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'I felt a spark light in my soul'

Until her senior year of high school, Alexis Noel was uninspired and had no idea what she wanted to do in life. It wasn’t until she attended an Explorer Post/STEM club event at the Boeing campus that she finally found her calling in aviation.

Photos courtesy of Alexis Noel.

“I was not good at sports, I was not interested in any school subjects, and I felt really lost. I tried several different clubs to no avail; nothing was catching my interest,” Noel explained.

After taking the drive to Boeing’s campus with her parents and sitting through a few speeches that still weren’t resonating with her, Noel finally heard a sentence she says she’ll never forget: “Hello! My name is Andrew, and I am the president of the local EAA Young Eagles chapter 1932, a youth aviation explorer post.”

“Upon hearing the word ‘youth aviation,’ I felt a spark light in my soul,” Noel recounted. “I was 18 at the time and I never thought aviation could be an option for me at my age. As everyone shuffled out of the auditorium I ran up to Andrew and got all the information I could on this ‘youth aviation explorer post.’ My mom thought I was crazy to leave the Boeing STEM program, but she could see my excitement, so she rolled with it. The next week I took a Young Eagles flight, and I was hooked. I had found my passion.”

Two months later Noel signed up for her first lesson at Creve Coeur Airport in St. Louis. The flight allowed her to experience most of the things she’d be doing throughout her flight training.

“It was the coolest thing I had ever done and for the first time I felt like I was on the right path. This was a challenge unlike any I had been presented before, one that takes confidence and discipline. As scared as I was, I knew I needed to do this, I could feel the sky calling me saying ‘this is where you belong.’”

While taxiing back in at the end of her first lesson, Noel caught a glimpse of a Bell UH-1 helicopter hovering above her. On her way back to her car she decided to stop in at the hangar to get a few photos of the helicopters for her father.

“I saw a man in a green flight suit standing next to a helicopter, so I asked if it would be ok for me to take a picture,” Noel said. “This man, Scott Wiley, [who] is now one of my dearest mentors and good friend, said, ‘sure, how about we take a picture in the front seat?’ From that day on I started volunteering three days a week with the Army Aviation Heritage Foundation. As my team says, ‘I walked in one day and haven’t left since!’”

Now two years later, Noel has logged over 1,000 volunteer hours with Army Aviation Heritage Foundation (AAHF) and has found what she calls her lifetime family. During her time traveling in, showing, and maintaining these historic aircraft, each member of the foundation has taken her under their wing and taught her something that is unique to them.

“Many members are prior service members, majority Army Reserve, but every branch is represented by at least one member. We have veterans from Vietnam, the Gulf War, Desert Storm, Iraqi Freedom and many more. Our oldest member, Rodger Sulzer, was one of the original UH-1 ‘Huey’ test pilots; he also served in Vietnam.”

AAHF is home to a UH-1 Huey, an OH-58 Kiowa, and an AH-1 Cobra. The organization maintains and flies the helicopters to airshows across the country with their demonstration team, The Sky Soldiers, for whom Noel is crew chief.

“During the air shows, we are able to give rides to guests for a fee; that money is then used to help with the costly maintenance of keeping the helicopters flying,” Noel explained. “The best part of being crew chief is getting to see the smiling faces of the riders, the grandfathers who bring their grandchildren for a ride to show them what they did in the military, or the Vietnam veteran who wants one last ride at their age. Getting to see the love and respect people have for these helicopters makes every single volunteer hour worth it.”

When she’s not volunteering with AAHF, Noel serves on the board of the Women with Wings St. Louis Chapter as the director of outreach.

“Inspiring young women to join the field of aviation is my main goal; I want girls to know there are opportunities out there for them. I also want girls to know that it is ok to be the only girl in the room. The great thing about women in aviation is we are all here to support and encourage each other no matter where you are in your aviation journey.”

Noel also works to inspire aspiring aviators through Instagram, where she shares her experiences in flight training and as an AAHF crew chief. Over the last year and a half, her profile has gained more than 100,000 followers.

Now a private pilot, Noel is currently working on her Instrument rating and hopes to be ready for her instrument checkride by the end of the year. She is also working toward her bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership.

Alexis Noel participates in a Girls in Aviation Day event at the Wings of Hope at the St. Louis Airport. Photo courtesy of Alexis Noel.

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: Career, People

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