Read More: HAI Scholarship Recipient Nic Tillim
November 17, 2020

Student aspires to use piloting skills to help wildlife conservation.

Nic Tillim has known flying helicopters would be his life’s mission since his father introduced him to aviation at the age of three.

Nic’s dad works for a prominent family in Johannesburg, South Africa, that operates a private fleet of aircraft through its aviation business Fireblade Aviation. The company conducts a variety of missions, including game conservation, charter, and tour flights.

Most of his father’s missions didn’t permit Nic to ride along when he was growing up, but Nic relished the work photos his father would show him when he returned home. Nic was certain that, one day, he’d follow in his dad’s footsteps and pursue a career in aviation.

In March 2018, a year after graduating high school, Nic started flight training at Henley Air in Germiston, South Africa. He received his private pilot license (PPL) in November of that year, gaining 50 flight hours.

Read More: WAI Scholarship Winner Diana Stearns
August 15, 2020

Award carries special meaning for first female aviator in her family.

Growing up in Frenchtown, Montana, Diana Stearns was intrigued by her mother’s career as an emergency room / air ambulance flight nurse. But it was a pivotal experience as a teenager that ultimately led her to pursue a job in aviation.

During her junior year of high school, on a fluke Diana took an aviation class, where she discovered she enjoyed learning about engines and conducting simulator flights.

“I took the class because one of my friends wanted to take it, and I wanted to get out of chemistry,” recalls the 2020 ­winner of the HAI Foundation–­sponsored Women in Aviation International (WAI) Maintenance Technician Certificate Scholarship. “My friend ended up hating it, but I absolutely loved it and kept going from there. At the end of the class, a private pilot who flew in the area offered to give us a ride, and I knew that was the career for me.”

Diana graduated from high school in May 2016 and started flight lessons, obtaining her private pilot’s license that December.

After graduation, Diana was determined to find meaningful work that combined compassionate missions with aviation. As she researched potential employers, she noticed a common theme: the organizations preferred their pilots to be aircraft maintenance technicians (AMTs), as well.

Read More: HAI Scholarship Recipient Sarah-Grace Blanton
June 08, 2020

Funds give Marine Corps veteran a sense of security and hope.

With her aeronautical engineer father as a role model, Sarah-Grace Blanton knew since childhood that she wanted to work in aviation. But it wasn’t until she joined the US Marine Corps that the 2020 winner of HAI’s Commercial Helicopter Pilot Rating Scholarship was certain she wanted to be a pilot. While deployed overseas, the Kansas native met several pilots, an experience that ultimately led her to pick helicopters as her aircraft of choice. 

After leaving the military, however, Sarah-Grace encountered several roadblocks when she tried to use the GI Bill to obtain her pilot’s license and instrument rating. For one, she had to pay out of pocket for her license before receiving any GI benefits. Then, when she tried to use the funding for her instrument rating, she didn’t receive her first payment for more than eight months. She found help only after writing to Congress to request assistance but even then was reimbursed for only 60% of her training costs. 

She also had problems using her GI Bill benefits at the school where she originally enrolled in California. After she transferred to Precision Aviation Training in Newberg, Oregon, the process became much easier. 

She says her HAI scholarship was essential to continuing her pilot studies. “If I hadn’t won the scholarship, it would’ve been very hard for me to move to a different state and begin flight training somewhere new,” says Sarah-Grace, who obtained her commercial rating in March.  

The HAI scholarship has given her a sense of security and hope, she says. The funding, she explains, became a “safety blanket” that allowed her to concentrate on obtaining her commercial rating without the stress of accumulating more debt.

Sarah-Grace learned about HAI’s scholarship program from her mentor Dan Megna, a photographer for Vertical magazine whom she met at her former flight school. Megna still mentors Sarah-Grace, helping her network with other professionals and tracking her progress toward achieving her ultimate goal of becoming an air interdiction agent for US Customs and Border Protection. She also aspires to becoming a certificated flight instructor. 

In addition to Megna, Sarah-Grace cites as role models her Precision instructors Henry Sexsmith and Casey Campbell. “They’re always available to help me and give honest feedback,” she says. “They’ve taught me that hard work and not being afraid to ask questions will allow me to grow, as well as how to be a safe and efficient commercial pilot.”

Like so many in the rotorcraft industry, Sarah-Grace has found her training stymied by the COVID-19 pandemic. Although she completed her commercial checkride before a stay-at-home order took effect in Oregon, under the GI Bill she won’t be able to start CFI training and have her tuition paid until the order is lifted. But Sarah-Grace, who’s studying under an aviation science degree program developed by Klamath Community College in Klamath Falls, Oregon, in partnership with Precision Aviation, thinks things will work out.

Sarah-Grace frequently invokes her instructors’ lessons, especially the concept of a mental safety checklist, which she employs before every flight. “Every time I get ready for a flight, I ask myself, ‘Did I get enough sleep? How am I feeling? How’s my preflight?’ When I get in the cockpit, I think, ‘Fly with a purpose,’ because it keeps me focused so there’s no room for error.”

Her advice to other students is never give up. “Don’t be afraid of failure and bad flights,” she says. “Pick yourself back up, brush yourself off, and keep pushing toward your goal.”

She appreciates what the HAI scholarship has afforded her and would eagerly return the favor if she could. “If money weren’t an issue, I’d contribute to scholarships and anything that allows a pilot to build their passion for aviation,” she says. “Just how it was done for me.”

Read More: Foundation Scholarship Winner Pursues Dream of Community Service
January 20, 2020

Student pilot hopes to fly for Honolulu Fire Department one day.

Melissa Cooper was inspired to join the aviation industry after watching recruiting videos from the US Coast Guard (USCG) and realizing the aircraft and pilots depicted were an essential part of her community’s public safety efforts. But the Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, resident learned she was too short for the USCG flight training program.

Melissa didn’t let that hold her back, however. In May 2017, she continued to pursue her dream of flying by obtaining her private pilot’s license. Today, she’s working toward her commercial license with the help of the HAI Foundation’s Commercial Pilot Rating Scholarship, which she won in 2019.

Currently, as a Coast Guard reserve officer, Melissa serves as the civil aviation subject matter expert to the Joint Rescue Coordination Center Honolulu, where she supports the center’s aeronautical search-and-rescue efforts. She’s also earning the flight hours needed to work for other potential employers, such as US Customs and Border Protection, the FAA, or emergency medical services organizations. Melissa would like to continue serving her community after she receives her commercial pilot’s license by flying for the Honolulu Fire Department. 

Her advice to others hoping to become helicopter pilots is to take some time getting to know the industry first. “Take an introductory flight and sit in on some ground-school lessons. Make sure it’s truly what you want to do and that you’re a committed student. 

“Flight training is fun but also challenging and very expensive,” Melissa continues. “Have a plan for your aviation goals.” 

Read More: Bill Sanderson Scholarship Winner Ethan Mutschler
December 10, 2019

HFI scholarships provide additional learning opportunities for aviation students.

Ethan Mutschler was always interested in aviation, but he didn’t decide to pursue it as a career until he had been working in other industries for several years. Once he married and thought of starting a family, Ethan decided to go back to school to pursue a better career in line with his long-term goals.

After researching the opportunities offered in aviation, he enrolled in the Bachelor of Science in Aviation Maintenance Technology program at the Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

Ethan is currently in his final year of school and pursuing his inspection authorization rating. In order to further his education, he applied for and won third place in the Bill Sanderson Aviation Maintenance Technician Scholarship offered by Helicopter Foundation International (HFI).

Sanderson scholarship winners can choose from a selection of maintenance courses offered by airframe and powerplant manufacturers. Ethan chose to attend the Pratt & Whitney PT6 engine course.

Ethan feels supported by his college instructors and the network of resources provided by the industry that encouraged him to expand and reinforce the training he received in the classroom. “Instructors in the aviation department have done an excellent job of providing us as students with the education needed to achieve success for when we enter the industry. Part of this is by providing numerous scholarship opportunities through numerous providers.”

While he finishes his studies, Ethan is working in a flex position with the Geisinger Life Flight maintenance team. He plans to get his inspection authorization once eligible and, eventually, to pursue his dream of becoming a pilot.

When asked his advice to those looking to enter the industry, Ethan says, “Work hard, set stepping stones and goals for yourself, and always be hungry to learn more!”

Read More: HFI Scholarships Make Dreams Come True
August 30, 2019

As a child, Sayaka Pereira would spend hours staring at the sky, observing the clouds and dreaming about flying. Once she was old enough to decide on a career path, she knew she wanted to study aviation. Her goal was to become a helicopter pilot.

Pereira moved to California and started her training. Initially, it was slow going as she struggled to pay for lessons. She didn’t let her slow start deter her: “No matter how long it takes, no matter what others may say, never give up your dream!”

Pereira is currently pursuing both her commercial and instrument ratings. To help her complete her training more efficiently, she applied for and won a 2019 Commercial Helicopter Pilot Rating Scholarship offered by Helicopter Foundation International (HFI).

Before getting her private rating, Pereira wasn’t aware of all the opportunities that existed in our industry for financial aid, as well as the robust network available to her through aviation clubs, nonprofit organizations, and online forums. “I didn’t know there were some really supportive aviation communities out there! Compared to other countries, the United States actually offers some of the best and most cost-efficient aviation training programs. However, it is still a very difficult process to become a pilot—­physically, financially, and emotionally.” Building a strong network of mentors was critical to her success.

Read More: "Don't Let Anything Get in Your Way"
May 20, 2019

Helicopter Foundation International (HFI) scholarship winner Cory Oestreich’s desire to be in aviation started at a young age. Fascinated by the television show M*A*S*H, he loved to watch the helicopters.

As he grew older, that interest caused him to pursue a career in aviation. After Oestreich graduated high school, he attended a fixed-wing flight training program for two years at the University of Minnesota Crookston.

Realizing that his passion was for aviation maintenance, he transferred his credits to a two-year aviation maintenance technology (AMT) program at the Helena College University of Montana. He graduated in December 2017 with an Associate’s in Applied Science degree in AMT.

Oestreich participated in a couple of helicopter discovery flights and logged some flight hours with Hillsboro Aviation in Oregon. This led to a job with the US Forest Service helitack crew, Central Montana Helitack. He was a wildland firefighter as well as a helicopter crew member. Being in this position helped him make connections and build his network with a variety of helicopter companies.

Realizing the importance of continuing his training, Oestreich applied for and won the HFI Bill Sanderson AMT Scholarship. He used his scholarship to attend the Safran Arriel 2B/2B1 and 2D turboshaft engine maintenance course.

He is looking forward to continuing his training and plans to obtain his second-line maintenance qualification through Safran, as well as attend Airbus Helicopters factory training. Oestreich’s ultimate goal is to work for a helicopter air ambulance company.

When asked about his advice to those still working on their certification, he says, “Maintain an open mind first and foremost, and network whenever possible! Be willing to take less desirable jobs to eventually work your way up. Lastly, if aviation is what you want, just dive in headfirst and go for it. Don’t let anything get in your way.”

Read More: Pilot Finds True Calling in Maintenance
February 28, 2019

Growing up in Westfield Center, Ohio, HFI scholarship winner Derek Galla was fortunate enough to live next door to a pilot for Continental Express. They forged a friendship playing flight simulator games together.

Galla even had the opportunity to tour the training facility where his neighbor worked and to fly a full­motion Embraer ERJ145 flight simulator. This really sparked his interest in aviation and is ultimately what led Galla to pursue his private pilot license.

Once he obtained his pilot rating, Galla realized that although he was passionate about aviation, maintaining aircraft was his true calling: “I enjoy working with my hands and the challenge of troubleshooting.” He looked forward to seeing a helicopter that he worked on all day take off, knowing that his work helped make that happen.

Galla enrolled in the Aviation Mainte­nance Technology program at MIAT College of Technology in Canton, Michigan. To offset the expense of his training, he applied for and won an HFI Maintenance Technician Certificate Scholarship. He completed his training in October 2018.

With demand for aviation maintenance professionals at an all-time high, Galla is glad he pursued his A&P license. “My advice to others is to look into and experience the different career paths (pilot, mechanic, air traffic controller, airport management). See where you will be the happiest. Don’t just go with a high-paying career that you will be miserable in. You want to wake up every day excited to go to work.”  

Galla looks forward to continuing his training and obtaining his inspection authorization (IA) and nondestructive testing (NDT) certifications and training, as well as a bachelor’s degree. His ultimate goal is to attain a leadership role by becoming a director of maintenance. 

Read More: Military Pilot Makes Career Move to Civilian AMT
November 13, 2018

Doug Sena’s experience and passion are what made him stand out as an applicant for Helicopter Foundation International’s (HFI) 2018 Bill Sanderson Aviation Maintenance Technician (AMT) Scholarship. This scholarship is offered by HAI’s Technical Committee to promote the choice of helicopter maintenance as a career. Each AMT scholarship winner gets the opportunity to attend a course in helicopter airframe or engine maintenance offered by manufacturers.

After joining the US Army in May 1985, Sena attended flight school and then the UH-60 Black Hawk transition course in 1986. He was assigned to both the 5th Squadron, 17th US Cavalry Regiment and the 1st Battalion, 3rd Aviation Regiment. Once he left active service in 1991, he entered the corporate world, becoming a senior scientist working for a Fortune 500 company developing packaging materials.

Read More: Coming Back Home to Aviation
August 03, 2018

Austin Rowles has been around aviation professionals practically his entire life. When he was very young, his father started a flight school called Palm Beach Helicopters.

“My family rode out three hurricanes [in Palm Beach County, Florida], and after one of those hurricanes destroyed the office, we rebuilt there. Every major event that has occurred in my life has been in some way, shape, or form caused by aviation.”

After high school, Rowles decided to major in computer science. Though his love of computers still runs deep, after a year of study in that field he decided to come back to his roots and pursue his other passion, aviation.

“A combination of watching my father pour his blood, sweat, and tears into this industry, and seeing my brother’s father-in-law work as a maintenance technician drove me to come back home.”

Rowles applied for and won a 2018 HFI Maintenance Technician Certificate Scholarship. He is working on his airframe and powerplant certifications and will finish his private pilot rating this summer. In addition, he has been working with his brother’s father-in-law at his shop on Meacham Airfield in Fort Worth, Texas. Rowles has done everything from a full four-phase inspection of a King Air C90 to fabricating instrument panels for multiple Cessna models.

“This industry revolves around a single word: networking.”

Rowles’s ultimate career goal is to eventually run his own Part 147 school that concentrates on the rotorcraft side of the aviation industry. “I believe rotorcraft are heavily neglected in our current schools, and I hope to be a driving force to fix that.”

When asked what advice he would give others considering a career in aviation, Rowles says, “This industry revolves around a single word: networking. Skill is always important — you should always strive to be the best at whatever it is you want to do — but when you’re shooting for that director of maintenance position at that popular company you’ve always wanted to work for, it helps to know the right people.

“Go to as many meet-ups as you can. Write names down and never forget a face. There are so many wonderful people in this industry, so it’s a pleasure just getting to know everyone.”