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Aspiring pilot hits all the high notes with Flying Musicians Association

Recent high school graduate and accomplished pianist Justin Duval, who dreams of becoming a commercial airline pilot, was recently awarded the Flying Musicians Association's Solo Program scholarship to begin his flight training.

Justin Duval at five years old exploring the cockpit of an Airbus A320 on his first commercial airline flight. Photo courtesy of Justin Duval.

FMA is a nonprofit founded in 2009 for pilots who are also musicians. The organization was built on the premise that the skills required to fly an aircraft and play an instrument are very similar. By educating others on these common attributes, like fine motor skills, precision, and multitasking, the organization hopes to further individuals’ interest in both fields.

Duval, a San Jose, California, native, fell in love with aviation at the age of 5 during his first commercial flight and remembers the day like it was yesterday. “I actually got invited into the cockpit,” Duval recalled. “I remember the captain asked me questions about what I wanted to do as he showed me around the aircraft, and I knew from that moment that I wanted to fly.”

On the musical side, Duval said, his grandfather shared his love for music with him at a very young age. “We listened to Mozart and classical musical and Spanish bull dancing music, and a bunch of other weird combination, I was always fascinated by it.”

Justin Duval plays the piano at Carnegie Hall. Photo courtesy of Justin Duval.

Duval started playing the piano at the age of 6 and at first, he said, he was always the student who stood out to his teachers and was entered in various musical competitions. Along the way, he discovered a classical Chinese piece that piqued his interest. “I’d never heard music like that before,” Duval said. “The way it sounded really captivated me, so I asked my teacher if I could play it and at the time she said no, because it was too technical, but I really wanted to play that song, so I sort of made it my mission for the next two years to be able to play it.” Finally, in 2019, after practicing and perfecting the piece, Duval was selected as a winner of the American Fine Arts Festival and invited to play the piece at Carnegie Hall. “I was able to take a passion and a song I really wanted to play, and I was able to take it and go to an international stage where people from all over the world were coming to perform, and I realized that passion could take you really far. So, I set my focus on aviation and music from then on.”

When Duval isn’t tickling the ivories, he spends his time immersed in aviation, volunteering at the Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos, California, and participating in activities with his local Civil Air Patrol squadron.

“Through CAP I have attended a military boot camp, served as my [squadron’s] Aerospace, Admin, and Logistics Officer, and created leadership classes,” Duval said. “I am also part of EAA Chapter 62, [and] the Academy of Model Aeronautics.” Duval also served as the president of his high school’s aviation club. Currently, Duval is studying for his FAA knowledge exam and plans to begin flight training at AeroDynamic Aviation located at Reid-Hillview of Santa Clara County Airport in San Jose. This fall, Duval will also attend nearby Santa Clara University to pursue his bachelor’s degree.

The scholarship covers Duval’s flight training through his first solo, and helps in obtaining flight training supplies, materials, as well as becoming a sponsored student member of FMA. As the winner of the scholarship, Duval is also designated as an FMA Youth Ambassador in his region and will be invited to perform at various outreach events. FMA will also assist Duval in finding other financial resources and scholarships to further his flight training.

Justin Duval at the Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos, California. Photo courtesy of Justin Duval.
Niki Britton
eMedia Content Producer
eMedia Content Producer Niki Britton joined AOPA in 2021. She is a private pilot who enjoys flying her 1969 Cessna 182 and taking aerial photographs.
Topics: Aviation Education Programs, Aviation Organizations

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