- At just 17 years old, Jaleel Connelly is on his way to becoming the youngest pilot in the island.
- Fresh out of high school, with eight Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) subjects, all at Grade One, Jaleel is just one exam away from acquiring his private pilot licence.
- Attainment of this certification, which the CATC regards as “the first rung on the ladder of aviation training and development,” allows Jaleel to be pilot-in-command of a single-engine aircraft for recreational and/or personal use in generally good or fair weather conditions. He may also transport passengers, but not for compensation or hire.
At just 17 years old, Jaleel Connelly is on his way to becoming the youngest pilot in the island.
“I hope to be one of the best pilots the world will ever see,” the cadet says during a recent interview with JIS News.
Fresh out of high school, with eight Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) subjects, all at Grade One, Jaleel is just one exam away from acquiring his private pilot licence.
He completed the gruelling one-year training course at the Caribbean Aviation Training Centre (CATC) located at the Tinson Pen Aerodrome in Kingston just two weeks ago.
Though he will still has some way to go before he qualifies as a commercial airline pilot, which allows him to fly for airlines, air taxi operators, charter companies, and so on, acquiring the private pilot licence will be a major accomplishment.
Attainment of this certification, which the CATC regards as “the first rung on the ladder of aviation training and development,” allows Jaleel to be pilot-in-command of a single-engine aircraft for recreational and/or personal use in generally good or fair weather conditions. He may also transport passengers, but not for compensation or hire.
Jaleel’s interest in aviation began when he joined the Jamaica Combined Cadet Force (JCCF) at age 11 while attending Kingston College. JCCF offers a pilot training programme through CATC.
At 16 years old, the age required for enrolment, the young cadet began the student pilot training programme. Cadets take part in aviation camps throughout the year, which fast-tracks some of the courses.
The training was strenuous, and Jaleel thought of giving up, but it was his unwavering drive to attain his goals that kept him motivated to complete the journey.
“At first, when I (started), it was the worst for me. I just wanted to leave. After a while, I got used to the training and all the camps and all the different sessions that we had to go through, and I realised that it was for my own good, my own personal development,” he tells JIS News.
The level-headed young man further shares that he is also driven by a desire to assist his mother financially and make her proud.
“Growing up, I saw that she struggled a lot. I want to be there for her, help her through life and I vowed that I have to be successful so that I can give back to her, and make sure she lives the life she deserves,” he says.
Jaleel, who is Guyanese by parentage and birth, says his will to achieve greatness is also influenced by his modest beginnings, growing up in the poorest part of Eckles, Guyana, and the fact that his father left when he was just months old. He came to Jamaica at about age 10.
While his immediate focus is to acquire the 40 hours of flight training time required to earn his commercial pilot licence, the determined young man intends to pursue a degree in engineering from the University of Technology (UTech). A degree also puts him in good stead to gain employment with an airline when he reaches the age requirement of 21 years.
Jaleel lauds the cadet programme for instilling in him the right principles and the level of discipline that have “helped to mould me into the well-rounded individual I am today.” He encourages other youth to model his flight plan by enlisting in the corps.
Jaleel’s story of success through discipline, hard work and perseverance is one that the State Minister in the Ministry of National Security, Senator the Hon. Pearnel Charles Jr., wants to see replicated as he intensifies his call for more young persons to join the cadet force, which is a voluntary youth organisation.
The State Minister tells JIS News that plans are in train to advance the JCCF’s aviation programme and add activities to make it more attractive to youngsters.
At the top of the list is revitalising the JCCF’s exchange programme, where more cadets will be given the opportunity to benefit from training in Canada and the United Kingdom.
He notes that training has been boosted through donation of an aircraft dubbed ‘Beek Air’ by the British Government to JCCF last year for its student pilot training programme.
The State Minister says one strategy to attract more recruits is for those like Jaleel, who have benefited, to go back into their communities and “spread the message.”
He says cadets are expected to demonstrate through their conduct, the principles of their “great organisation” – that of discipline, hard work, persistence and resilience.
Seventeen-year-old Eric Dixon from the Glenmuir High School cadet unit, who is participating in the CATC aviation camp, says the experience has been worthwhile.
“Initially, it was very strenuous because we had to do a course that would take most people a couple of months and we did it in 10 days plus (we had to do the) ground school exam. So it was very rigorous, but…it has been worth it,” he says.
The ambitious young man intends to pursue a degree in medicine while gaining his qualifications as a pilot. He also intends to enlist in the army.
For 16-year-old cadet, Jordan English, being a part of the JCCF for three years has inculcated values and attitudes, which has moulded her into a more focused and disciplined young lady.
“It speaks to the discipline of an individual. I love the uniformity, the way it is structured. I love the cadet overall. I have been fascinated with it ever since I was in primary school,” she says.
The only female at the St. Andrew Technical High School Cadet Unit, the recent graduate says she is happy she got involved in the JCCF’s aviation programme, though this was not her original goal. The aspiring paediatric nurse or soldier shares that she enjoys getting to work with the engine of the planes and getting her hands dirty.
Also lauding the cadet programme is Sergeant Jon McCoy, who notes that getting involved in the aeronautical aspect of the JCCF has been a challenging yet rewarding experience for him.
The 24-year-old is being trained as a flight instructor at CATC, with specific emphasis on training cadets.
“It’s been eye opening. It’s a bit challenging, and even as an instructor, I had to go the extra mile, really pushing myself to the limit to ensure that all the cadets got the knowledge that they needed.
Normally, the ground school programme takes about three to four months, but the cadets do the entire programme within two weeks at camp, so it’s very accelerated; it’s a lot harder,” he says.
He notes, however, that due to the level of discipline the cadet instills, he, as well as the cadets, has adapted, embraced and conquered the challenges.
Since its existence in 1943 when it was first known as the Army and Air Cadet Force, the JCCF, which is sponsored by the Government, provides leadership skills as well as paramilitary and other areas of training including, marine, aeronautics, first aid and skills at arms.