An Oaks Christian School senior who is only weeks away from earning her pilot’s license is learning about aviation from the ground up at the Commemorative Air Force Museum in Camarillo.
Emmalea McNay, 17, a Newbury Park resident, works on airplanes, directs runway traffic and talks with World War II veterans in addition to taking flying lessons.
“There is something powerful about being up there . . . knowing that you’re so far above the world and that you practically have the world at your fingertips when you fly,” said Emmalea, who usually goes by Emma.
Despite a strong interest in flying, her school work remains paramount. She takes Advanced Placement and honors courses at school, where she has a 4.67 gradepoint average. Emma also studies karate at Z-Ultimate Self Defense Studios in Thousand Oaks.
Emma, who has been learning karate since she was 6, earned her first-degree black belt at 13. By then she’d already started thinking about being a pilot after seeing the Blue Angels, the Navy’s flight demonstration squadron, perform at an air show when she was 10.
“I just love doing it. I think I found my calling when I took my first flight,” Emma said.
She flew her first solo in July and is preparing to complete her cross-country test, which involves flying to a series of airports.
“One of the many phases in training is that flight instructors help you prepare for a flight, going through charts and planning trips to multiple airports,” Emma said.
She has spent more than 1,100 hours with the Commemorative Air Force working on World War II aircraft and talking with some of the few remaining veterans of that era.
“I’m honored that they would trust a 17-year-old to take care of such old airplanes. I have great mentors there,” Emma said.
She enjoys listening to the stories the veterans have about the war.
“It’s one thing to learn from history books, but it’s another thing entirely to learn from the people who were actually there,” she said.
The daughter of Michael and Cristy McNay, Emma has a younger brother, Joey, 12. Her father is a retired Ventura County sheriff’s deputy who works as a court liaison for the Simi Valley Police Department, and her mother is the marketing and business partnership coordinator for the Oaks Christian School Learning Center in Westlake Village.
Emma, who won first place in a sparring contest last month at a martial arts competition in Irvine, credits karate with teaching her self-discipline.
“Karate has taught me discipline, how to be a hard worker and to always go for things,” said Emma, who earned her seconddegree black belt Dec. 12.
Karate Master Eric Perlman of Z-Ultimate Self Defense Studios calls Emma an exceptional student.
“She has a huge amount of focus and very specific goals for her life, and she’s been very consistent in the way she has approached her schooling and her martial arts training,” he said.
After high school, Emma plans to obtain a degree in aeronautical science while training to fly professionally.
She has been accepted to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Ariz., and is waiting to hear back from other institutions.
Leif Iversen, a flight instructor with Channel Islands Aviation, believes Emma has a promising future in aviation.
“Emma is a great pilot,” the instructor said. “She is an excellent student who comes prepared. She is smart, very motivated and able to handle a lot of workload.