By Rob Finfrock

The Citation Jet Pilots (CJP) Charitable Activities Committee, in collaboration with the Blue Sky Educational Foundation, recently awarded the inaugural CJP Flight Training Scholarship to 2015 high school graduate Austin Katz. Valued at $10,000, the scholarship was funded through contributions from CJP Members to promote aviation career opportunities.

Austin Katz, second from right, with Seminole County Public Schools superintendent Dr. Walt Griffith at far right. To their left are members of the Seminole County Public Schools board, with aviation course instructors Dr. Paul Becht and Dr. Sarah-Maria Becht to Austin's immediate left.

Austin Katz, second from right, with Seminole County Public Schools superintendent Dr. Walt Griffith at far right. To their left are members of the Seminole County Public Schools board, with aviation course instructors Dr. Paul Becht and Dr. Sarah-Maria Becht to Austin’s immediate left.

Austin told CJP he’s wanted to be a pilot “since I was little,” following in the footsteps of his father, an engineer with Lockheed Martin who was a pilot before Austin was born. “I took aeronautics classes back in middle school, but I hadn’t really thought about flight training due to the cost,” he added.

Contenders for the scholarship were selected from students in the Embry-Riddle Private Pilot Operations course, as part of a dual enrollment program through the Gaetz Aerospace Institute at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. ERAU Adjunct Professors Dr. Paul Becht and Dr. Sara-Maria Becht taught the course at Seminole High School in Sanford, FL.

Scholarship candidates were required to be at least 17 years old, and have passed their private pilot written exam and obtained their Third Class medical certificate. “We wanted candidates that could move through an accelerated flight training program and go right into their checkride,” said Chick Gregg, who with Howard Tobin co-chairs the CJP Charitable Activities Committee. “The instructors recommended four seniors, and Austin stood out based on his GPA and his passion for aviation.”

Candidates weren’t told of the scholarship opportunity until after they’d completed the private pilot course. “Dr. Becht announced they would interview us and then select one person for the scholarship,” Austin added. “It was a complete surprise.”

Austin recently started flight training through a negotiated summer program at ERAU’s Daytona Beach, FL campus. He hopes to eventually earn a commercial pilot rating (“that really takes a lot of money,” he noted, adding he will also apply for scholarships through AOPA and other groups) with plans to major in software engineering, though he’s also thinking of pursuing aeronautical engineering.

“I am extremely thankful for CJP allowing me to do this,” he said of his upcoming training.

The CJP Flight Training Scholarship is administered by the Blue Sky Educational Foundation, which utilizes aviation experiences to inspire youth to pursue studies in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and promote careers in aviation and aerospace. The Foundation has supported previous scholarship opportunities for Sanford Middle School students through donations by Gregg and his wife, Lisa.

A Cessna 172S Skyhawk training aircraft from Embry-Riddle's campus at Daytona Beach, FL.

A Cessna 172S Skyhawk training aircraft from Embry-Riddle’s campus at Daytona Beach, FL.

“I definitely expect this to be the start of an annual program,” Gregg said. “One of the reasons in offering the flight training scholarship was to assist in the growth of the pilot community and share the Association’s passion for aviation.

“The pilot community is much smaller than it was 20 years ago, and the strength of this community affects the lobbying capability of general aviation,” he concluded. “That, in turn, affects us all.”