KU ROTC students are a hot commodity for the Air Force, which is looking to fill a shortfall of pilots and navigators.
Aiming high is paying off for Jayhawks who want to fly.
Seven Kansas University Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets have landed pilot or navigator slots for the Air Force -- two in 1994 and five this year.
It's a big increase for KU's Air Force ROTC program, in which no cadets had landed pilot or navigator positions in the four previous years.
"Our kids are a cut above, and they're (now) being selected at a higher rate than at most other universities," said Col. Rick Hunter, commander of KU's Air Force ROTC, one of 147 college Air Force programs. "It's indicative of a strong program, and it's indicative of the kind of cadets we have."
The Air Force takes pilots from both college ROTC programs and its own officer training schools, similar to the Navy school featured in the movie "An Officer and a Gentleman."
With an earlier surplus in pilots, the Air Force only accepted 100 pilots and 25 navigators each year from 1990 to 1993.
But in 1994, 440 flying positions were opened up, a result of a shortage of pilots that is expected to continue for at least the next five years, Hunter said.
What that means, he said, is that KU's cadets should continue to have better opportunities to fly and navigate sophisticated fighters such as the F-15E Strike Eagle and F-117A Stealth fighter.
"We're some 500 pilots short," he said. "That's evident because we (the Air Force) are extending the invitation for former fighter pilots who would like to come back."
Although Hunter, 48, flew combat missions in Vietnam and was a fighter instructor for several years before coming to KU, he isn't among returning pilots.
"I'm too old," he joked.
But he said potential opportunities for cadets "are in a different league" than any other career they could land.
"Flying is so much fun that it is almost hard to describe," he said. "When you have completed the training, you get to get into a $30 million aircraft, fly it and land it somewhere ... and you're maybe 23, 24 years old. There's just no comparison."
Hunter cautioned, however, that although anyone can take ROTC courses, students must join the cadet corps to be eligible for an officer commission and a chance to fly.
Flying slots are granted based on competitive academics and training, usually through three or four years in the ROTC program.
"What's not possible is to just walk in and say 'I want to join ROTC and start flying airplanes tomorrow,'" he said. "But I have kids that do that almost every day."