got the chance to take people flying I could be confident.”

Last summer, Jordan attended a week long seminar at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Following graduation, Jordan hopes to attend either the Naval Academy or the Air Force Academy with the intent to serve in the United States Navy. Her long term goal is to become a fighter pilot. “I want to be a part of something that’s for a greater purpose and that’s why I want to go into the military,” she said. “I’ve known that this is something I’ve wanted to do since I was in seventh grade, and earning my private pilot’s license was the first step to getting there.”