The AOPA Foundation has announced the winners of scholarships awarded in the 2018 AOPA Flight Training Scholarship program.
Eleven recipients will receive awards from the AOPA Foundation’s Primary Certification Scholarships program of $2,500 to $7,500 that can be applied to training for an initial pilot certificate, including a sport, private, or recreational pilot certificate. The winners were selected from a pool of applicants 16 years old or older who are AOPA members,
“It’s always an exciting time when we are able to help and inspire the next generation of pilots,” said AOPA President Mark Baker. “None of this would be possible without generous donations to the AOPA Foundation. I hope the example these students set will motivate even more future pilots to pursue their dreams of flight.”
Fred and Diane Fitts Memorial Flight Training Scholarship, sponsored by Corporate Aircraft Association
Benjamin Rudd, 18, is a New Zealander who moved to the island of Nantucket in Massachusetts when he was three years old. He teaches sailing during the day and has been working at the local pharmacy in the evenings to pay for flight lessons. He is determined to fly for a living. “From the time I was about 10, aviation fascinated me,” he said. “By 11, I knew exactly what I wanted to do—become a commercial airline pilot.” His commitment is demonstrated by what he must do to take flight training on the mainland in Providence, Rhode Island: It requires a one-hour boat ride, an hour-and-a-half drive in a rental car, and a stay overnight in Providence, he said.
Erral Lea and Glenn Plymate Memorial Flight Training Scholarships
Tony Adams, 27, combined his interests in entrepreneurship and aviation at Penn State, where one of his professors owned a flight school. "It was time for me to do what I was created to do, which was fly," he said. "I believe accomplishing this feat will serve a bigger purpose for my life. I look forward to giving opportunities for underprivileged people to inspire them to achieve their dreams." After earning his private pilot certificate, he plans to train for his instrument rating, followed by his commercial pilot certificate, and become a flight instructor. He aspires to volunteer with the Connecticut Air and Space Center. “I promise to one day give back and successfully fulfill scholarship opportunities for people in need,” he said.
In 2012, Shokoufeh Mirzaei, 35, earned her Ph.D. and received Boeing’s best dissertation award. She would become the youngest—and only female—assistant professor of Industrial Engineering at California State Polytechnic University—Pomona. She plans to pursue her private pilot certificate, instrument rating, and commercial pilot certificate, as well as establish a flying club at the Pomona campus. Mirzaei grew up on Air Force bases in Iran, where “every day we children of military personnel would run across a large field to watch the planes in the hangars behind the fences," she said. “I became interested in aircraft and asked my father, an airplane electro-mechanic engineer, many questions. I wanted to become a pilot then.” Since she started flying, “Nothing has come close to the feeling of excitement before and during each flight and the accomplishment after,” she said.
For Autumn Eells, 23, general aviation has always held fascination “because aviation is really what connects the world. Incredibly, the power and privilege to fly are open to any that have the drive to become a pilot.” An investment of $130 from her tax refund last summer went to a discovery flight at her local airport in Aurora, Oregon. “Wow, all I can say is that flight set my soul afire,” she said. Fells is a member of AOPA, The Ninety-Nines, and Women in Aviation International. She plans to earn her private pilot certificate, followed by the additional ratings necessary to become a professional pilot for a major airline.
Alicia Coronel Becske, 46, is training to become a helicopter pilot in Pompano Beach, Florida, but her aviation connection didn’t start there. “I have been linked to aviation for 18 years, working as a flight attendant and flight attendant supervisor,” she said. In those roles she met many pilots who encouraged her to pursue her dream, she said. “From the first day I sat in the left seat on an alpine Search and Rescue Mission, it was clear to me: I wanted to become an EMS helicopter pilot,” she said, noting that she plans to earn her private pilot certificate, instrument rating, commercial pilot, and flight instructor certificates. She promotes aviation through her participation in activities including USA Girl Scouts Overseas, the American School of Madrid, and the Girl Scout Aviation Patch Program. She works as a freelance translator to cover the cost of her flight lessons.
Rhett Windham, 42, has been on active military duty for 24 years and sees aviation “as an exciting, challenging, and unique industry that will allow me to continue a legacy of service towards others, much like the military has.” His plans include flight instructing and flying charity and outreach flights, encouraging fellow veterans to pursue careers in aviation, and mentoring the next generation of pilots. Youth are looking for mentors that will believe in them and champion their success, he said, adding, “Those that desire to live their calling as a pilot deserve someone who possesses a passion to help them succeed."
Richard Santori Memorial Flight Training Scholarship
William Gann, 44, is a teacher who always dreamed of flying. "My parents used to drive me to the airport to watch the planes take off and land as a way to soothe and relax me even as a toddler," he said. A former elementary student is now his flight instructor. "The irony of the little kid who has become the teacher is not lost on me. It has been fun learning from him and an exciting journey that I can't wait to complete," he said. Hearing from his students’ parents “that they are sure they saw me flying over their house after school has been fun. They are encouraging me on my Wildly Important Goal just as I encourage them as they work on their WIGs. My hope is that they can celebrate with me as I reach my goal and receive my Private Pilot Certificate,” he said.
Gina Santori Flight Training Scholarship
Bridgett Neu, 42, had always wanted to learn to fly. A mother of two, she currently serves as the director of education for a local aviation museum where she facilitates a private pilot ground school program and is planning an instrument rating ground school. She is a member of AOPA, Women in Aviation, and The Ninety-Nines. She is the Young Eagles coordinator for the local EAA chapter, is the Aviation Merit Badge counselor for the Boy Scouts, and facilitates the two-day Youth Aviation Adventure program. She has also revitalized the education committee at the Aviation Heritage Center of Wisconsin. “I am passionate about lifelong learning, and becoming an instructor would allow me to give back as well," she said.
Riccardo Guglielmetti Flight Training Scholarship
Jallah Yalleh, 25, attended Mansfield University for a business degree, then enlisted in the Army. He is now based in Vero Beach, Florida, and is pursuing his dream of becoming an airline pilot and helping the next generation of pilots. "My long-term aviation goal is to retire from a major airline and come back to my community and help the youth by becoming a flight instructor," he said. "With the shortage of pilots, my plan to promote general aviation is to create a network with the younger generation (high schoolers) and teach them at a young age so that it will be easier for them in the long run," he added. Yalleh enjoys the "peacefulness of being in the sky," and looks forward to a lifetime of learning.
The Richard R. and Gretchen E. Harper Scholarship in memory of Richard R. Harper
Sanjeev Caimraj, 26, works as an auto mechanic for the New York City fire department and has always dreamed of flying. He has been taking flying lessons as his schedule allows, mostly on weekends. His first experience in an airplane was traveling by single-engine airplane to an island in Guyana. “After the flight, my parents introduced me to the pilot where I got to take a picture with me sitting in the captain's seat with the flight controls in front of me. Ever since that moment I knew to myself one day I will become a pilot," he said. He plans to return to Guyana to start a flight school so he can teach the younger generation to fly.
Aurora Enriquez, 27, is training to be an emergency medical service helicopter pilot. One day she’d like to fly a helicopter to a career show-and-tell day at her former high school. “I suppose my interest in aviation started with my brother, who loves airplanes, and who, when we were kids, would not play dolls with me so we played airplanes and helicopters instead,” she said. “Good EMS pilots are sorely needed where I'm from, and I am convinced that my love of flying helicopters can be put to no better use than to serve my community as an EMS pilot,” she said. The need for EMS pilots is urgent because the nearest hospital is two hours away, “and in certain cases, the adequate hospital is 3 hours away,” she said.
Erral Lea and Glenn Plymate Memorial Flight Training Scholarship
Philip Allen, 48, spent more than eight years in the military, then earned an associate degree in Criminal Justice and a Bachelor of Science degree in Legal Studies. He works in law enforcement. In 2016, he began pursuing his lifelong dream of flying, earning his private pilot certificate and instrument rating. He is now working on his commercial pilot certificate, flying twice a week while working full time. He has found many ways of giving back through aviation as an EAA Young Eagles pilot and by making rescue flights for American Black and Tan Coonhound Rescue. His goal is to create a charitable organization that allows young people to earn flight training credits by volunteering at animal shelters. “After I obtained my private certificate and instrument rating, I realized that I could fulfill a niche by combining rescue dog work and reaching young people with aviation,” he said.
Ceci Stratford Flight Training Scholarship
Elizabeth Robertson, 36, was raised by a single grandparent and had to work her way through college. She immediately started saving to finance flight lessons and began her aviation journey in 2015. By the time she earned her private pilot certificate in 2016, she had already earned advanced ground instructor and instrument ground instructor ratings, as well her remote pilot certificate. She is pursuing flight instructor certification as she works three jobs. Elizabeth faced many obstacles along the way—hearing many times that someone like her didn't belong in the pilot's seat. She turned these comments into a strong desire to keep at it, while wondering about the number of people who walked away after hearing such remarks. "I hope to keep positively influencing other women and encourage them to seek careers in aviation and S.T.E.M. fields,” she said.
Cindy Fritz, 56, earned her private pilot certificate in a 1972 Citabria, and now trains in a Cessna 172 for her instrument rating. After that she will begin working on her commercial pilot certificate and hopes to work for a backcountry charter company. “Aviation is a central part of my life. It’s an amazing community of unique individuals that I will be around for the rest of my life,” she said. Active in the aviation community, she belongs to the Idaho chapter of The Ninety-Nines, and serves as a board member for the Idaho Aviation Association. She also taught at the Boise Fly it Forward day three years in a row, and presented the Flying Companion seminar for the Idaho chapter of The Ninety-Nines. “I learn from all pilots around me. I will continue to teach when requested and I have a unique opportunity to talk about how women can own, operate, and maintain their own aircraft,” she said.
North Country Flying Club Advanced Rating Scholarship and AOPA Foundation Memorial Flight Training Scholarship (in memory of Warren C. Harmon and James L. Blain)
Matthew Lawton, 40, has always dreamed of flying, has worked in line service for many years, and wants to become a flight instructor and a corporate pilot. Nothing will stop him from reaching those goals, he said. “I used to sit there and just listen to the sound of the aircraft as they either flew overhead or were in the pattern to land,” he said. “It is what I am passionate about.” When he was growing up, his grandfather, a Royal Canadian Air Force pilot, told him flying stories. “When you were a kid you were told to aim for the sky for a goal. Well, the sky is my goal,” Lawton said. “It's in my blood.”
The Scott Stuart Flight Training Scholarship
Alejandro Carrillo, 26, is working toward a dual degree in Commercial Flight and Aviation Science, and he also plans to earn a degree in Aviation Administration. In addition to attending school, he works as an aircraft wash officer, a dispatcher, and an aviation ambassador. “Being an aviation ambassador allows me to share the many reasons why I have fallen in love with flying,” he said. “As an ambassador I can share my story, my experiences, my love for being in the air, all in hopes of inspiring young aviators.” In the short term he plans to become a flight instructor and work for his flight school. Long term, he wants to fly for a regional airline, and step up to a larger line. “Flying has been my saving grace in more ways than one. My love for flying has not only changed my life for the better, it has also taught me lifelong lessons I will utilize for the rest of my life,” he said.
The AOPA Flight Training Scholarships are made possible by generous charitable contributions to the AOPA Foundation. The program launched in 2011 and focuses on facilitating a positive flight training experience that will encourage student pilots to achieve their goals. By helping to produce new pilots, the scholarship program also strives to ensure general aviation’s future, with scholarship recipients serving as ambassadors for GA and flight training on a grassroots level.
—Amber Kite, AOPA's You Can Fly aviation program operations specialist, contributed to this article.