While most high school students are enjoying the last few weeks of summer vacation by relaxing, one Maryland student and aspiring pilot had the unique opportunity to take her first flight lesson in front of ABC News cameras, while her friend and fellow aspiring pilot came along for the ride.
Victoria Wentt, 16, and Ruth Gebremariam, 15, are both juniors at Col. Zadok Magruder High School in Rockville, Maryland, and have both chosen the pilot pathway of AOPA’s High School Aviation STEM curriculum. The two aspiring pilots were invited to AOPA headquarters to be interviewed by ABC News for a story about diversity in the aviation industry, and to share what it’s like to be young, Black, female, and fascinated with aviation.
From the start, AOPA’s High School initiative has focused on improving these statistics and introducing the many opportunities in the aviation industry to a more diverse audience. Students participating in AOPA’s curriculum for the 2019-2020 school year were 22 percent female, more than three times the active female pilot population. Students of color comprised 38 percent of curriculum users, nearly five times the number reflected in the current active pilot population.
As the diversity of students participating in AOPA’s curriculum continues to grow, the makeup of the industry Wentt and Gebremariam hope to one day join is also slowly improving. According to the FAA’s Airmen Registry, there were 42,218 registered female pilots in 2010; in 2019, there were 52,740. The number of ATPs has also increased, from 5,580 in 2010 to 7,503 in 2019, while the number of female commercial and private pilots has decreased.
Students participating in AOPA’s curriculum for the 2019-2020 school year were 22 percent female, more than three times the active female pilot population. Students of color comprised 38 percent of curriculum users, nearly five times the number reflected in the current active pilot population.
Following her first flight lesson, Wentt shared how much aviation has inspired her to earn her private pilot certificate, with the ultimate goal of becoming an airline pilot. She also has some other unique aspirations as well: “Eventually I want to own my own airline and have an animal sanctuary and a zoo,” she continued. Wentt was motivated to pursue a career in aviation following an airshow at Joint Base Andrews that included an aerobatic performance by a female pilot. “She was doing cartwheels in an airplane and it was very inspiring.”
Gebremariam, who had previously taken a few flight lessons, joined certificated flight instructor and AOPA Senior Director of Flight Training Education Chris Moser as he guided Wentt through a flight around Frederick Municipal Airport in Frederick, Maryland, and took the scenic route over historic Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.
Gebremariam hopes to one day attend Purdue University’s aviation program and aspires to become an airline pilot after college.
Wentt’s mother, Christine, shared that she was planning to surprise Victoria with a discovery flight this year for her Sweet 16 birthday, but unfortunately, it had to be canceled—twice—because of the coronavirus pandemic. “Now she was given this opportunity and her sixteenth birth year is amazing again,” Christine Wentt said. Because of her passion for aviation, Wentt has also been awarded a scholarship through Bravo Flight Training in Frederick that will help cover her initial training costs.
Wentt and Gebremariam’s aviation curriculum teacher Michael Smith said that the girls “are very motivated to learn as much about aviation as they can, and I’m sure they will be successful long after their time with me.” Smith has been teaching AOPA’s curriculum since its inception and has created a Magruder Aviation Twitter account to promote the activities the students participate in through the courses and other aviation-related events.
Smith’s classroom will be one of 450 using the curriculum for the 2020-2021 school year. And Wentt and Gebremariam will be among more than 8,000 students across 38 states who, once completing the course work, will be prepared to take the FAA private pilot knowledge test or the Part 107 remote pilot knowledge test.
AOPA’s You Can Fly program was created to get more people flying and keep them flying through four key initiatives: High School STEM curriculum, Flight Training, Flying Clubs, and Rusty Pilots. The program is funded by donations to the AOPA Foundation.