They Flew a Jet Before They Could Drive a Car

Irish students Conor Kennedy and Carmel Byrne started a whirlwind trip to AirVenture in Oshkosh last week at the controls of a Citation Mustang. Ages 19 and 17, neither has a driver’s license yet, but both tested their mettle in the cockpit with Aero City Group President Seosamh Somers as instructor. The students are here on an intensive six-week program to earn their private pilot license at Aero City Group’s southern California flight school, Angel City Flyers.

Carmel, from Kells, Ireland, and Conor, from Dublin, won the Aerprize scholarship sponsored by Angel City Flyers, which provides flight training, travel and accommodations, all expenses paid. Conor flew the Mustang to 20,000 feet out of KLGB when the group left for Oshkosh on August 25. After a stop for lunch and fuel in Lincoln, Nebraska, it was Carmel’s turn to take off in the jet out of KLNK.


Carmel Byrne in the Citation Mustang over Lincoln, Nebraska


The Wittman Regional Airport Tower in Oshkosh is the world’s busiest during AirVenture week

At Oshkosh, Carmel and Conor were young VIPs, congratulated by many aviation enthusiasts from throughout the U.S. and the world who were eager to hear about a scholarship program for aspiring pilots. “Aerprize is a unique way to expose students to aviation and provides a new aspect of flight training,” Somers said.

Carmel Byrne, Seosamh Somers and Conor Kennedy at AirVenture in Oshkosh

The student pilots observed trending innovation in aviation and aerospace, took part in a virtual reality simulation of Diamond Aircraft, and witnessed fighter jet demonstrations. At night, they witnessed nighttime air shows and dramatic fireworks displays, complete with a wall of fire. 

Carmel and Conor “toured” San Diego from Oshkosh in a Diamond DA 40 virtual reality exhibit


Their packed days at Oshkosh included time to admire antique, classic, and contemporary aircraft, including a T34 C model, one of only two in the world, once used as an escort plane for top-level government officials in Gabon. The glimpse of the latest aerospace technology at the NASA Pavilion captivated Carmel, a potential astronaut-to-be. Seeing – and flying – state-of-the-art aircraft was one of the high points for Conor.

Conor, keenly interested in the business side of aviation in addition to learning to fly, said, “I didn’t think I’d ever fly in a private jet at age 19, much less pilot one.”

Conor, Carmel, a T-34 and a gorgeous Wisconsin summer sky

Somers created the Aerprize scholarship “to expand students’ knowledge of the role of science in aviation,” he said. “STEM education is the launchpad for anyone who wants to help build the future with technology.”

Mentoring these top students is a pleasure, Somers added. “They’re an inspiration to others their age who want to be part of aviation. And for pilots who have been flying for awhile, Conor and Carmel remind us of the unbelievable, heady excitement of the early days in our careers.”