And the Hart Flying Scholarship Program Pays It Forward

With more than $120,000 in flight training scholarships, supplies, and equipment awarded since 2017, I Hart Flying, a nonprofit aimed at increasing the number of women aviators, celebrated its five-year anniversary at EAA AirVenture by announcing its biggest scholarship opportunity to date.

Already, $33,000 has been raised for the 2022 scholarship awards—and donations are still being accepted, said the nonprofit’s founder, Rachelle Spector, aka Rachelle Sky Hart. She anticipates awarding at least four scholarships this year to eligible women attending accredited flight training schools in the US or Canada.

As of 12 pm (PT) Monday, applicants could access the online I Hart Flying scholarship application. The deadline to apply is August 29. Winners will be announced September 23.

Connecting Industry Partners and Pilots

The aptly-named 2022 Industry Connect Scholarship is supported by three veteran I Hart Flying corporate donors, Immaculate Flight, AEG Fuels, and Dassault Falcon Jet—and for the first time, Paragon Aviation Group.

“This is an incredible organization, and we feel honored to be able to support women in aviation,” said Megan Barnes, president of Paragon Aviation Group. “I was blessed to be born into an amazing aviation family and learned to fly at an early age. Being able to share this opportunity through the I Hart Flying team is a true gift.”

In addition to flight training scholarships that usually range from $3,000 to $4000, each scholarship winner receives additional gifts, training aids and equipment—donated by a variety of other I Hart Flying supporters, said Lyndse Costabile, who leads media and corporate relations for the organization. . These gifts include Bose headsets, training from the King Schools, and a one-year subscription to it FLYING magazines, and more.

A new donor to the I Hart Flying scholarship “goodies,” Aerox, is giving a two-place portable oxygen system to each scholarship winner this year, as announced at EAA AirVenture, for when the new pilots “expand their horizons and start to fly higher!”

Scholarship recipients will also receive complimentary registration and travel funds to attend the annual National Business Aviation Association Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (NBAA BACE), Costabile said.

I Hart Flying founder Rachelle Spector poses for a photo with several girls who attended an aviation outreach event held in partnership with the D-Day Squadron. [Photo courtesy of I Hart Flying]

And Hart Flying’s mission of empowering women to become pilots is one that unifies the aviation industry, she explained. “We are known as an organization that connects the industry together—even to bring competitors of the industry together to be in the same space for the greater good,” she said. “We’re not just connecting partners to I Hart Flying, we’re connecting partners to work together.”

According to Spector, this year’s scholarship theme—Industry Connect—celebrates the industry partners that are so important to the organization and the spirit of collaboration and interconnectedness that has fueled the nonprofit’s success over the past five years.

“Our scholarships go so far beyond financial support. We stay in contact and mentor and advise and connect our recipients with the industry,” she said. “It’s such a big industry, but you connect in such a small way, because everybody knows everybody. This is more…than just giving money to somebody and saying, ‘Hey, good luck, have a nice day.’ This is, what can we do to build meaningful relationships with not only the recipients, or finalists, or partners, sponsors and donors—this is a group effort if we want to fill that pilot pipeline.”

Merit-Based Application

Costabile cautions scholarship applicants to take their time with the application process and not to wait until the last day to complete it. The application is intense and competitive, she said. A committee of volunteers reviews the scholarship applications and assigns points for each question/response. All personal and demographic information, including the applicants’ names, are removed, so that the application is assessed based solely on merit, she said.

Those who receive a scholarship are required to provide periodic updates, as well, regarding their flight training progress. “We require that they provide us with their updated logbook. We don’t make it easy; we have to make sure that they’re progressing,” Costabile said, to provide our financial partners with the return on their investment that they expect. “The whole point of I Hart Flying is to get more women into flying.”

At the end of the day, my biggest goal was what I could do to help somebody. Whether it’s one person a year, 10 people a year…if at the end of the day, you’re helping someone. That means more to me than anything else.

Rachelle Spector

Helping Women Achieve Their Dreams

And the organization is doing just that. Over the last five years, I Hart Flying has helped 21 women pursue their passion for flight, according to Spector. The scholarship recipients include a woman who was at one time homeless, but who did everything she could to achieve her dream, and another woman who started her own airplane-detailing company to pay her way through flight training, she said. One thing they all have in common: “Their passion and drive shines through.”

Spector said her journey as a pilot was unexpected. “A flight instructor randomly reached out to me on Facebook and asked me to come for a free flight. I’ve been flying ever since,” she said. “They offered me a scholarship to do my whole private pilot’s license for free and it changed my life forever.” After earning her private pilot certificate, she pursued flight with a fervor, racking up four ratings in just seven months.

She credits flight instructor Bill Montei, who was working at the Van Nuys Flight Center in California at the time, with changing her life. Now, Spector said she’s paying it forward.

“I knew I had a voice and I was in a position to do the same thing for others, and I said, hey, why not? So here we are five years later, let’s just keep up the good will and the good work building the pilot pipeline and getting more women in flight.

“At the end of the day, my biggest goal was what I can do to help somebody. Whether it’s one person a year, 10 people a year; it doesn’t have to be a big thing, if at the end of the day, you’re helping someone. That means more to me than anything else.”

With the current pilot shortage and a renewed focus on diversity and inclusion, Spector said the time is ripe for women interested in aviation to seize the opportunity to enter the workforce.

“When you’re looking at the percentages, only 6 percent of women still occupy the pilot population…and that’s just fixed wing, we’re not even talking about rotorcraft,” she said. “Now that we need pilots, now is the time for women to shine…[And] we’re here to help in any way we can.”

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