ArizonaVarsity - Emma Barber flying high on and off the court
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Emma Barber flying high on and off the court

Estrella Foothills junior Emma Barber is one of the country's youngest licensed private pilots.
Estrella Foothills junior Emma Barber is one of the country's youngest licensed private pilots. (Emma Barber)

Emma Barber's athletic achievements alone are great. But her skills go far beyond just the court.

The 17-year-old junior is a three-year varsity volleyball player for the Estrella Foothills Wolves, who have reached the 4A playoffs each of her three seasons and advanced to at least the quarterfinals, as the team's leader in kills. She is a two-time all conference player in 4A and was named the 4A Conference Player of the Year for the 2019-20 season. And she has aspirations of playing college volleyball following graduation in 2022. Just this spring athletic season she also started competing in track and field, and is already one of the Wolves' top javelin throwers. All of this is packed on top of a schedule that includes club volleyball play and youth coaching, as well as National Honors Society, Student Body and other extracurriculars.

But, on top of all of her athletic and school club accomplishments, it is Barber's achievements through the air that stand out. After hours of lessons, tests and practice flights, she achieved a private pilot's license. As a high school student she is one of the youngest pilots in the United States. And as a female, she is one of the 7 percent of all U.S. pilots that are women, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

"I'm just so appreciative I've gotten the opportunity to join women in aviation and be a part of such an amazing population of people pursuing the journey," she said.


Barber gets air for her spikes in volleyball, but just a little higher in an aircraft.
Barber gets air for her spikes in volleyball, but just a little higher in an aircraft. (Emma Barber)

Barber's father is a long-tenured pilot for NetJets, which sells part ownership or shares of private business jets. She has long been fascinated with flying, and even has gotten to experience some of the aircrafts when her dad could show them off. Then, as much of her time devoted to sports went away in early 2020, she had a chance to pursue her family's passion.

“I thought, ‘I wish there was some way I could do this,’ and I didn’t realize I could start up flying lessons at age 16. And I’ve always been so busy that I never had time to start up something new or even think about it. But when COVID hit, I took the opportunity to make use of my time and started," Barber said.

Even with her new licensure there is more to learn. Barber called being a certified private pilot a 'license to learn.' Next she will study and attempt to gain her instrument rating, and with more hours and experience she will continue up the ladder of the pilot world.

Her goal is to pursue a career in flight following high school graduation.

“The feeling of taking off and going into the air never gets old," she said.

Barber still has time to pick the college that works for her, both in academics and athletics. To reach her lofty goals, preparation and time management have been keys. Barber said she hardly has free time, and when she does it is used for studying and hanging out with friends and family.

She has yet to determine a college major, or even decide whether she wants to study flight specifically or train for another career as a backup option. If she is able to continue volleyball and pursue her dream career and continue flying, everything will be clear for takeoff.

“Ever since I started playing ten years ago, playing college volleyball has been a goal of mine. If I could go to school and play volleyball, and also get a good education and do some flying that would be amazing," she said.

But, at least for now, if you see a private plane flying out of the Goodyear Airport, just know there is a chance it is a local high school volleyball star manning it.

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