On October 11, 1990, at a national news conference held at the National Press Club, Washington, D.C., American Flyers announced its funding of a scholarship designed to assist dedicated, female career-oriented pilots. At that time, women represented only 6 percent of America’s certified pilots. Statistics showed that many women were forced to discontinue their pilot training due to finances, which often cost thousands of dollars and years of postponing their careers.
In naming the scholarship, American Flyers decided to honor the memory of Judith Resnik, the second ever American woman astronaut. The decision received the approval of her father, Dr. Marvin Resnik, who said at the press conference, “Judy was a serious pilot and would support this effort to encourage women to pursue quality advanced training.” The first award came in January 1991. American Flyers has since had the honor of awarding a total of 49 scholarships. These women have gone on to be captains and co-pilots for major carriers, worked as corporate pilots for Fortune 500 companies, worked in the Civil Air Patrol and the Air Force Reserves, flown freight for UPS, and become Forest Ranger firefighters, to name a few.
A graduate of Carnegie Mellon University with a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the University of Maryland, Judith Resnik was recruited into the astronaut program in January 1978 by actress Nichelle Nichols, who was working as a recruiter at the time for NASA. Resnik’s first flight was as a mission specialist on board Discovery in 1984. She helped develop software for experiments, training techniques and the Remote Manipulator System. For people accustomed to seeing images of astronauts in space, Resnik’s first space mission still caused some notoriety. Not only was she one of the first women in space, but in weightlessness, she displayed a halo of flowing locks, a startling sight to many viewers who were used to seeing closely cropped men. During the flight, she was acclaimed for her weightless acrobatics and a playful sense of humor, once holding a sign reading “Hi Dad” up to the camera and displaying a sticker on her flight locker that advertised her crush on actor Tom Selleck.
Resnik flew her second and final mission on the orbiter Challenger as flight engineer and backup pilot to the Commander. All aboard the Challenger died when it exploded one minute and 13 seconds after launch.
Twenty-seven years later one of the very first recipients, Paige “Kelly” McDermott Davies, sums up why this scholarship has meant so much to the women who received it, “Being chosen and honored by American Flyers gave me confidence. It told me that people believed in me and were behind me, supporting me. Receiving a scholarship in the name of such an accomplished woman is an honor to this day. I have an idea how hard Judith had to work to become an electrical engineer and space shuttle mission specialist. I skipped school to see both of her shuttle missions, being an avid fan of the space shuttle, and still remember its first mission when I was in sixth grade. Women like Judith told me it was possible for girls like me to aim high and that dreams come true. Thank you, Judith, for the example you set and many thanks to American Flyers and the committee that makes these scholarships possible for young women, helping them financially and telling them their dreams can come true.”
American Flyers awards the Judith Resnik Memorial Scholarship twice a year for a dedicated woman who is looking to become a Certified Flight Instructor. The deadline for applications is June 30th and December 31st of each year.