Aviation has been good to you, and you want to give back. How do you say thank you in a way that opens doors, allowing others to reap the life-changing benefits you have enjoyed as a pilot?
Some pilots become active in local and national aviation groups, participating in activities that bring aviation within reach of those with the dream, and the drive to succeed.
Some pilots focus on one-on-one efforts, taking aspiring aviators up for introductory flights, mentoring new pilots, or writing letters of recommendation that help win that first job interview.
Another way pilots give back is by funding flight training scholarships—giving worthy applicants a leg up on a life in aviation, and helping general aviation stay strong.
Ceci Stratford, of Simi Valley, California, has chosen all of the above methods of securing aviation’s future, for a very basic reason.
"Aviation totally changed my life," she said in a telephone interview. "There was a complete paradigm shift after I got into aviation."
That is why, in 2015, for the third time, the Ceci Stratford Flight Training Scholarships will fund three awards.
"Each new pilot ensures that general aviation will continue to serve our communities and pave the way to careers that many pilots aspire to," she said.
As if her personal philanthropy were not enough of an expression of gratitude for aviation’s pivotal role in her life, Stratford estimates that she has flown approximately700 introductory flights for the Experimental Aircraft Association’s Young Eagles program. She mentors individual pilots as they learn to fly or launch on aviation career tracks. When she was a new pilot, Stratford joined The Ninety-Nines, and remains a tireless champion of the organization’s initiatives to increase the ranks of women who fly.
Her efforts have earned Stratford both chapter and regional Woman Pilot of the Year honors. Citing 40 years of stagnant statistics, she continues to make the case, and ask the question, "The need for women pilots is really important. Why aren’t there more women pilots out there?"
Although many new pilots need financial support, and moral support, aviation’s sense of community is the true glue that binds the general aviation population together—and you will find Stratford playing a support role there too.
She recently hosted a social gathering at "the big, beautiful hangar" she acquired "as a retirement treat" at California’s Whiteman Airport, where she houses her Piper Cherokee 180 single-engine airplane, and where she learned to fly at the beginning of her life in aviation, now dedicated to making the dream a reality for a new generation of pilots.
For information about how you can fund a flight training scholarship, contact the AOPA Foundation by email, or call 301/695-2037.