SMC student plans career as missionary pilot
Most SMC students aim to fly high but freshman Larsen Fralix literally soars above it all.
Not only is Fralix juggling her course load as an SMC business major, but she’s also attending flight school and is training to become a professional pilot at the same time.
Fralix, who turns 20 in June, hails from Summerton, South Carolina, where, during high school, she rose through the ranks to become the AFJROTC Group Commander of her unit at Manning High School. She went on to become one of the highest ranking cadets during a summer student leadership camp at the Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina.
It was during junior year that she discovered what she now considers to be her life’s calling. A pilot visited her AFJROTC unit and discussed his passion for his work. “That sounds like so much fun,” Fralix recalls thinking. “I want to do that.”
Following the pilot’s visit, Fralix picked up an internship at South Carolina’s Precision Air at the Santee Cooper Airport during her last two years in high school, where she observed and assisted the mechanics as they repaired damaged planes. One day, a local pilot invited her to join him for a test ride. “That’s when I realized I loved flying,” Fralix says. “I want to do this for a living.”
She chose to attend SMC in part because it’s so close to a flight school and because of the generous academic scholarships she received. “As soon as I started classes here at SMC, I started flight school,” Fralix says. She’s finished eight weeks of ground school and is now taking flying lessons with Instructor Terry Connorton, Director of Spartanburg Downtown Memorial Airport.
“When I’m in the air, I feel there’s no one in the air but me,” Fralix says. “You look down and you think, there’s so many people in the world. You just want to be free. That’s what I love about it so much.”
Her love of flying led to what she describes as a moment from above. “God spoke to me,” Fralix says. “He said, ‘Share your testimony. This is what I call you to do.’ He spoke the words ‘missionary pilot.’ “
But the route to becoming a missionary pilot isn’t so simple, although the job combines Fralix’s multiple interests. A missionary pilot is tasked with dropping off and picking up people in a range of climates and terrains. Pilots have to have multiple certifications, including advanced maintenance ratings and CPR/first aid.
“That’s exactly what I want to do,” Fralix says. “I’ve been a life guard for over three years. I have experience working on planes. I have experience flying. And I love the Word of God.”
Missionary pilots don’t emerge overnight, however. They typically have to have over 1,000 hours in the air and several years of flight experience before being considered viable applicants. This fall Fralix is planning on transferring to Middle Georgia State University School of Aviation to get her bachelor’s degree in aviation, and then follow up her post-college career with a part-time job in the Air Force Reserves while flying commercially for a cargo company like UPS. This way, she builds up flight experience as both a military and a private pilot, she reasons.
Fralix’s career choice is already garnering her attention. This past spring, she was awarded a $5,000 scholarship from Women in Aviation International and a $1,000 scholarship from the South Carolina Aviation Association, which Fralix will use toward paying for her school and flight lessons in pursuit of her pilot’s license. She has around 15 hours of the 40 hours required. (Each flight lesson costs around $200 per hour.)
Along with schoolwork and flight school, Fralix finds time to work as the social media officer for the Palmetto Pride Chapter of Women in Aviation, as an airport assistant at her local airport and as a resident assistant in one of the SMC residence halls.
Her education at SMC is already helping her with her pilot’s work, she says. Classes like pre-calculus have come in handy when she needs to work out real world problems like estimating how much fuel will last over long distances. Additionally, she’s found the support of her SMC professors invaluable as she works toward what she considers her life goal.
“She’s a very conscientious student,” SMC professor and Fralix’s academic adviser Dr. Ben Sloop says. “She’s a joy to teach. To balance her studies here with afternoon responsibilities is quite impressive,” he adds. “She has to be incredibly organized.”
As Fralix completes her second semester at SMC, she’s managing all of her many responsibilities. But one thing is clear: all her goals center around flying as often as she can, and one day, using her talent as a pilot to help others.