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Anderson Takes Flight as Miss Virginia Teen Volunteer

Mia Anderson looks for dark clouds, not silver linings.

The Loudoun County High School senior knows dark clouds will help her glider attain greater altitude. “Fluffy clouds with a dark base, that’s kind of where you want to head to. There might be some lift there.”

Anderson took her first flight lesson when she was 13. “I fell in love with it. I was too young to start flying airplanes, but gliders have a lower age requirement.” (You can solo in a glider at 14 and get your glider pilot’s license at 16.) At 18, she now has her pilot’s license and a drone license (although she’s not very active with it).

Not only does Anderson love flying, she shares her passion with others. That recently earned the title Miss Virginia Teen Volunteer 2023. Anderson started a non-profit, Air Ambition, whose mission is to inspire, educate and mentor the next generation of aviators. She appears at events such as Cub Scout aviation days to explain how a glider works. “I basically taught them about gliders and how a plane can fly without an engine. An engine isn’t necessarily what gets a plane to fly. It’s the wings that do all the work.”

Anderson’s aviation inspiration came from a source much closer to home; in fact her home. Her father is a captain for Southwest Airlines. Her mom is a flight attendant. Her grandmother and her twin sister also were flight attendants. Two great-grandfathers were pilots. “Aviation is in my blood.”

Beyond Air Ambition, Anderson takes part in several aviation-related organizations, including Women in Aviation International; Girls in Aviation; the Ninety-Nines, an organization of women pilots for which Amelia Earhart served as the first president; and the Soaring Society of America.  

Anderson noted that only 7 percent of pilots are women, a statistic she’d like to change. After graduating from Loudoun County, her career goal is to be a captain for a major airline. “I love general aviation so much, I want to stay involved with it throughout my life.”

A member of Loudoun County’s Junior Naval ROTC program, Anderson said she’s been looking at colleges, but also a cadet program called Destination 225, which could be a pathway to being  hired as a pilot at Southwest. She said seniority is a big key to a successful airline career and wants to get started as soon as possible.

For now, Anderson is concentrating on glider flights around Front Royal.

“On a normal flight, I’ll get towed up to about 3,000 feet. Once I reach that altitude, I’ll pull the release so the plane is no longer attached to the rope.” From there, Anderson seeks ways to increase her altitude. “You can’t just add power and get up to that altitude. You really have to work for it.” She uses an example from nature to explain how gaining altitude works. “When you see vultures circling, they’re not actually circling their prey. They’re actually getting lift and doing what glider pilots do.”

Anderson said she’s reached an altitude of 6,000 feet and an airspeed of 60 knots (69 mph). She added that she’s not frightened by turbulence. “I like to explain that turbulence is like driving a pickup truck down a dirt road; all it is is a rumble of rough air.”  

It takes more than dark clouds and rough air to deter Anderson in her quest for a career in aviation.

Published October 13, 2023