Aviation Foundations

Helping to Pursue the Dreams of General Aviation

By Floyd Allen

The days of true barnstorming may be long gone, but thanks in part to the work of a number of aviation foundations the same pioneering spirit that beat in the hearts of those “derring-do” pilots of the 1920s still drives many of today’s General Aviation pilots. Here we take a closer look at what just a few dedicated organizations are doing to keep that spirit alive for future generations.

Alfred L. Wolf and Constance Wolf Aviation Fund

Mission/Giving Statement: The Foundation shall promote and support the advancement of personal air transportation by seeking and funding the most promising individuals and worthy projects which advance the field of general aviation; by increasing the public’s knowledge of aviation through publications, seminars, and other information media; by informing the aviation and scientific community of the existence and purpose of the Fund; and by soliciting and receiving feedback concerning Foundation-supported projects.

Alfred L. “Abby” Wolf first became interested in aviation while he and his wife, Constance Cann “Connie” Wolf, were in college at the same time Charles Lindberg made his flight across the Atlantic. Recognizing that as the new field of aviation grew there would be a need for changes in aviation laws and regulations, he began to specialize in this area of the law at his firm in Philadelphia. His avocation truly became his vocation as he helped shape the path of aviation law as we know it today.

In 1939, Wolf and four contemporaries founded the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) to assure representation for the General Aviation segment of the flying community and establish a proper place for General Aviation to co-exist with the airlines and the military as America’s airspace became more crowded and more complex.

Connie provided the ultimate compliment to Abby’s adventurous persona. Early on, Connie was perhaps best known as a balloonist, but she became involved in flying when Abby taught her how to fly while on their honeymoon.

Abby and Connie Wolf’s life-long love of aviation, adventure, and public service was the guiding inspiration for the establishment of the Wolf Aviation Fund. The Fund is administered to provide support for those who endeavor to perpetuate General Aviation in such a manner as to “transcend the ordinary in order to be true to the spirit of the creators.” The Fund awards grants to individuals and organizations performing research, outreach, and education supporting and promoting the field of General Aviation. To qualify for funds, proposals must address one or more of the following program areas:

  • Developing Public Policy and Airports
  • Networking and Mutual Support
  • Development and Alternative Resources
  • Communications, Media and Community Relations
  • General Aviation Technology, Safety and Noise
  • Outreach: Improving Public Understanding and Perception
  • Aviation and Space Education

According to the Fund’s executive director, Rol Murrow, the maximum grant offered is $5,000, but the average grant amount is closer to $2,000. He was, however, quick to point out that the Fund frequently gives ‘seed money’ to groups allowing them to institute their own programs; and, as a result, other foundations are doing similar things.

The Wolfs’ pioneering spirit, love of aviation and concern for the flying rights of the individual is preserved and reflected in the people and works supported by the Wolf Aviation Fund. “The Wolfs devoted so much of their lives to the aviation field,” said Murrow. “I feel honored and proud that I have a meaningful position with the Wolf Foundation.”

For more information or grant application instructions and proposal requirements, visit www.wolf-aviation.org.

The Lightspeed Foundation

Mission: The mission of the Lightspeed Aviation Foundation is to promote a vibrant and growing pilot community and use our gifts within the aviation community to serve others for the betterment of our world.

As involved as Murrow is with the Wolf Foundation, the same can be said of Allen Schrader, president of Lightspeed Aviation and director of the Lightspeed Foundation. “To sum it up,” Schrader offered reflectively, “is that I have found that my passion, and our ‘corporate DNA,’ is to want to give back to the community in which we operate.”

At first, Schrader and Lightspeed accomplished this in a most altruistic way. In 2008 and 2009 they refurbished a number of headsets and donated them to missionary pilots around the world. By 2010 they sought to serve an even greater percentage of those involved in General Aviation, and their goal was to make a difference in three areas:

  1. Helping General Aviation grow
  2. Increasing awareness and advocacy by making the general public aware of what General Aviation is all about and being its advocate on a local level
  3. Helping to promote the “compassionate” side of General Aviation

A major aspect of the Foundation’s undertakings is, of course, receiving nominees and then choosing those who will be recipients of their grants. “One of our major goals right from the get-go was to create a mechanism where pilots can actually have direct input as to where the money will go,” Schrader explained. “As a result, we allow pilots to nominate groups and/or organizations, and then those groups have nearly a year to garner votes for their programs.”

Groups eligible for nomination include any 501(c)3 organizations who can justify that they are, in fact, involved either in helping with the growth of General Aviation or expanding the compassion aspect. “We quickly learned that pursuing the role of advocate was more than we could really handle,” Schrader shared. “We learned that people are very passionate about what they do,” he added. “However, they are not always very good at marketing what they are doing.”

As a result, one of the Foundation’s goals for 2015 is to equip various groups with how to information about social media. In fact, they have already learned that such information is often more beneficial to the groups than the money they might glean from a grant. “We feel very strongly that the General Aviation community needs to work diligently to enlist more people, especially young people, to get involved with General Aviation.”

Schrader indicated that much of his personal goal is to encourage other for profit organizations to avail themselves to the opportunity to give back to the aviation community. A question that may need to be asked of everyone involved with General Aviation is: “What am I doing about promoting the growth factor of our Aviation Community?” Schrader went on to say that the key is more than just giving money. “The real key to growth is to make a difference by involving people of influence and not just people of affluence.”

NAFI Education Foundation

Mission: The NAFI Foundation was founded in 1981 for educational and scientific advancement purposes, including distributions to qualifying organizations supporting these efforts within the aviation community.  We continue to strive for educating the future of aviation and nurturing to create the next Neil Armstrong or Chuck Yeager.

Promoting General Aviation must, in many cases, take place on a grassroots level by sending people “into the trenches” and enticing America’s youth to become interested. To this end, the National Association of Flight Instructors (NAFI) Education Foundation is going nationwide with a “learn to fly” program.

To accomplish this, they are creating a portable aviation classroom that will tour the nation, going to high schools, air shows, and various NAFI Flight Training groups. Their goal: to get new people involved in aviation.

The mobile training facility will be completely self-powered with an onboard generator and will feature a speaking podium, projector, 12 basic aviation training devices and one full-motion simulator that will be completely wired for simulated air traffic control integration from the instructor’s station. NAFI has begun fundraising efforts for the project and is looking to raise $150,000 towards the construction of the mobile classroom.

It doesn’t take a formally organized foundation to get involved with the ongoing future of General Aviation. You can be a part of NAFI’s program by either donating money or, better yet, by volunteering your time to help run the unit. To learn more, send inquires to info@nafifoundation.org or visit www.nafifoundation.org.

JetBlue Foundation

Wanting to expand the love of aviation to groups often not considered to be part of the potential aviation “pool,” JetBlue recently (2013) became the first airline to launch a foundation specifically focused on promoting aviation to underserved communities, including women, children, and minorities.

Understanding the enormity of their undertaking, the JetBlue Foundation is enhancing their chance of success by partnering with educational institutions who share their passion for promoting aviation to the masses. Such institutions include, among others:

  • The Bronx Aerospace High School – Located in The Bronx, NY, the school focuses on students in grades 9-12.
  • The Cradle of Aviation Museum – Located in Garden City, NY, the museum commemorates Long Island’s part in aviation history.
  • InterAmerican University of Puerto Rico (IAU) – Located in San Juan, their mission is to provide practical experiences and education that will empower students to contribute to the global aviation community.
  • Project Scientist – Located in Southern California, this program engages and empowers girls with a passion, talent, and aptitude for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs.

The JetBlue Foundation will provide three $25,000 grants to schools and educational initiatives that provide STEM and aviation-related programs geared towards underserved groups and communities. The Foundation will also provide support and special consultation to four developing programs to help them expand on fledgling aviation-focused initiatives.

The Foundation is continuing the airline’s mission to inspire humanity. In addition to grants, the JetBlue Foundation also provides in-kind support, as crewmembers regularly volunteer to make a difference among the next generation of aviators. To learn more about the JetBlue Foundation, visit www.jetblue.com/InspiringHumanity.

Learning not only that these and other foundations exist, but, more importantly, what is at the heart of their endeavors, makes one pause and take note of how much (or how little) we are doing to help further General Aviation. The following are just a few thoughts of how you can be a part of the solution:

  • With school budgets being slashed on many levels, perhaps pilots/owners could volunteer to set up an Aviation Club in a local school.
  • Contact these foundations and other General Aviation proponents for printed materials and set up a booth at a local mall and tout the virtues of General Aviation.
  • Contact a local radio or TV talk show and find out how to become a featured guest.
  • Contact local papers to see if they would be interested in a feature story (or perhaps even a monthly column) on General Aviation, where a pilot can extol both its good and its “romance.”

If we want General Aviation to live on, we have to do something to further its existence. If we don’t, it could become just another of society’s dinosaurs, relegated to extinction simply because its enthusiasts did nothing but stick their heads in the sand. Like the barnstormers of old, General Aviation pilots risk becoming something only experienced in movies or dreamt about by those with romantic “derring-do” in their souls.