When Eric Heigis was a teenager, he learned the value of a dollar.

He also quickly learned just how many dollars it would take to fulfill an aviation dream.

“I had never really thought about flying until I learned about discovery flights,” he says. “I was 14 years old, I’d been on an airplane once and thought it could be a very interesting experience, and make for a fun Saturday morning.”

Eric, after attaining his law degree and working in Congress, still flies for the Civil Air Patrol.

He scraped together money he had been gifted for his birthday and Christmas, and in January 2010 Eric discovered what it felt like to touch the sky.

“Pilots talk about getting bit by the aviation bug, and I knew right after that first flight that I had to get my pilot’s license.”

But while Eric’s parents – a small business owner and a teacher – were able to provide well for their three children, the family budget did not allow for supporting their teen’s aviation dreams.

Young Eric, though, was resourceful, and found a way past the sticker shock.

“I worked with my dad after school and during the summers, and the arrangement we came up with was that my parents would pay for half of the training and then I would work to pay for the other half,” Heigis says. “That way I had skin in the game.”

He also found great support and mentorship in the Experimental Aviation Association’s Young Eagles program at his local airport in southern California. That experience changed him.

“I soloed when I was sixteen and got my private certificate before I graduated high school,” he says. “My dad was my first passenger, but the very next day I flew 18 Young Eagles at a local rally. The chapter had given so much to me that I felt it was important to immediately start giving back.”

Eric Heigis, this year’s NAFI/King Schools scholarship winner, knew early that “aviation would not be my primary career, but would always be an important part of my life.” He went on to study law in Washington DC and has held numerous roles on Capitol Hill. His aviation qualifications – he currently holds a ground school instructor certificate, commercial certificate and has also flown for the Civil Air Patrol – as well as his real-world expertise helped land him a job as a senior policy advisor for a US Senator. He is the go-to person on staff for aviation policy recommendations and has helped negotiate and write legislation supporting general aviation and pilots’ rights.

The KING/NAFI scholarship consists of a $5,000 stipend to go toward a new CFI rating or certificate, and free lifetime access to all King Schools curricula, including Flight Instructor Refresher Courses (FIRCs). The estimated value is over $20,000.

Heigis will use the funds to become a certified flight instructor and plans to continue to pay it forward, dedicating his time to Young Eagles and Civil Air Patrol – both as an orientation pilot and as an instructor for cadets and senior members.

“I had considered becoming an instructor since I earned my commercial certificate in 2022. Then, seeing the impact I had on a shy 12-year-old kid who later turned into an aviation junkie gave me the boost I needed to start CFI training,” he says. “I don’t see flight instruction as a second career. I want to become an instructor to give back to the aviation community.”

Heigis credits his entrepreneur father for teaching him not only the value of a dollar and the hard work that goes into earning one, but also the value of reaching beyond what initially seems possible.

“My father has a really small operation, but he passed his entrepreneurial spirit on to me and my siblings,” Heigis says. “He always encouraged us to be creative problem-solvers and find new ways to expand our horizons.”

Applications for the 2025 NAFI/King Schools scholarship will become available in August 2024, and the deadline to submit scholarship applications will be January 3, 2025.

 

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