By Mark Sturm, EAA Lifetime 557803
The EAA Ray Aviation Scholarship program provides an amazing set of opportunities to anyone fortunate enough to be selected. From the Ray Foundation’s website:
“The Ray Foundation strives to make a positive impact on young people who have a strong passion for aviation. James Ray firmly believed in the life skills of discipline, self-reliance, character, and self-confidence taught throughout the flight training journey.”
As the scholarship coordinator for Chapter 179 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I keep those personal attributes of James Ray in mind when looking for someone worthy of receiving one of his generous scholarships. We have been very fortunate to have had two back-to-back outstanding Ray scholar awardees who epitomize those virtues embraced by James Ray.
In 2020 our chapter received a scholarship application from Sophia Haag, a long-time “airport kid” and supporter of our chapter. Sophie grew up with airplanes and has been flying with her dad since about age five. The family Cessna 182 has taken their family of four, plus two dogs, on many vacation trips. Early on, Sophie learned, and participated in, routine aircraft maintenance. She learned about cleaning spark plugs, timing magnetos, and her favorite job, packing wheel bearings. When Sophie was finally old enough to get her pilot certificate, she convinced her dad to allow her to train in the family 182. After all, she knew the airplane very well and already had dozens of hours in the right seat. She soloed on New Year’s Day 2020 and passed her checkride in August 2020.
In 2021, our chapter received another Ray Scholarship grant, and we began looking for our next great candidate. We learned that Luke Vaughn was awarded a Junior ROTC scholarship to attend a 9-week flight training program that summer at the University of North Dakota. Unfortunately, because of local wildfires, COVID, and an instructor shifting, he returned to Albuquerque having soloed, but without his pilot certificate. Luke has such a passion for flying and was so disappointed not to have completed the program. With the Ray Scholarship award, he quickly completed his training and received his certificate in May 2022. Throughout his training Luke was a regular at our monthly meetings and was an eager volunteer at our multiple Young Eagles events. He was so appreciative of EAA’s support of his flight training dreams, that he and his parents donated $2,000 to our chapter’s scholarship fund to “pay it forward” for someone this year to realize their dreams of becoming a pilot.
Surprisingly, neither Sophie nor Luke knew each other throughout high school. However, the character attributes and qualities that earned each of them a Ray Scholarship were many of the same things being sought by the university they had both been appointed to attend, the United States Air Force Academy. Yes, both are now members of the Cadet Wing; Sophie with the class of 2025 and Luke in the class of 2026. Both are doing excellent academically, working on their glider ratings, and eager to become USAF pilots after graduation. Both are still members of our chapter, and I caught up with them over spring break to ask about their adventures at the academy and their experiences with EAA.
Sophie: “At the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA), I have met people from both this country and other countries connected through our love for aviation. The Ray Scholarship made it possible for me to get my pilot’s license, and in combination with EAA, helped me explore and solidify my desire to fly. USAFA has such a rich history, and is an excellent institution filled with motivated and passionate people, qualities that I believe both the Ray Foundation and Academy seek out in individuals.”
Luke: “I could not have even imagined how I would’ve made it to where I am if it wasn’t for the resources and inspiration EAA has provided me. I am so grateful for everyone who has helped me, and the Ray Scholarship is another way in which barriers to aviation are removed. I wanted to give back to just have even the smallest impact on another pilot and ensuring that on a day with clear skies nothing can stop an aspiring pilot from enjoying everything all of us have grown to love. I am excited to continue my path through the Air Force Academy and a future aviation career to inspire others as I once was when I looked up and said, ‘That will be me someday.’”
Our entire chapter could not be more excited for, or proud of, these two. Sophie and Luke both demonstrate the very character and values James Ray had in mind when establishing his scholarship foundation. While their aviation journey has just begun, they are off to a great start. Tailwinds and clear skies to these two former EAA Ray scholars.