“You're too dumb to be a pilot. And who would hire a girl to fly a plane, anyway?"
Today, a teacher could be fired for those words. But it was the 1980s, and Pilar Wolfsteller’s high school physics teacher was merely mouthing the prejudices of his time. Wolfsteller, winner of this year's Women in Aviation International’s Martha King Scholarship for a Female Flight Instructor, recalls the devastating impact her teacher's thoughtless comment had on her.
"It really discouraged me," she says. "It changed my life goals. I dropped the physics course, I did a literature course instead, and I ended up going into journalism."
Wolfsteller thrived as a journalist, specializing in aviation. Since 2019, she has been Americas Air Transport and Global Features Editor at FlightGlobal.com and was named Aviation Reporter of the Year in 2022.
But the yearning to take the controls of an airplane is not so easily extinguished. As she built her print career, Wolfsteller also rekindled her old ambition. She earned her private pilot's license in Germany in 2001, and went on to become an FAA-certificated and instrument-rated commercial pilot. Unlike her old physics teacher, the instructor who prepared her for her commercial license thought she was exceptionally well qualified. "I have never had a client work and study so hard to achieve a goal," he said. "I found myself learning from her nearly every time we flew together."
Success is a habit with Wolfsteller. Now 51, she competes as a runner, a marathon inline skater and an equestrian, speaks several languages, is a wilderness protection activist and a Habitat for Humanity volunteer.
When she submitted her application for the WAI/Martha R. King Scholarship, she had scant hope of winning -- she thought she was too old -- but she dreamed of helping others to undo the kind of harm her physics teacher had done to her. She wanted to use flying as a way to build up in other women the confidence that she had lost and then regained. She is applying the $5,000 stipend that comes with the award to acquiring her Flight Instructor qualification and is already taking advantage of her lifetime access to all King Schools courses (total scholarship value over $18,000).
Says Wolfsteller, "I'm thrilled to be acquiring a skill and earning a qualification that will enable me to give something so valuable to those who, like me, may have been told in the past that they weren't good enough, or smart enough. Often, older women are overlooked by society, underestimated and pushed aside. We can become our own worst enemies when we don’t believe in ourselves and in what we are capable of.
"I aim to use my flight instructor certificate for what it was designed for: to teach others how to pilot an aircraft. But also to show them that confidence -- being bold -- can be learned, and that the sky holds no limits, no prejudices, and no judgment. The airplane doesn’t care who you are, and the freedom up there is endless.”
Applications for the 2024 Women in Aviation International’s Martha King Scholarship for a Female Flight Instructor scholarship will become available in mid-2023.
For information regarding the King Schools scholarship program visit - https://kingschools.com/scholarship