By Raiza Giorgi

The first time taking off in an airplane is something that local flight scholarship winner Luke Borders will never forget.

“The feeling of flying on your own is something few people get to experience and I am excited to keep going,” Luke, 15, of Santa Barbara said.

The scholarships were awarded to three local students, including Luke, Rawly Szpak and Ryan Casey.

The scholarships are available for all Santa Barbara County students age 14-17, and at least two are awarded at the annual Airport Day usually held in May at the Santa Ynez Valley Airport. The scholarship pays for aircraft rental and a flight instructor for the first several hours of flight instruction needed for earning a private pilot’s license for a powered airplane or glider.

The students have spent hours learning on simulators and ground instruction from pilot Robert Perry, who donates his time to help the students learn about aviation. They also spend at least 10 hours of flying time with local certified flight instructor Yves Bajulaz.

“It’s a great program because it teaches the students responsibility and showing up. They are told things once and expected to retain that knowledge and are tested from day one. It helps their determination and if they have the stamina to keep going,” Bajulaz said.

Perry said that a lot of people get confused by all the levers and dials on the plane’s dashboard, but by the end of the program they get it down.

“People also think that you have to have specialized skills or extensive math, but it’s really simple. Two basic skills in life that apply here are showing up on time and reading the directions,” Perry said.

Luke isn’t sure where his future will take him or whether aviation will be a career or a hobby, but Rawly is excited to spend two years at Hancock College and then enter the U.S. Navy to become a fighter pilot.

“I love this country and I want to serve it well,” Rawly said.

The flight scholarships get the students only so far, and then they have to pay for further instruction and testing before they get their pilots license. Anyone interested in helping the students can make a tax-deductible donation through the Santa Ynez Airport Authority, which is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.

The scholarships are made possible by the Chumash Foundation, Santa Ynez Valley Rotary Club and the Santa Ynez Airport Authority.

Local students interested in aviation can participate in the Youth Aviation program of the local chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association, EAA Chapter 491. The group meets at Hangar J6 at the end of Airport Road at 10 a.m. on the third Saturday of each month. Membership is free for all students from 8 to 17 years old.

Applications for the Airport Day 2019 Flight Scholarship are available in the airport office at Santa Ynez Valley Airport or online at For more information, email Perry at