Ray Foundation Propels New Pilots into Aviation

EAA’s primary scholarship program exceeded its 2021 goal with $1.2 million in awards.

Sitting in a circle of mismatched chairs in a hangar on the Hagerstown Regional Airport in Maryland, the members of EAA Chapter 36 welcomed me in February 2020 as a pilot recently relocated to the area—and they introduced Aidan Bedwell, the chapter’s second winner of a $10,000 James Ray Foundation scholarship.

Bedwell, whose journey in aviation started at the age of 11 when he stumbled upon his grandfather’s radio-controlled airplane, went on to pass his private pilot check ride in July of this year.

Chapter 36′s first winner, Elizabeth Thornwall, earned her private certificate in December 2019. For Thornwall, it was a trip to an air show that started her love affair with aviation.

The stories are local and the power of the scholarship is real.

EAA’s Ray Foundation Million Dollar Challenge scholarships are distributed by chapter to young people ages 15 to 19. At EAA AirVenture last week, the foundation announced that it awarded more than $1 million in scholarship funds in 2019, and $1.2 million in both 2020 and 2021.

How it Works

Over the course of its three-year history, the foundation has awarded scholarships to 276 young people. Of those, 133 of those have scored a pilot certificate. Chapters must nominate candidates for the award, and each Chapter has its own criteria for selection. Involvement in the local chapter is a great way to qualify.

EAA also has a Matching Scholarship Fund, for those chapters that have successfully mentored a Ray Scholar through the program. With this award, EAA will fund 50 percent of another scholarship, with the Chapter matching the remaining 50 percent.

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