John Willingham
John Willingham

John Willingham

Mount Vernon Presbyterian School, senior

John Willingham has set his bar high. High in the sky, in fact.

John started two clubs during his high school career: rocketry club and Bible study club. He participates in a variety of other school activities — robotics club, business club, community service club — and is Head Prefect at Mount Vernon Presbyterian.

And somewhere along the way, he found time in his schedule to get his pilot’s license.

“I’ve always been interested in flying,” he said. Asked what attracted him, he struggled for the words, “You know, the actual…being able to fly off … and to have that sense of freedom.”

John obtained his license to fly when he was 17 years old. He’s a member of the Civil Air Patrol unit based at DeKalb-Peachtree Airport. The nonprofit CAP consists of about 60,000 volunteer youth and adults nationally and performs services for the federal government as the civilian auxiliary to the U.S. Air Force and for states and local communities, according to the organization’s website.

John was promoted recently to 2nd Lieutenant Deputy Commander and was awarded the Billy Mitchell Award, the highest award given to cadets. Only 2 percent of cadets receive this award, he said.

“John is an exceptional young man and is not one to let obstacles stand in his way when it comes to something he wants to achieve,” said his dad, Bill Willingham.

“He’s always setting and pushing to complete more difficult goals. Receiving his private pilot’s license was a very special day for him, and its one goal his Mom and I enjoyed very much seeing him achieve.”

John said that getting his pilot’s license was, like others of his passions, worth the work it required. “Having that interest to get up every morning and keep working at it,” he said, “it’s definitely reachable.”

John’s dad was his first passenger.

“Once John passed his [Federal Aviation Administration] check flight this past summer in Orlando, he asked me if I would be his first passenger. Of course, I said, ‘Yes,’ and we flew to The Villages, Fla., to see his grandparents waving up at us from their house.

“This was the first time I had the chance to see him in action and was impressed in how he communicated with the tower and Flight Watch. He didn’t seem to be nervous at all and even requested and was given clearance to fly over the parks because he wanted to show me all the people standing in line. All in all he handled everything like he’d been flying for years. It was a very special day for both of us.”

What’s next?

John hopes to attend Georgia Tech next year to study aerospace engineering.

This article was prepared and written by Ricky Cao, a student at Dunwoody High School.