RANTOUL — The U.S. Army website outlining the Warrant Officer Flight Training School (WOFT) contains the statement, “The road to becoming an U.S. Army pilot won’t be easy.” Don’t tell Grant Jones that. He already knows it. He embraces it.
The program has only a 3 percent acceptance rate — lower than that of Stanford or Harvard, which have acceptance rates between 5 and 6 percent.
Jones, who graduated with his class at Rantoul Township High School Friday night, will head for Ft. Benning, Ga., in August to begin basic training before the start of one year of warrant officer and flight training in Fort Rucker, Ala. (Jones’ brother, Staff Sgt. Brandon Jones, will be stationed at Ft. Benning at the same time as a drill instructor.) Grant has a six-year contract with the Army. Successful completion of his training will find him flying all manner of rotary aircraft, including Chinook, Apache and Black Hawk helicopters.
“The Army does helicopters,” Jones said. “The Air Force does jets and planes.”
And he will be going in as a warrant officer instead of an enlisted soldier.
Jones had considered attending Southern Illinois University and going through Reserved Officer Training Corps, but there was no guarantee he would fly after graduation.
“From high school to flight school” is one slogan the Army uses, but getting there can be a challenge.
The Army physician who gave Jones his physical said, “’Good luck. I don’t see many high-schoolers get through this,’” Jones’ mother, Mary, said.
Flight has been more of a recent dream for Jones, who fancied being a veterinarian until two to three years ago.
“I looked at the military and loved everything about it,” Jones said. “I found aviation and went on a discovery flight” — where a person pays a pilot to take him or her up and gets “to do a couple of maneuvers like turning to see if you’ll enjoy flying before you apply for any expensive class.
“I loved it. It was a Piper Archer (plane). The first time we pulled like 2 Gs (twice the level of gravity). I said, ‘That felt good.’”
Starting his junior year Jones began taking dual-credit courses at Parkland College to attain his private pilot’s license. He needs one more class to complete it. Jones got up early — leaving the house at 6:15 a.m. — to make it to the aviation classes. He would then head to Rantoul in late morning for his high school classes.
Just qualifying for WOFT was a job. Completing the application took four months. Jones said he was aided in being accepted by his flight time recommendations. His physical conditioning and his high (93 out of 100) Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery were positives. He also completed the Selection Instrument for Flight Training test, which measures aptitude for being a pilot and flying.
Jones competed against a large group of applicants that included not only high school students but “people who have been in the Army for quite a while,” Mary Jones said, adding that his Army recruiter indicated Jones is the first person selected out of the Champaign region.
“He’s always been pretty determined to get things done and succeed,” she said. “He’s always been pretty self-driven.”
After six years, Jones can either re-sign (if he does, he said he would stay in for 20 years) or become a commercial pilot, possibly serving as a hospital pilot or a commercial pilot.
Jones shouldn’t have any trouble getting a job as a pilot if he wants to go that route after his Army service. “There’s a big-time shortage of commercial pilots,” he said.
Jones comes from a family that enjoys flight. His great-grandfather, Minot Bowman, was an Air Force instructor pilot at Chanute Air Force Base. His cousin, Army Lt. Col. Tyler Partridge, is also a pilot.
At RTHS, Jones was a four-year member of FFA and student council. He was a mentor his sophomore year and was active at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Gifford. He was also a member of Junior Honor Society.