Duncan Lucas doesn’t like to wait around. He likes things to move fast – whether it’s the car he’s driving or the potential airplane he’s flying.

But over the last few months, the ATEMS senior has learned to slow down and practice patience toward his dream to fly jets and reach the starts.

Call it a fortunate change in his flight pattern.

Entering his final semester of high school, Lucas wasn’t sure what he would do about college. He knew he wanted to go because he had a particular post-high school career path, but a paperwork snafu prevented him from applying to his first choice, the United States Air Force Academy.

Then in late March, Lucas unexpectedly received word that he was one of a select few seniors in the country to receive the J-100 AFJROTC Scholarship. The four-year grant pays 100 percent of his tuition to any university with an Air Force ROTC attachment and includes an annual book stipend, a $10,000 per year allowance for university-owned or on-campus housing, and a monthly cadet stipend.

Only 100 J-100 AFJROTC scholarships are given out yearly. The award focuses on character, leadership, citizenship, and diversity and is designed to inspire future leaders to seek US Air Force and Space Force careers. The J-100 program is open to all eligible cadets and provides an extraordinary opportunity for a diverse pool of candidates. 

Lucas originally intended to apply to the Air Force Academy to pursue his dream of being a pilot. But some paperwork issues kept him from getting his application turned in on time, meaning he had to start devising a backup plan.

His backup plan turned out to be best plan.

He’ll attend Texas A&M University and major in Aerospace Engineering, and after graduating, he plans to join the Air Force as a commissioned officer and fly airplanes. Following hopefully a long and successful career in the Air Force, Lucas wants to put his knowledge to use at NASA, working as an astronaut, either directly for NASA or with Space X.

“When I didn’t get all of my paperwork turned in, I thought my chances at going to college were pretty slim,” Lucas said. “But then I heard about the J-100 scholarship, and when I was one of the 100 students to receive it, I thought, ‘Well, there’s my chance to do something with my life.’ I had my chance to go to college and come out of it basically debt-free.”

After graduation from ATEMS, Lucas will take his first steps toward flying for the Air Force this summer when he attends an accredited aviation university to earn his private pilot’s license. Lucas is one of only 230 Air Force Junior ROTC cadets worldwide to receive a scholarship for the program at Headquarters Air Force Junior ROTC (Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama). There are 120,000 high school students enrolled in AFJROTC at almost 875 high schools in the U.S. and overseas. More than 1,300 cadets applied for the scholarship – valued at more than $22,000 – that covers transportation, room and board, academics, and flight hours required to potentially earn a private pilot license. 

Lucas was just a young boy when he first became interested in space and the space program. While touring NASA in Houston, he came across famed Apollo 13 astronauts Jim Lovell and Fred Haise, immortalized in the movie Apollo 13 by Tom Hanks and Bill Paxton. He met both astronauts and legendary NASA Flight Director Gene Kranz, who was portrayed in the film by Ed Harris.

Lucas was “eight or nine” when he met all three men, and his love of space and the thought of reaching the universe’s outer reaches was born. While he knows that NASA is planning missions to Mars, another mission to the Moon, and maybe other missions to other planetary moons, he hopes of joining missions “closer to home” would best serve our world.

“I think NASA needs to focus on Mars and our moon because it’s been proven that there is water on the moon and evidence of water on Mars,” Lucas said. “It’s frozen but would provide the basis for potential life on Mars or the moon.”

Lucas’s drive to make his Air Force and NASA dreams come true come from the same place as his drive to work with his hands: his 91-year-old grandfather. His grandfather, Korean War veteran, got him interested in antiques and history. He also helped pique his interest in cars, particularly bringing old cars back to life.

Lucas already owns two cars: a bright yellow 1958 Plymouth and a 1968 Chevrolet Impala that he recently bought from a family in Sweetwater and restored. The Impala sat idle for 35 years, and Lucas installed new tires, cleaned out the gas tank, changed the fluids, and got it running again. Given a choice between the Plymouth and Impala, Lucas said he drives the Impala “because it has a better engine and can go faster.”

Spoken like a man with a need for speed.