For DonorsFor Applicants

Kyle Rairdan Memorial Aviation Scholarship

Funded by
2 winners, $2,000 each
Application Deadline
Apr 20, 2024
Winners Announced
May 20, 2024
Education Level
Recent scholarship winners
Eligibility Requirements
Education Level:
High school senior, undergraduate, or graduate student
Field of Study:
Community involvement

Kyle Rairdan, a beloved son, brother and friend passed away in 2021 while pursuing a career in aviation. Kyle’s life long love of flying began at an early age. He grew up in a aviation family, and after graduating college he worked diligently towards earning his pilots license and type ratings. This scholarship has been established from the generous memorial donations of friends and family as a way to honor Kyle’s legacy by encouraging and assisting others who share this passion and desire for a career in aviation. 

Any high school senior, undergraduate, or graduate student who is pursuing aviation and is involved in their community is encouraged to apply.

To apply, tell us why you’re interested in aviation, including what you plan to do with your degree, what inspired you to pursue aviation, and how you’re involved in your community.

Selection Criteria:
Drive, Ambition
Published January 11, 2024
Essay Topic

Please share why you are interested in pursuing an aviation degree. What do you plan to do with your aviation degree? What inspired you to pursue aviation? How have you been involved in your community?

400–600 words

Winners and Finalists

May 2024

Kross Talamantes
Wesley Sanders
Mattison Underhill
Sam Sherman
Emily Lister
Anthony Gonzalez
Kyle Penta
Colton Millet
Jason Newsom
Lauren Stettbacher
Shawn Leonard
Bee Saliu
Brianna DeFlorian
Tram Do
Tharika Sundaram
Jaxon Cooper
Roman Jones
Victoria Hathaway
Joshua Grant

Winning Applications

Mercy Ajala
Southern Illinois University-CarbondaleEvergreen Pk, IL
First, I would like to thank Kyle's family and friends for their generous donations to not only honor Kyle’s legacy but to assist others who share a passion and desire for an aviation career. My first encounter with aviation was on my first-ever flight out of Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Nigeria to O.R. Tambo International Airport in South Africa. I remember rolling my suitcase through the airport as a 12-year-old girl, and spotting a young Asian woman in a very lovely blazer with four stripes on her sleeves. I immediately ran to my dad to ask why the lady was wearing such a nice outfit compared to mine. My dad explained to me that the nicely dressed young lady was a pilot and would be the one flying us to South Africa. I could not believe that a woman could fly something so huge (a plane). From that moment, I fell in love with aviation, or should I say, aviation won over my heart. I knew from that very moment that I wanted to become a pilot and inspire others to pursue an aviation career. My professional aspiration is to become an international airline pilot with the aim of inspiring women to pursue careers in aviation not only within the United States but on a global level. I am seeking this scholarship to support my commercial pilot license flight training. I completed my commercial written exam just two weeks after my Instrument checkride (December 2023). While financial constraints currently impede my flight training, this semester, I plan to offer tutoring assistance to fellow students working towards their private pilot licenses. I am currently working on my Master of Science in Aviation Management Degree. My goal with this degree is to show upcoming generations that nothing worth having comes easy, but with hard work and dedication, you can achieve anything you put your mind to. Upon graduation, I plan to get a job in the aviation field, Save up for my flight training. I am determined to do what it takes to achieve the career goal that I have had since the age of 12. Even though I have not yet made it to where I am going, it is important that I give back. After 20 years of inactivity, I was able to reinstate the American Association of Airport Executives Southern Illinois University student chapter (AAAE SIU). Subsequently, I was able to take nine students to this year’s AAAE annual conference, where three of them earned aviation industry internships. Additionally, I served as the Co-Vice President of the Black Women’s Club at Southern Illinois University (BWC SIU), and have been on the planning committee for SIU’s OBAP annual diversity luncheon since 2022. Twice a semester, I volunteer with De Soto Lions Club to assist grade school students in need of eyeglasses, raise diabetes awareness, and support summer camps for kids with sight or hearing impairments. Also, twice a year I participate as a volunteer at the Veterans Honor Flight of Southern Illinois (VHFSI), honoring veterans by welcoming them home and thanking them for their service. Every semester, I go back to my high school and share my aviation journey with the current students. I know how much mentorship has made a difference in my life, and I would like to do the same for others. I believe that my tenacity, and determination, make me worthy of this scholarship and I would be humbled and honored to be selected as a Kyle Rairdan Memorial Aviation Scholarship award recipient. Thank you so much for your time and consideration.
Kaitlyn McMahon
Vacaville High SchoolVacaville, CA
Growing up in a childhood that was surrounded by military service and aviation, I am determined to pursue a career in becoming a pilot. I am currently a senior at Vacaville High School and am constantly getting asked the same question of every soon-to-be-graduate, “What are your plans after you graduate?” After talking with many of my peers, I can say that very few of them have a solid answer to that question, but I do! My dad served in the Air Force for over 27 years as a KC-10 Instructor/Evaluator Boom Operator, conducting inflight refueling. Weekends would often consist of going to work at Travis Air Force Base with my dad where I had the incredible opportunity to explore the KC-10 simulator by practicing takeoffs, landings, flying, and refueling other airplanes. During the beginning of the 2023-2024 school year, my interest and passion to fly peaked. I’ve had several conversations with my dad about the steps to get there and he assured me that if this was what I wanted to pursue, he would be there to guide and encourage me every step of the way. On November 30, 2023, I had my first orientation flight at The Nut Tree Airport, in Vacaville. The instructor pilot allowed me to sit in the pilot’s seat even though I had no idea where to start. He allowed me to fly and perform several flight maneuvers. After we landed, I knew without a doubt that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Once I graduate from high school, I plan to attend a 4-year college where I will earn my Bachelor’s degree. During this time, I am determined to achieve my private pilot’s license and continue my career further. Enlisting in the United States Air Force Reserve is one of the avenues I am considering. This will allow me to serve our country and provide me with world-class flight training. My work ethic and determination will enable me to complete the requirements to become a pilot. My ultimate goal is to eventually fly for a major airline and travel the world. It is my dad who has inspired me to follow my dreams, and who will always support me in my efforts to achieve them. I am excited to announce that I have been accepted into the Aviation and Technology Program at San Jose State University. My parents have taught me the importance of community service and giving back. Sacrifice and service are something that I have grown up around so I have a strong desire to continue paying it forward. Both the Vacaville American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars are organizations that allow us to serve local veterans on many occasions, such as serving meals on special holidays. This allows me to come together and spend time with our community members to show them we are thankful for their service. Wreaths Across America is the placement of remembrance wreaths on the graves of our country’s fallen heroes. Every year, my family gathers at Sacramento Valley National Cemetery where we serve the veterans who sacrificed and served. During the holiday season, the wreaths are placed at thousands of gravesites and then removed once the holidays are over. These volunteering experiences have taught me the importance of serving others and serving our country. Being awarded the Kyle Rairdan Memorial Aviation Scholarship will absolutely assist me in the pursuit of my aviation career. Thank you for your consideration.
Jillian Williams
University of Oklahoma-Norman CampusNorman, OK
Ever since I was a little girl I was fascinated with flying. I grew up at Travis AFB, CA. I watched my Dad put on his uniform and proudly go to work for 30 years. I would go out to the base with him at times and watch the crews and planes arrive and depart. I attended many airshows, and had a chance to see family and teamwork on a regular basis. For my family, growing up under the American flag was a proud way of life. The work my parents did was honorable and had purpose. Flying is a long tradition in my family….over 100 years of military flight experience. My Dad and 2 uncles flew KC-10s in the 79ARS, my cousin is currently flying KC-10s as well, 1 uncle flies KC-135s in the Nebraska Air National Guard and my brother is at pilot training in Del Rio, Texas….and the tradition continues. I started my private pilot’s license in March of 2020….the beginning of my dream. I am currently a certified flight instructor at the University of Oklahoma, working towards my instrument instructor rating. I am currently employed at Envoy Airlines as a cadet instructor. Upon reaching my 1000 hours, I will be headed to the airlines. The plan is to hopefully be working for a legacy carrier by the time I am 25, as well as potentially being a military aviator. My goal is to fly the F-22 or F-35 because as any pilot knows, flying straight and level is not very entertaining. My father is a retired Air Force pilot, and also a current American Airlines captain. He was the one who inspired me to pursue my aviation career. From the time I was a little girl, he was always in the sky whether he was TDY with his reserve buddies or flying an airline trip, he was one with the sky. He was the one who pushed me to try aviation, he bought me my first discovery flight as a junior in high school. From that point on I understood why, he wanted to be in the sky. Throughout my duration at OU in flight school, he was always there to answer calls and questions regarding different aspects of aviation. What really inspired me was the morning of my instrument checkride the winds were high. I called him that morning at 7 am and he told me he believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself. I went out and I passed my checkride and he was the first person I called to tell the good news. He said he never had a doubt. Now today I have a screenshot of the text he sent me, I printed it out and I carry it in my flight bag with me wherever I go. He inspired me to follow my dreams, and to become the first female aviator in the Williams family. Community involvement has been something very important that has been instilled in me as a child. My community involvement has mainly revolved around different military events. For example, Operation Backpack where I would hand out school supplies to the less fortunate. Operation Cookie Drop where I would bake cookies and distribute them to the single airmen at Travis Air Force Base. The most rewarding community service event I have ever done was Special Olympics. I had a little boy name, Finn, he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, and I taught him how to swim. Seeing the excitement on his face was one of the most rewarding experiences.
Javier Fernandez
Jacksonville UniversitySouthbury, CT
My name is Javier Fernandez, I am currently a freshman attending Jacksonville University pursuing a degree in Aviation. As a kid, I was always amazed when I looked up and saw an aircraft in the sky. I lived right near an airport, so I got to see them every day. And growing up I was always fantasizing about being an airline pilot. I can't wait to be in the left seat of an Airbus A320 and be able to safely fly civilians to their desired destination. I always enjoyed helping people as I was growing up, there's nothing better than seeing the smile on someone's face after you've helped them. It gives you this warm feeling inside, the same warm feeling I get when I smoothly land a Cessna 172 on the runway. Nobody in my family has gone to college, so I am the first to go. I am also the oldest, I have to pave a path for my two sisters and brother to follow. They have always looked up to me, and I am determined to reach my goal of being an airline pilot. Just so I can be the hero they have always thought I was. My father was the person that helped me take the final step in pursuing aviation. When it came time to apply for colleges he pointed out the idea of actually being an airline pilot. I had always fantasized about it up to this point, but I never actually thought it was possible because of the amount of money it takes to do so. My family doesn't come from wealth but by pursuing my degree in aviation I will be able to break that cycle and help put the rest of my siblings through college. The ways I have been involved in my community stretch from picking up trash I see on the sidewalks, and at the beach, to volunteering at my small-town events. The most memorable event I volunteered at was a color run for my elementary school, I was in high school at the time, and I got the opportunity to help out at this event. At first, the event started with everyone lined up at the starting line, and my job was to throw these little color packets at the kids while they raced around the field. It would make such a mess, but their faces would light up with happiness. Then the kids would throw color at the adults overall it was a great time. Then it was time to cook the burgers and hot dogs that everyone was going to eat. That was a great day, everyone involved had a huge smile on their face the whole time. Even at the end when we had to clean up the mess from five hundred elementary school kids. That was just one of the memorable times I've helped in the community. I wanted to spend my last few words expressing my condolences for Kyle, I know how hard it is to lose a family member from experience. I greatly appreciate this opportunity you have given me to apply for this scholarship.


When is the scholarship application deadline?

The application deadline is Apr 20, 2024. Winners will be announced on May 20, 2024.

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