PHS AFJROTC grad attains pilot license

PHS grad attains pilot license through AFJROTC academy
Posted on 09/29/2022
This is the image for the news article titled PHS grad attains pilot license through AFJROTC academyA recent Piscataway High School graduate attained her private pilot’s license at a selective flight school this summer, making the most of opportunities she earned through the PHS Air Force Junior ROTC program.

Shannen Justiniani, a member of the Class of 2022 and 2021-22 cadet commander of the AFJROTC program, won a scholarship to the eight-week Flight Academy through the Air Force. The rigorous program selects 300 JROTC cadets nationwide, including just 200 from high school.

Justiniani said she was proud when she completed her mission.

“I’m glad to say I am an official private pilot,” she said. “It was like finally exhaling after holding in my breath the whole time.

“At first I was very homesick and at times felt overwhelmed. Given how fast-paced this program is, it is understandable, and I certainly was not the only one who felt this way. At times I felt like taking the easy way out and going home, but by the end I felt so accomplished.”

pilot with flight instructor

There is no military commitment associated with the training, but it is completely paid for by the Air Force – about a $28,000 value. Justiniani was selected based on a GPA of 3.0 or higher, a fitness score in the upper half cadets, and completion of an Aircrew Qualification Test, which tests how the cadets solve problems.

“It is a very competitive selection process, and we’re very proud of her achievement,” said Lt. Col. Richard Kerr, senior Aerospace Science instructor at PHS. “Previously, she completed our Aviation Honors Ground School class as a junior, and served as our Cadet Commander her senior year, so we knew she was highly capable.”


Justiniani gives a large amount of credit to Piscataway’s AFJROTC program and instructors for fostering her love for aviation and helping her succeed in the Flight Academy, which was held at Salisbury Regional Airport in Maryland.

flight student gets certificate

“I’m proud to have represented our school and unit,” she said. “I dedicated so much of my time to AFJROTC in and outside of school, and it truly has rewarded me in turn.

“I’m extremely grateful for the program’s new aviation classes that they offered during my time there as it gave me a better leg up in Flight Academy. I was able to take what I learned in the textbooks and videos and apply it into real life, real time.”

Justiniani flew a Cessna 172 Skyhawk with a Garmin 1000 onboard computer in training and is licensed to fly single-engine land planes. She is now a student at Raritan Valley Community College studying general business and accounting, and is a member of the Air Force ROTC at Rutgers University.

“I am hoping to obtain scholarships to pay for my education,” she said, “and to gain more opportunities in developing my piloting career.”

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flight academy students
Justiniani completed the Flight Academy in the shortest amount of time of any student, ironically because of an array of setbacks she faced during training.

First, she and some other students needed to be quarantined for a week after contracting COVID-19.

“I'm extremely grateful they did not decide to send us home and instead had us quarantined for a week at a hotel nearby,” she said. “After this quarantine ended, the other students and I had to transition back into our training and academics as if we never left. That was scary because we felt so behind, and there is always the fear that you will not complete the program.”

After that, she got a chemical skin burn from a spill of aviation fuel and she was in an accident while riding in the school’s transportation van.

pilot in cockpit

And then there was the weather.

“The weather was never on my side,” Justiniani said. “As my instructor said, ‘If you ever want lightning in the vicinity, step in an airplane with Shannen.’”

Nineteen out of the 49 days she was scheduled to fly, her flights were canceled because of poor visibility, lighting, or incoming storms, earning her the call sign “Storm.”

“I felt so behind in my training, especially as I watched others be on track with the schedules,” Justiniani said. “I was one of the last to complete my milestones. But I can proudly say I completed this program in only 30 days.”