Whatever else flying means to you—recreational pastime, occupation, relief from terrestrial traffic jams—most aviators will concede that piloting an aircraft is first and foremost a passion largely immune to written description.
Aviation is also a community—one whose members are just as passionate about finding ways to bring new recruits aboard and help them achieve the rites of passage.
For those with the time and the inclination, being a mentor fits the bill. Mentors help new aviators seek scholarships to pay for training. They serve as a sounding board for new aviators' flight training, filling in the blanks in newcomers' knowledge of the scene. They’re there to counsel and encourage if the project hits a snag.
Ceci Stratford of Simi Valley, California, expresses her passion for aviation through all the activities described here.
If her name strikes a chord, it’s probably because the retired telecommunications, systems, and bank operations analyst has taken her support of aviation’s future to the next level, as the benefactor of the AOPA Foundation’s Ceci Stratford Flight Training Scholarship, which is helping to bring piloting careers within the grasp of some aspirants and bring the dream of flying to life for others.
The day of a recent phone conversation with Stratford was typical. She had been busy reviewing an essay that a member of her local chapter of The Ninety-Nines was drafting for submission in support of an application for a scholarship—not Stratford’s own award, but she enjoys helping applicants put together quality applications for any grants that are available, and she certainly knows the ropes.
A day or two earlier Stratford had flown the Piper Cherokee she has owned since 1985 in an Experimental Aircraft Association Young Eagles event, during which she took 14 young people up for their first airplane rides, giving them an aerial view of a familiar local amusement park.
She was also awaiting the latest news from Genevieve Anonsen, the recipient of a 2015 Ceci Stratford Flight Training Scholarship and currently a Colorado Springs resident whose aspirations for an aviation career have soared since she used scholarship funds to complete her private pilot program and move on to advanced training.
The news from Anonsen was worth the wait: She had recently earned her instrument rating and commercial pilot certificate and was hard at work on her flight instructor certificate, which has since also been achieved.
But this was the highlight: Anonsen had recently been sworn in as a member of the Air National Guard, her sights set on flying ANG F-15s from Jacksonville, Florida. Her Air Force officer training was scheduled to start Sept. 19, with Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training set to begin next February.
To put it another way, the career that a young woman who had wanted to fly since age 15 had dreamed of was becoming a reality, thanks in part to the generosity of Stratford.
Stratford has long made it a point to stay in touch with young people whose aviation paths have been fortunate to intersect with hers, and in Anonsen’s case, the bond has become special.
Last fall, an outing to visit family in Boulder, Colorado, brought Stratford and her husband close enough to Colorado Springs to arrange a side trip for a lunch date and a tour of Colorado Springs Municipal Airport and Peterson Air Force Base with Anonsen.
“We had a blast,” Anonsen said by phone, recounting a day spent inspecting aircraft, siting in cockpits, and showing her mentor and fellow member of The Ninety-Nines the amenities of the aero club in which she had been flying, and where a new crop of student pilots awaited the completion of Anonsen’s instructor training.
If the meeting serves on its own as a happy vignette, magnify that by remembering that not long before, Anonsen had almost despaired of realizing her dream.
She was a college graduate, working in sales, uninspired.
“I really wanted to reinvent myself. I wanted to do something I was passionate about,” she said. She kept telling herself, “I’m 24, I could figure it out.”
It starts by getting started.
Taking action produced results when she won a first stipend through her local Ninety-Nines chapter; it put her on the road to pilothood. By the time she applied for the AOPA Foundation’s Ceci Stratford Flight Training Scholarship, she had logged about 30 hours of flight time and was wondering how she could manage to keep her momentum going.
On Oct. 1, 2015, the AOPA Foundation announced the year’s AOPA Flight Training Scholarship recipients.
“I was extremely shocked when I won it,” Anonsen said.
She remembers thinking, “I can start training every day if I want to—which is exactly what I did.” And she expressed her gratitude to Stratford, beginning what would become a lasting friendship.
If not everyone who enters aviation is fortunate enough to connect with a mentor like Stratford, many more can still benefit from her efforts on behalf of up-and-coming pilots.
When she isn’t working one-on-one with an aspiring aviator, or giving a ride to one of the 760 youngsters she has flown under the EAA Young Eagles program, she continues her good work dispensing advice and encouragement as a writer via “Ceci’s Tips” on the website of the San Fernando Valley Chapter of The Ninety-Nines.
Her work online recently included a list of aviation scholarships in the Southwest; steps to get a student pilot and private pilot certificate; tips for writing scholarship essays; and a new tip on becoming a UAS (drone) pilot.
One tip well worth sharing with the aspiring pilot community at large is that for any scholarship an applicant might seek, it goes a long way to explain how you would use your aviation talents and resources in the service of others.
Advice is one thing, but clearly, Stratford and Anonsen both exemplify the traits and strategies they say help achieve success in aviation.
Passion and persistence top the list of traits that triumph. Form manageable goals, and find mentors and other sources of moral support.
Confidence is important—but if it’s lacking, you are likely to pick it up along the way. Looking back on her early flying, Stratford recalls that a “plain old lack of confidence” delayed her first solo beyond the number of hours considered typical.
That’s when her natural persistence kicked in. Flying two or three times a week with an instructor she liked—another crucial ingredient in a successful campaign—reassured her that she could do it.
“Eventually, I got there,” she said, sharing the story that no doubt has inspired numerous student pilots to persevere.
Anonsen too gives a strong vote of support to the importance of consistent, frequent flying during training.
“Try to fly at least three times a week,” she advises.
Mostly, if the passion is there, follow it.
“Don’t short yourself. I thought being an Air Force pilot was a dream that might not ever happen for me. Just have confidence in yourself and work really hard for it,” she said, adding, “You’re never too old to reinvent yourself.”