2023 flyGIRL

2023 Scholarship Winner

Leila Michelle Moradi

Hey there, FlyGirls! This isn’t your “I always grew up wanting to be a pilot” story. In fact, I would say this is quite the opposite. Airplanes terrified me when I was younger and I’ll never forget the horror of seeing airplanes crash into the Twin Towers, into a field and The Pentagon when I was in middle school. Fast forward to 18 years of age, I reluctantly boarded my first domestic flight with my best friend to visit her family. Of course still traumatized from 9/11 (as many were and still are), the first 30 minutes of flight was torture for me with gradual improvements until touchdown. How can a huge aluminum tube fly 35,000 feet in the air going 500 MPH?! Over time and as I ramped up traveling, I became more comfortable with flying.

I’ve always been interested in science, the human body and just generally food. I paired those three up and earned my Bachelors of Science in Food and Nutrition with a specialty in Clinical Dietetics. I went on to obtain multiple certificates in the field of Nutrition as well as becoming a Certified Lactation Counselor working with low-income and underprivileged families through the National Head Start Program.

In 2018, my dad (a private pilot who has not flown since before my birth) bought a 1981 Piper Archer II. After regaining currency, he took me up in it for my first flight in a “small plane” summer of 2018 and once we leveled off from climb, out of nowhere he said “your controls, fly the plane”. I was so nervous! How am I supposed to fly this plane? I don’t know how we’re even in the air! He convinced me to put my hands on the yoke and turn the plane side-to-side. Something changed during that flight and upon landing, I set a goal to learn to fly that exact plane.

Two and a half years later, after setting aside $300 a month for this goal (and flying with my dad periodically), I had saved enough to obtain my Private Pilot certificate. I signed up for classes at the airport where my father keeps his airplane and took my first lesson in a Light Sport Aircraft. During my Private training, I switched aircraft three times until I found my place in Pipers (of course!), all while working as a full time Senior Nutrition Specialist for the Orlando Head Start Program. Just three weeks after my initial solo flight, a SUV illegally turned left in front of me and I found myself in a hospital with internal bleeding, seatbelt bruises that were eggplant purple and worst of all, a broken ankle. I was devastated. My first solo cross-country flight was planned for 2 days later and I had no idea when (or if!) I could fly again.

2023 flyGIRL Scholarship Winner Leila Michelle Moradi

I used this healing time to scour free FAA resources such as The Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge, Airplane Flying Handbook and every YouTube video I could find to ensure I was ready to finish this up when I returned to the sky. After three months, I was given the blessing to return to flying and three months after that, I passed my private pilot checkride.

At this point, I had already made the decision to keep pursuing aviation and set a goal to be a mid-30’s full on career changing female. The setbacks I had during my initial flight training made me even more passionate about aviation and lead me to roll into my instrument training shortly after earning my private certificate. I’ve continued to maintain my full-time position in the non-profit field while flight training 3 days a week and studying every chance I can get. I’m currently 2 weeks from my instrument checkride and will, of course, roll into commercial right after.

My goal is to become a flight instructor for not just time building purposes, but because I cannot wait to share this experience with future pilots. I’m excited to share all of the milestones with other aviators such as landing a plane unassisted for the first time, their first solo, first cross country, first satisfactory checkride, etc. All of the things that I look back on now as some of the best achievements of my life. I can’t look at them and say “I wanted to be a pilot from a young age”, but I can tell them that you can definitely find deep-rooted passions well into a totally different career. It’s absolutely fine to be passionate about something for 10 years, then switch gears completely. You can make strides to switch things up 180 degrees and challenge yourself more than you ever thought you could. Why not? We live one life, why not have several careers during that time?

Nutrition has been a passion of mine for over 10 years and despite my strides to shift things up and move into aviation going forward, I will always maintain my nutrition-related credentials. I hope that when I become a flight instructor later this year, I will inspire aviators to follow their dreams regardless of whether they’ve always known they love aviation or they’re completely switching things up like myself.

Earning this scholarship will assist me in obtaining my commercial certificate, which will of course allow me to become a flight instructor. Given the challenges that I’ve faced (all while continuing a managerial public service position) proves that I am a prime candidate and will absolutely use the funds productively to inspire other aviators while advancing my own passion.

Thank you for taking the time to consider my application for this scholarship!


Leila Moradi, BS, NDTR, CLC

Private Pilot, FAA

2023 Scholarship Nominees

Kristi Weber

In 1974, from the small airport in Ashland, Wisconsin, I took my first discovery flight and have loved flying ever since. Although somewhat air sick, it did not deter me from wanting to enjoy the freedom of flying high above the ground! After graduating high school early and joining the Marine Corps, I usually found myself as the only female in my occupation which was Aviation Ordnance. In 1991, while on active duty, I took some lessons in a Cessna 150. It became too expensive, so I stopped. Twenty-nine years later in December 2020, I decided to finally get my Private Pilot Certificate.

Learning to fly has been challenging, yet rewarding. When working toward the Private Pilot Certificate, landings were challenging initially. Financially, it was difficult to keep going when I felt that I was doing all the right things and just need more practice, not knowing when the end will be in sight. So, after reaching out to a fellow female pilot, Emily Mailhot, she took me under her “wing,” and I achieved my goal of Private Pilot with her valuable assistance on lucky Friday, May 13th, 2022. All of this flight training has been personally financed without going into debt as I worked hard to stay in my budget.

After careful planning of costs for Instrument training lessons, training resumed in October 2022. The Instrument instructor will also be my Commercial and CFI Instructor so as not to lose ground (and increase expense) by starting with a new instructor. The ultimate goal is to become a Certified Flight Instructor. There are not many female CFIs at my home airport and the goal is to be the next one. There are few Certified Flight Instructors in the Tucson area and I am going to change that. It’s so exciting to mentor aspiring aviatrixes as I have been mentored and have found two women and two men that are helping me to help me achieve this. They are Certified Flight Instructors at various stages of their careers and I have been working with them since October 2022. They have been helping me create lesson plans, allowing me to work with them as a mentee, and networking to establishing my own practice. We discuss the best ways to accomplish the goal of CFI. They’ve helped me strategize planning the required cross countries most efficiently such as combining the commercial/instrument requirements, helping with instrument sim lessons, offering to help get the High-Performance Endorsement, and advising on how to structure lesson plans. There is no shortage of support from them.

One of my many goals for women aviators is to provide connections and answers. I have found multi-engine training in the area, referred quality flight instructors and confirmed places to rent aircraft. I always encourage women aviators to get out and fly, look at exciting ways to promote aviation, plan group travel to Oshkosh 2023 and provide support to those that are working on their Private Pilot Certificate.

Currently, I am onboarding as a pilot for the Civil Air Patrol. As a Senior Member and the Fitness Education Officer, this is great role modeling to the cadets; many of which are future aviators. This is another opportunity to showcase women in aviation. Flying for Civil Air Patrol is another way that will help with building hours. Civil Air Patrol has extended their FAA-approved simulator at no cost which will help with Instrument and Commercial hours.

My current work is a contracted position and when work is available, I will be called upon which is estimated to be between 3-4 months from now. This income has funded flight lessons. Not wanting to lose momentum, a credit card will be used to fund the remainder of the Instrument training. The rental of the plane is already scheduled for the last two weeks in April and nearly the whole month of May. If awarded the scholarship, training will start immediately. This scholarship helps complete the Commercial Certificate without the stress of a financial burden. The Commercial knowledge test will be scheduled for the beginning of April. Spin training will be completed before starting Commercial training. CFI training will start immediately after passing the Commercial check ride and will be paid for by taking out loans. Both CFI knowledge tests will be scheduled for June 2023 and CFI check ride goal will be scheduled by the end of September 2023.

Bethaney Lewis

Dear Scholarship Committee, I am writing to express my interest in the Fly Girl Scholarship to continue my flight training towards my Multi-Engine rating. My name is Bethaney Lewis and I grew up in a low income family where domestic violence and financial insecurities were common in my everyday life. My family’s financial stresses only added to frustrations and ultimately contributed to the violence in our single wide mobile home. As a child growing up in the hardships of poverty, I could only dream of what a normal life was like, but that is what I had to do. At a very young age, I took on the responsibility of strategizing a way of making a better life for myself and for my family. That strategy was to pursue education. Several members of my family did not graduate high school because they had to work in factories or they became teenage mothers, which I believe was a significant limiting factor in the generational cycles of my family’s economic oppression. This knowledge served as my motivation throughout my adolescence and teenage years. I became very resilient to not only survive the emotional and physical challenges of my home life, but I worked extremely hard to excel in school and in athletics to hopefully escape my status quo.

With great resilience, I not only served as my high school student body president and graduated at the top of my class, but I also became the first person in my family to attend college. I graduated from North Carolina State University with a Bachelors degree and I was selected to share my story as my graduating class’s commencement speaker. Being selected to speak in front of thousands will always be one of my greatest life accomplishments, but I hope to have many more audiences to come. Through my experiences, I have come to realize the importance of education in breaking the generational cycles of poverty and I am committed to using my past hardships to inspire others coming from low income circumstances.

Fast forward, my journey has allowed me the privilege of pursuing my childhood dream of becoming an airline pilot. I have persevered through many difficult challenges throughout my life, the most recent of those being flight training. I am proud to now have the opportunity to serve as flight instructor, where I can inspire and instruct the next generation of aviators. As a female pilot in this industry, I hope to use my passion and experiences to continue breaking down gender barriers and encouraging not only women but also low income youth to pursue their dreams. Additionally, I am excited to use my position as a pilot to give back to my community. Aviation has changed my life and it has the power to connect people across the world. I hope to use my position to bring attention to poverty reduction and gender equality.

I have successfully worked multiple jobs to financially achieve my dreams thus far and I am no longer living in poverty, however my family is still facing the challenges of breaking those same cycles. My next dream is to make it to the airlines, where I can begin financially supporting my nieces and cousins through an education of their choosing which will finally bring my goals of getting my family out of poverty to fruition.

To achieve my goal of becoming an airline pilot, I need to obtain a Multi-Engine Pilot Certificate. This certification will allow me to fly larger, more complex aircraft and that will open up a wide range of career opportunities for me. However, as you know, the cost of obtaining this certification is significant, and without financial assistance it will take me longer to save money and achieve that goal.

Receiving this scholarship would not only expedite my personal and professional goals, but it would also allow me to continue inspiring and mentoring other women in aviation. I am committed to making a difference in this field, and with your support, I will achieve my dreams.

Thank you for your time and considering my application.

Bethaney Lewis

Voting is Now Closed.
Thank You To Everyone That Voted!

Previous 2022 Scholarship Winner

Lauren Wood

Lauren Wood is the 2022 recipient of this year’s scholarship! Lauren is from Minnesota and has been serving in the Air Force since 2015. She has served as an intelligence analyst in Virginia, South Korea, and California. During her time in Korea, she worked with F-16 pilots and decided she wanted to pursue aviation, as well.

She currently serves as a C-130H loadmaster in the Air National Guard in Minnesota.

Lauren has already earned her Private Pilot’s License, and is working on her instrument and commercial ratings. She will continue her training, while serving, and hopes to one day be the pilot on the C-130. She enjoys serving her country and would like to continue to do so, in some capacity. Ultimately, she is aiming to be the captain for a major airline.

She funds her flight training from her own personal savings and the GI bill. The funds from this scholarship will help Lauren earn her ratings with less of a personal, financial burden. We wish you all the best Lauren!

flyGIRL Scholarship Winner Lauren Wood and Plane
Lauren Wood with Natalie Kelley from flyGIRL
2022 flyGIRL Scholarship Winner Lauren Wood