Competitive shooter and raiser of champion livestock Anna Weilbacher is working to add another title to her résumé: private pilot. As the high school senior prepares for her knowledge test, she has been named the winner of the $12,000 Noe-Singer Flight Training Scholarship, one of 10 AOPA Flight Training Scholarships to be awarded Oct. 4 at the Pilot Town Hall at AOPA’s Homecoming Fly-In.
Weilbacher, of Leona Valley, California, said she’s always been interested in flying—her father used to fly, and her great uncle flew in World War II—and that her parents surprised her at age 16 with an introductory flight at Van Nuys Airport. Since then, she’s paid for her flight lessons with odd jobs like babysitting and the sale of champion sheep and goats she raised in 4-H.
“Every time I unlock the door of the Cessna I fly, I get a rush knowing that I am really unlocking so much more,” she wrote in her application. “I feel that each flight is a whole new adventure in which you learn self-discipline, leadership, responsibility, and multi-tasking skills. Every flight hour logged gives testimony to the abilities and aptitudes that have been instilled in us as pilots.”
Her experiences in aviation thus far haven’t disappointed. In addition to the milestone of solo flight, she got to share the traffic pattern with the Blue Angels flight demonstration team one time while she was practicing touch-and-goes. She also had an opportunity through her role as president of her Aviation Explorers Post to fly with aerobatic legend Sean D. Tucker in a T-6 Texan. After he demonstrated loops and rolls, she said, he walked her through the maneuvers herself.
“I was like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe I’m rolling this thing right now!’” she explained.
Weilbacher is also a member of The Ninety-Nines and has national shooting championships under her belt, including a National Rifle Association smallbore rifle junior championship this year. When she applied for the scholarship, Weilbacher said, she was brushing up on maneuvers and getting ready for her cross-country. Now she’s studying for her knowledge test and said the scholarship will help her finish her private pilot certificate and move on to her instrument and multiengine ratings. The further she can progress in her training now, she said, the closer she’ll get to her end goal of becoming an Air Force pilot, and later moving on to the airlines.
Funded by donors to the AOPA Foundation, AOPA Flight Training scholarships are intended to help student pilots who are capable of making a long-term impact on general aviation by giving back to their aviation community. The scholarships were launched in 2011 with four awards and have grown to 10 in 2014. The Noe-Singer Scholarship was offered for the first time in 2014 to help an individual with an interest in learning how to fly but who wouldn’t be able to without the extra funds. The remaining nine scholarships are $5,000 and will be awarded to Army veterans, students, a police officer, an animal cruelty investigator, and others who have shown a commitment to flying.
Army veteran Kurt Clemenz of Fishers, Indiana, set three goals for himself before undergoing a below-knee amputation of his right leg in 2011 to address two decades of pain after an injury: Eliminate pain medications, run again, and obtain a private pilot certificate after years of delays. He met his first goal months later and in May 2013 ran the Indianapolis 500 Festival 5K. He now has his sights set on a pilot certificate.
“After nearly 14 months of rigorous reviews and hurdles I received my FAA Class 3 Medical Certificate and immediately began my training,” he wrote in his application. Clemenz volunteers at a youth camp specializing in limb-loss and congenital limb defects, and hopes to use his pilot certificate to inspire those children.
Ian Kapit of Orange City, Florida, spends his free time washing and detailing aircraft at his home field to pay for his flight training.
In a recommendation, Kapit’s instructor called him “one of the most enthusiastic, self motivating students I have ever had in my 12 years of teaching” and explained that the high school senior “has been relentless on finding work at the airport to trade for flight time. Since he can now drive he drives 50 min to the airport so he can wash other pilots' aircraft. Many which don't pay him cash but a check made out to the flight school for his training.”
Veronica Trujillo of West Covina, California, had never thought she was capable of becoming a pilot until she disembarked a commercial flight and saw a female captain. Before that she had gotten a bachelor’s in political science from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona with a goal of working with an international nonprofit to help those in need, she said, but “when I saw that female Captain my life changed.” She is enrolled in an accredited aviation program and plans to become a certificated flight instructor, as well as use her certificate to spread awareness of general aviation to women and youth and donate her time to aviation programs such as Angel Flight and Liga International.
An Army veteran with a passion for flying, Ryan Huebler of Buckley, Washington, is pursuing his flight training in tandem with A&P school. His goal is to become a CFI and rent his Cessna 150 for the lowest rate possible to share the experience of flying with others. “I have almost been killed so many times during my two years in Afghanistan and it has opened my eyes to what is important in life,” he wrote. “I don't cherish money anymore, I cherish the experiences of life and sharing those experiences with others. I wish to share the experience of flying with the world.”
Sarah DeRemer, a certified animal cruelty investigator from Easton, Pennsylvania, plans to put her pilot certificate to use flying animals from euthanizing shelters to adoption shelters through the nonprofit FlyPups Inc. A founding member of FlyPups, DeRemer said she is determined to earn her certificate before getting married so she can fly to her airport wedding.
“While our engagement has gone on three-and-a-half years, we both agree that flying myself to the venue with my parents by my side, to help me out of the plane and down the aisle is the culmination of all that means the most to me,” she wrote.
“Some of my earliest childhood memories involve airplanes,” wrote Kevin Berg, a police officer in Concord, North Carolina. “When I was maybe four or five years old, my father used to take me to the airport near our home in Binghamton, NY. We would sit on the benches and watch airplanes take off and land. We would do that until I fell asleep. I was going to be a pilot someday.”
He said that he is dedicated to realizing the dream of flying and promoting aviation. “I can't help but wonder if, in the future, there might be a little boy sitting on an airport bench in his father's lap watching me take off somewhere...dreaming of being a pilot someday.”
Inspired by the example of her father, who shared his love of aviation as a Boy Scout leader, Christine Olson of Huntington Beach, California, wants to share aviation with family and friends and fly at Young Eagle events. “When I finish my Private Pilot's license,” she wrote, “I am looking forward to sharing my passion for flying with my husband and friends, travelling to our favorite places in the southwest (and beyond) like I did with my father so many years ago.”
Now that her father is no longer flying, “It is my dream to one day fly from CA to MN and take HIM flying, for a change!”
When Dennis Parker of Seabrook, New Hampshire, found that his budget would only permit flying once or twice a month, he kept his aviation knowledge fresh by volunteering as a teacher’s assistant at ground schools at his flight school. He supports his airport community by volunteering at airport barbecues and fly-in events and promoting destination fly-outs.
“Going to the airport became more than an educational experience for me, it became family,” he wrote. “Every BBQ was a reunion of past students, and an opportunity to meet newcomers.”
Lance Fisher of Los Angeles persevered through training challenges and financial constraints to solo a helicopter. While it had always been his dream to become a helicopter pilot, he was frustrated with the pace of his learning and had to cut back on the frequency of flight lessons for financial reasons, which further slowed his progress. At the advice of his flight instructor, he committed to flying more often, but still struggled with hovering, which made him “the saddest student pilot on the planet, and also the brokest,” he wrote. Describing one moment in his training, Fisher wrote that his instructor “knows I can do it, but I don’t know that I can do it. He is right.” Conquering self-doubt, frustration, and stress, he soloed in 2013.