Totaling nearly $1.2 million, these AOPA Foundation scholarships will help high school students and teachers, aspiring pilots, pilots seeking advanced ratings, and those pursuing aviation maintenance or other aerospace careers reach their aviation goals.
Each scholarship aims to help individuals cover the cost of training for a private, sport, or recreational pilot certificate or to provide funds for advanced ratings and certificates. These scholarships are awarded annually by the AOPA Foundation; the 2022 awards include the largest group of recipients and the most scholarship funds distributed to date.
The AOPA Foundation is the philanthropic arm of AOPA. Contributions to this 501(c)(3) charitable organization fund programs that AOPA membership dues don’t cover, like the content distributed by the AOPA Air Safety Institute and the initiatives of the You Can Fly program. The AOPA Foundation also annually distributes flight training scholarships—funds that ease the financial burden of flight training, helping student pilots succeed and ultimately adding to the pilot population.
Alaina Arnold is one upcoming addition who is supported through the AOPA Foundation Breitling Aviation Scholarship. An accomplished academic and professional, her undergraduate studies focused on criminal justice, anthropology, and American Sign Language, and she has a master’s degree in law. Arnold has spent the last decade in law enforcement, but a lifelong curiosity about aviation led to a discovery flight and from there, Arnold said, “The moment we took to the sky, I knew: This is what I was meant to do. I didn’t know when or where, but I knew one day I would become a pilot.”
“Making the leap and pursuing a new career path isn’t something I took lightly, but having the ability to live and work anywhere is invaluable,” Arnold said. And the scholarship provided her the opportunity to start flight training immediately, as opposed to delaying due to the financial factors. “AOPA was the most useful resource I found, both in terms of scholarships and aviation in general.”
The flight training scholarship program would not be possible without donations to the AOPA Foundation. One very generous contributor is the Ray Foundation. Founded by the late James C. Ray, an aviator, philanthropist, and entrepreneur, the Ray Foundation has contributed $1 million to the AOPA Foundation in 2022 to fund flight training scholarships for high school students and teachers. This year 100 scholarships worth $10,000 each were awarded for the purpose of obtaining a private pilot certificate.
Bitanya Gudeta is one recipient of the AOPA Foundation You Can Fly High School Flight Training Scholarship, a Ray Foundation-funded award. Gudeta just graduated from Eastland Career Center in Groveport, Ohio, a technical school designed to guide students into career and educational paths with over 40 programs. She was in the aviation program, a decision spurred by her love for flight and an interest in being a part of aviation’s accomplishments. While at Eastland Career Center, Gudeta was able to practice flying in simulators, obtain her drone certification, and even pass her private knowledge test. “My final goal is to become an airline pilot,” Gudeta said. “This fall I am going to be attending the Ohio State University, where I’ll get my remaining licenses.”
On June 17, Gudeta had an opportunity to go for a discovery flight at Fairfield County Airport. “It was pretty wonderful,” Gudeta said. “I am really excited for this next step.”
And though Gudeta is just getting started, some recipients are well on the way to certification. Seventeen-year-old Logan Harden first encountered aviation in 2016 on an EAA Young Eagles flight and has already started flight training. “The scholarship has allowed me to accelerate my studies and training,” Harden said. “I have been able to purchase tools, software, and educational materials to help me understand all of the rules and regulations. I have also been able to fly every day, sometimes twice a day.”
But the scholarship is more than just a monetary relief for Harden—it also provides an opportunity to inspire others. “I am a congenital amputee of the right hand, meaning I was born with only my left hand,” Harden explained. “I’ve been different from everyone else all my life and I want to prove that anyone can do anything as long as they give it their all. I also want to inspire the next generation to learn more about the world of aviation. Stories of one-handed pilots are far too few, and this is something that needs to change. After becoming a private pilot, I want to encourage other amputees to have faith in themselves and their dreams.”
Ultimately, what brings all the scholarship recipients together is a passion for flight. “I enjoy flying because there really is nothing else like it,” Harden said. “The world of aviation offers endless possibilities, and what you choose to do after receiving a pilot’s certificate, well…the sky’s the limit.”
—AOPA Senior Director of Digital Media Alyssa Cobb contributed to this report.
Congratulations to the 2022 AOPA Foundation scholarship winners.