A scholarship made for the skies

Contact Reporterhbridges@vagazette.com

Teenagers often pack their after-school schedules with sports, work, studying and friends.

Kyle Lingelbach does all of those things, but the 17-year-old also finds time to fly.

As Lingelbach readied a Cessna 172 for his afternoon flight lesson, you could tell he knows the plane well. It's the plane he's learned to fly in, the same plane he piloted on his first solo flight last September.

Lingelbach is entering the last stage of training before he's ready to test for his private pilot license — one step closer to his dream of becoming a fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force.

"I've pretty much always wanted to be in the Air Force," said Lingelbach, a senior at Bruton High School.

He wasn't always sure how he'd start down that path, but last June, Lingelbach joined the initial class of the Williamsburg Aviation Scholarship Program (WASP), a program that has fully funded Lingelbach's flight training.

"We're basically getting them started in their aviation career," said Tuck McAtee, who helped start the program. "If you don't get started early, it's hard to break into aviation."

Shaun Stewart owns the Williamsburg Flight Center, where WASP students train. He estimated it costs anywhere from $8,000 to $15,000 to train for a private pilot license.

Last year, McAtee said the program raised nearly $35,000, through donations alone, for five local high school students. Two of the five will graduate from the program, including Lingelbach.

The hope this year is to raise nearly $80,000 for up to 10 students to participate starting in June.

"It's a marvelous opportunity for a kid that's always dreamed of flying," McAtee said.

Addressing the need

Charley Rogers remembers when that dream of flight was much more common.

Now, "we do don't see that many young people getting involved," said Rogers, a lineman at Williamsburg-Jamestown Airport.

That's largely why Rogers, McAtee and Stewart started the program.

The airline industry formed a stakeholders group to assess the pilot labor supply, and a resulting 2013 study, conducted by collegiate researchers, projected a shortage of more than 35,000 pilots nationwide through 2031.

Tim McSwain has instructed at Williamsburg Flight Center for two years. But he's instructed since 1976, and he's seen pilot shortages before.

"This time, it's very real," McSwain said. "And it's much bigger than it's been in the past."

McAtee attributed the shortage, among other factors, to a coming wave of pilot retirements, increasing demand, the difficulty and cost of flight training.

"If we can predict that and do something about it now, that'll help the nation," he said.

The path into aviation

The program's focus, though, is the students.

"It helps you start down the path," Stewart said. Without it, "most of these kids would never even look down that road."

Some start down that road, and don't finish. That's normal.

"It's a long road, and it's a tough road," McAtee said. "But it's a very rewarding career if you can get into it."

Students ages 16 and older can apply to WASP through their schools, although the selection process is highly competitive. The training itself encourages friendly competition as well. There's a ground school component integrated with 50 flight hours. All students receive full funding through ground school and a portion of flight hours, but based on performance, only select students receive full funding through all 50 hours.

"We don't just give kids money to fly," Stewart said. "They also have to earn it."

Even if students try WASP and choose not to pursue aviation, Stewart said, flying grows confidence. It teaches perseverance.

For those that persevere to the pilot license, it's a step down the path to a military, commercial or civilian aviation career. McAtee said WASP training supports Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEP) education, too.

If anything, students discover the rush of flight.

"You get up there, you get hooked like a lot of us have," McAtee said. "It's just plain fun."

McAtee was once in Lingelbach's shoes. He always knew he wanted to fly. McAtee started learning at 16, obtaining his pilot license on his 17th birthday.

After graduating from the Air Force Academy, his 21 years in the Air Force included time spent as a fighter pilot, as test pilot for the F-16 and as Deputy Commander of USAF Fighter Weapons School.

"It's a hell of a profession," McAtee said.

Bridges can be reached by phone at 757-345-2342.

For more information

Scholarship recipients will be decided June 17.

Visit waspscholarship.org or contact Charley Rogers at 229-9256.

If interested in donating, visit the website or send a check to:

Williamsburg Aviation Scholarship Program

C/O Charley Rogers

102 Marclay Road

Williamsburg, VA 23185

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