Sarah Wilson said she had the aura and feeling of flight in mind when she initiated the $5,000 Jimmie Allen Flying Club Scholarship to encourage future pilots looking for something different from their flying. To better understand Wilson's frame of mind, it helps to know the fictitious character Jimmie Allen from 1930s radio broadcasts that was always on the verge of the next great adventure where anything could happen. “Jimmie Allen didn’t really exist,” she said. “He was a young messenger boy that met these World War I pilots and then went on great adventures. Kids across the United States tuned in to become their version of [Jimmie] Allen.”
Explaining the name of her scholarship, Wilson said, “I thought the dream and desire to fly was like the Jimmie Allen character, basically, the ‘I can do anything’ kind of mentality and the possibility of an adventure.”
Wilson followed her own imagination into the flying community. The former corporate pilot didn’t learn to fly until she was in her 30s, and Wilson said she had to make sacrifices along the way. She sold her prized possession, a vintage 1957 T-Bird, to afford flight lessons.
“When I sold my car, it paid for a lot of lessons and in a year I had all my ratings,” she said. Wilson trained at Flight Safety International and was later offered a job there. Wilson steadily moved up the ranks until she landed a corporate gig, but she never strayed far from her mischievous Jimmie Allen roots; after many years in the corporate cockpit, Wilson was ready for a new challenge.
That’s when she met Blu, a hard-working Stearman and a former crop duster. Wilson was immediately smitten by the blue biplane.
“Once you get in an open cockpit, you’re done. That’s all you want to do,” Wilson said. “Blu was my first plane ever, and I didn’t have much tailwheel time. I didn’t know if I could fly a Stearman, but I thought, 'What if I could get my own open cockpit ride?' So I barnstormed in that plane for four years straight, some 300 to 400 hundred hours a season.”
She has been in and around open cockpits and grass strips ever since, and Wilson said she loves to introduce others to aviation. “I teach every single person to fly in that plane in the first 10 minutes. Everybody, regardless of experience, gets to fly the plane,” Wilson said.
AOPA scholarships offer opportunities for a very diverse group of people, said Wilson, so funding a scholarship that was geared more toward those pilots looking for a nontraditional approach to flying had a certain appeal. “This is not just for those wanting to become a pilot on a career track. There’s opportunity for those pilots elsewhere,” Wilson said, adding that she is one of those kinds of pilots, too. “I want someone who wants something from flying that is different.”
To find out how to apply for this scholarship and other AOPA Foundation scholarships ranging from $2,500 to $12,000, visit the AOPA Flight Training scholarship page before Aug. 9.