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Proficient Pilot

And the winner is...

Last October I announced an essay contest for young men and women between the ages of 16 and 21 ("Proficient Pilot: It's Payback Time," October 2011 AOPA Pilot).


Barry SchiffLast October I announced an essay contest for young men and women between the ages of 16 and 21 (“Proficient Pilot: It’s Payback Time,” October 2011 AOPA Pilot). The writer who best described in 500 words why he or she wanted to learn to fly would receive a solo scholarship that would enable him or her to get a jump-start in aviation by winning enough dual instruction to at least make the first solo flight. This also would provide me an opportunity to pay back something to aviation, to share some of what the world of flight has done to richen my life with wonderful friends and indescribable experiences. I cannot imagine how any other vocation or avocation could have provided me as much gratification and joy. Along the way and especially during my early years, there were many who inspired, encouraged, and assisted my aeronautical growth. Passing along the baton to another would be in their honor. After decades of learning and earning, it was time to begin returning.

I had no idea how many would enter the contest, but when the deadline arrived in December, I had received 157 essays.

Selecting the winner was challenging because of the excellence represented by so many of the entrants. Reading their essays and learning a bit about the young men and women who wrote them was particularly rewarding because it helped to bolster my faith in the future of America. Choosing the winner was not easy, but Victoria R. Hodges emerged victorious (no pun intended). Ms. Hodges, a high school senior from Chesapeake, Virginia, plans to attend college, pursue a degree in aeronautics—and, of course, learn to fly. It gives me great pride and pleasure to share her essay with you:

“The Dream of Becoming an Aviator”

By Victoria R. Hodges

“When asked, Why do you love flying? my response is uncomplicated and unfeigned—I simply love to fly! All too frequently I find pilots and aviation enthusiasts at a loss for words with which to respond to this question. Thus I have reached the conclusion that verbal expression of one’s love for flying pales in comparison to the thrill derived from the activity itself. Mere words are ineffective mediums through which to communicate the splendor of flight.

I was fortunate enough to experience the magnificence of flying during a Young Eagles flight sponsored by the Experimental Aircraft Association. I was immediately captivated. The moment I climbed out of the airplane, I knew that I simply must learn to fly. My sentiments are expressed through the eloquent words of Leonardo da Vinci: When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return. I tasted flight, and the taste only served to whet my appetite. Not only did my Young Eagles flight introduce me to the exceptional world of flying, it opened my eyes to the responsibility veteran pilots bear in passing on the legacy of flight to fledgling pilots. This memorable flight ignited my hope of being able, after earning my own wings, to hand down the artistry of flight to budding pilots. The following quote made by aviation pioneer Wilbur Wright expresses how man’s fascination with flight is an inextinguishable interest that has been passed from generation to generation. The desire to fly is an idea handed down to us by our ancestors, who, in their
grueling travels across trackless lands in prehistoric times, looked enviously on the birds soaring freely through space, at full speed, above all obstacles, on the infinite highway of the air.

When one possesses a genuine love for something, it becomes virtually impossible to refrain from sharing one’s fervor for it with others; therefore, my love of aviation is not something that I would relish solitarily. Conversely, I would like to think that my love of aviation has an infectious effect upon others, an influence that invites them to explore the limitless possibilities afforded by flight. Moreover, I am aware that enthusiasm is not the sole ingredient needed to accomplish my aviation goals. Securing quality pilot training is an indispensable part of bringing my aviation dreams to fruition. Learning to fly would provide me with the opportunity to turn a dream into reality and influence the lives of others in a positive manner. The inception of aviation was made possible through the steadfast dream of two brothers, Orville and Wilbur Wright. Their aircraft soared at an altitude of 10 feet, traveled 120 feet, and landed 12 seconds after takeoff. Realizing that the dawn of aviation began with little more than a dream and the determination to succeed encourages me to follow in the footsteps of these aviation frontiersmen.”

More winners

Because of generous and unsolicited donations from readers of this column, I am pleased to report that I can award a total of 10 solo scholarships instead of just the one originally announced. Jason Pederson of New York Mills, Minnesota, took second place in the contest, and Rhondale Robinson of Wentzville, Missouri, took third. The seven runners-up are (alphabetically): Nathan Apodaca, Matt Knudsen, Allison Long, Jacob Miller, C. Clayton Millhouse, Conrad Smucker, and K. Paige Westoby.

All are to be congratulated for jobs well done. Each will be provided $3,300 worth of dual instruction at a flight school of their choosing. Hopefully this will be sufficient for all of them to at least make their first solo flights. Continuing their aviation careers or avocations beyond this will, of course, be their responsibilities, and I hope that all of them can muster the tenacity and determination to continue on their own. It is not an easy journey, but as we who fly know, the end result is worth whatever effort is required.

Those individuals and organizations who stepped forward to sponsor these dedicated young men and women are: Aero Products Research (APR); Aviation Supplies and Academics (ASA); Don Alexander; Laurry Bishop; Joe Carastro; Scott Coatsworth; the David Clark Company; Wendell Foltz; Pitts Harrison; Wendell Holland; Mark Johnson; Lightspeed Aviation; Will Loving; Ken Miech; Rama Nagaraju; Richard Norris; Karl Novak; Nick Polisson; Jim Riley; George Shanks; Thomas Stadler; and the Van Nuys Propeller Aircraft Association. Their devotion to the future of aviation speaks for itself.

I am especially grateful to noted aviation artist and friend, Rick Broome, who gifted to the winner a magnificent, one-of-a-kind Starlite print of his painting of a TWA Boeing 727, the airplane in which I made my first flight as captain in 1964. Now I have to figure out how to get one for myself.

Visit the author’s website.

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