Rep. Todd Rokita (left) and Army Staff Sgt. Tyler Anderson prepare to take off from College Park Airport. Rokita volunteers with the Veterans Airlift Command to transport wounded veterans.
While most teenagers in Munster, Ind., could be found cruising around town in their dad’s old Chevy pickup, now-Rep. Todd Rokita was “wheels up” in the sky, flying a high-wing, two-seat Cessna 152 aircraft.
“I’ve been flying since I was 17,” the Indiana Republican told Roll Call in an interview. “It’s always been a passion of mine since I was a little boy.”
As a teenager, Rokita took pilot courses at an airport in Lansing, Ill., across the state line. It was there that he received his pilot’s license, around the same time his fellow classmates were learning to drive a car.
“I also have a commercial rating, but I’ve never flown for an airline. I got the certificate sort of as an academic proposition. It keeps you sharp,” he said.
As a senior in high school, Rokita admitted, the offer of a relaxing ride through the clouds helped him in the female department, joking that “Sometimes that was my only shot.”
But flying is more than a leisure activity for Rokita, who said he takes pride in his ability to be a “top-notch pilot,” often logging flight hours with an instructor beyond the pilot quota.
As a member of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, Rokita also stays up to date with the latest in aeronautics equipment.
“The technology we have now, compared to when I first started, is just phenomenal,” he said. “You calculate for things like icing conditions, and with satellite imagery I can get a downlink of the whole U.S. while onboard. Now that’s revolutionary.”
Through the years, Rokita has upgraded his aircraft digs, most recently switching from a low-wing Piper Archer to a twin- engine, six-seat Piper Seneca II with leather interior.
“Planes are like boats,” he said. “You always want a bigger and faster one.”
Regularly flying from Indiana to College Park Airport in Maryland, Rokita offers rides to constituents looking to spend a weekend in the nation’s capital.
“I fly families out and they enjoy the weekend. Some people will have conferences and they’ll fly out with me and take a commercial flight back, or vice versa,” he said.
But passengers looking to bombard the Congressman with questions onboard must take pause, at least until the skies are clear.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.