AOPA Foundation donors are the fuel that powers AOPA programs supporting and growing the pilot community—and they were inspired to rise to a challenge, said AOPA President Mark Baker. “The future of general aviation just got brighter.”
On July 26, the AOPA Foundation announced that the generosity of more than 3,800 donors had produced contributions exceeding $1.8 million, topping the $1.4 million goal set by the Ray Foundation, which was established by the late pilot and philanthropist James C. Ray.
Chuck Ahearn, Ted Brosseau, and Jeff Tempas, the Ray Foundation’s directors, also recognized AOPA for the “outstanding performance of You Can Fly, and AOPA’s terrific stewardship of prior grants.”
The bottom line is that thanks to the generosity of all Challenge contributors, GA just got stronger, because You Can Fly will be able to direct more resources to its four initiatives: High School, Flight Training, Flying Clubs, and Rusty Pilots.
“We’re excited that so many pilots and aviation enthusiasts believe You Can Fly is worthy of their support and we’ll use this funding to continue the success of the program,” said Katie Pribyl, AOPA's senior vice president of aviation strategy and programs.
The High School initiative is working to fill the gap in aviation youth education; provide a quality workforce to the aviation industry by building and sustaining aviation-based science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) curriculum in high schools; and expose a diverse group of students to aviation—students who might never have discovered that a career in an aviation field was within reach.
The Flight Training initiative seeks to change the training paradigm by helping flight schools understand why dropout rates are high; and giving them the tools, information, and support they need to create an experience their students will love to pursue. AOPA’s Flight Training Excellence Awards recognize the best flight schools and instructors in the country.
Flying clubs are a familiar means of addressing affordability, access to aircraft, and camaraderie, and the Flying Clubs initiative has helped more than 80 new clubs get off the ground. And there’s follow-up support: AOPA’s Flying Club Network is free to join and offers free scheduling software, a premium listing in the AOPA Flying Club Finder, a resource library, exclusive insurance rates, access to networking events, and more.
Most pilots who have stopped flying did so because of cost, time, or other factors—but they planned to get back into the cockpit when possible. You Can Fly created the Rusty Pilots initiative to lower the barrier to re-entry and provide lapsed pilots a path to return to flying. Rusty Pilots seminars are hosted across the country and satisfy the ground portion of the flight review. Nearly 40 percent of those who attend a Rusty Pilots seminar complete their flight review and return to the air as pilot in command. In 2017, the Rusty Pilots initiative re-engaged more than 8,000 pilots at more than 250 seminars across the country.
James C. Ray (1923-2017) was a noted aviation philanthropist and entrepreneur with an eye for emerging technologies, a World War II veteran, and dedicated AOPA Foundation donor.
Preferring anonymity for his charitable work, he was a tireless champion of aviation whose startup support was crucial when AOPA launched the You Can Fly program in 2014.
Ray always felt that aviation exerted positive influences on him in his later life, both personally and in business.
The seed of that influence was planted when he witnessed the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor as a teenage steelworker helping build a structure for the U.S. Navy. Ray soon enlisted in the Army Air Corps, where he demonstrated an aptitude for flight training and would go on to serve as a B–17 command pilot with the Eighth Air Force, 447th Bomb Group, based in Rattlesden, England. He rose to the rank of major, and received the Air Medal and Distinguished Flying Cross, with Oak Leaf Clusters, two of the highest honors bestowed upon military aviators.
James Ray understood that the self-discipline and self-confidence he learned during flight training helped him achieve his later success.
And he continued to fly: One of his favorite aircraft was a Cessna 170B, which he flew to 58 countries in the 1950s. At home in the sky for more than 29 years, Ray flew Cessna pistons, turboprops and jets, Cirrus aircraft, and a Stemme motor glider.
The Ray Foundation continues to make an indelible mark on the education of young people—especially aspiring aviators—and following the successful completion of the You Can Fly Challenge, even more of the people who will ensure aviation’s future stand to benefit from his wisdom and vision.