Friends of Albert Whitted Airport gave scholarships to 30 aspiring pilots

Thirty aspiring pilots now have some help achieving their dreams.

Friends of Albert Whitted Airport gave away scholarships on Saturday to 16 to 24-year-olds with the goal of helping students who otherwise wouldn’t be able to get into aviation, and who are historically underrepresented in the field, specifically women and minority students. It’s the second year for the scholarship.

Dominic Polk became interested in aviation at a young age.

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"I traveled a lot," he said. "Then I just talked to the pilot. No one in my family is actually an aviator…I'm just the first one," Polk said.

On Aug. 6, 2020, he walked into Albert Whitted Airport in St. Pete to learn more about aviation. Less than four years later, he has his private pilot’s license and is working on getting his commercial license, with the help of the Friends of Albert Whitted Airport Flight Scholarship.

"This is very important, very important and very crucial to my life because my goal is to become an airline pilot," he said.

Polk was one of 19 recipients last year, and one of 30 this year.

"We had so many of them get their pilot's license, their private pilot's license, last year," Walt Driggers, President of Friends of Albert Whitted Airport, said. "That’s why we created an advanced scholarship, so they can go on to their instrument and their commercial so we can really create professional pilots" Driggers said.

They also offered "Starter" and "Intermediate" scholarships, totaling $166,000 handed out on Saturday.

"We wanted to help the underrepresented in aviation," Driggers said.

It’s all thanks to donors like Mark Bogue and Neil Franckle.

Pictured: Dominic Polk

"I was fortunate enough to be able to take flying lessons when I was a young person, before I got out of college," Bogue said. "To be able to participate and help other young people be able to achieve the dream of flying and to go to flight school and become a pilot is really something that means something to me to help other people achieve that dream," Bogue said.

Both grew up in St. Pete and have been involved with the airport for decades. 

"They're going to be able to participate in aviation as, airline pilots, other career professionals, and I think that's really a great thing, and I wanted to contribute to that," Franckle said. "It gives me a feeling of continuity with this generation," Franckle said. 

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The scholarship recipients say it has allowed them to pursue a dream they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to.

"It's incredible what they're doing for not only me, but for everyone," Mikayla Tehan said. "I am forever grateful," she said.

Driggers said they hope to continue to give out 25 to 30 flight scholarships every year, and hopes it also helps address the pilot shortage.