An Orcas Island teen’s desire to take to the sky

Bethany Carter was hooked the first time she was in the air.

“I was in the fifth grade and there were free airplane rides for kids my age. I asked my folks to take me to the airport and, once I was up in the air, I knew flying was going to be a part of my life. It was awesome,” she said.

Carter, who just completed her sophomore year at Orcas Island High School, was recently honored with a $10,000 scholarship from the Aircraft Owners Pilot Association. The money will cover the expenses associated with the training necessary to achieve a pilot’s license. No more than 80 such scholarships are awarded each year, nationwide.

“Initially, I was more curious about how an airplane actually works, how it flies, the science and engineering behind it,” Carter said. “Since then I’ve also fallen in love with flying itself and look forward to completing all the requirements for my license.”

The young pilot-in-training credits “the awesome resources on the island” that have allowed her to pursue a passion.

“Even though my application was turned down last year, I think the letters of recommendation I submitted with my application this year really made a difference,” she said.

Carter’s parents, while a bit surprised with the path their daughter’s interest has taken, are embracing her choice and supporting her every step of the way. Even when it feels weird.

“Usually, when your child turns 16 they’re learning to drive a car,” offered Phil, Bethany’s dad. “Trust me: there’s a big difference between your child driving a car and flying a plane. Our family is fortunate to live in a community that offers so many opportunities for young people. We’ve taught our children to think widely, and the resources on this island that support and encourage a young person’s curiosity are amazing.”

Phil, who is a middle school teacher, continued: “We don’t know how our kids will respond to stimuli. Orcas is filled with a lot of accomplished and impressive people, people who are most generous with their experience. My child is a recipient of that generosity.”

For mom Janna, Bethany’s interest in planes and flying seemed to come out of left-field.

“Once Bethany showed an interest in flying I learned so much more about my family and aeronautics I hadn’t known before,” she said.

Like Bethany’s dad, Janna also expressed a certain amount of concern for her daughter’s choice of flying a big machine so far above the ground.

“I soon realized, however, how at ease Bethany was with the environment and how comfortable I was with her instructor. I knew she would be in good hands. Plus,” she added, “my daughter is a very capable young lady.”

Bethany’s older brother, Landon who just completed his freshman year at Washington State University, also acknowledged his sister’s confidence.

“It’s so cool that she’s following her passion and that so many people are supporting her on that journey. It’s just awesome,” he said.

Once she achieves her private pilot’s license, which she intends to complete by her 17th birthday, Bethany’s not sure exactly how she’ll use it, though she is pretty sure she’ll turn it into a career.

“I will be a professional pilot in some capacity,” she confirmed.

As proud as she is of her accomplishments, Bethany recognizes her good fortune to live in a community with an organization like Airhawks.

“It’s pretty unique,” she said and encouraged other young people on the island to check it out.

Her parents concur. Her dad continues to be impressed with how engaged and excited his daughter is with the challenge she’s embraced.

“She is the beneficiary of pioneering women who pushed into aviation when only men were allowed to become pilots. It’s a testament to the accomplishments of many hard-working women who forged that path,” he said.

Bethany’s mom offers a bit of advice for parents who may see their child’s choices as unlikely.

“Ask questions, let them explore. It’s wonderful to see opportunities continue to open up for young women. In a few years, jobs for pilots will be in demand and my daughter will be prepared for that future, if that’s what she chooses. In the meantime, the door is open. She can follow her path wherever it may lead,” Janna said.

Bethany plans to continue her flight training this summer to become eligible for the private pilot examination, which she intends to take on her birthday in November. The scholarship funds will help her obtain enough flying hours to qualify for the instrument rating examination shortly after obtaining her Private Pilot Certificate — “A significant and rare achievement,” according to Bob Waunch of Airhawks and Bethany’s mentor. Bethany credits both Waunch and Tony Simpson, her instructor, with helping get her to this point in her flying journey.

In the meantime, summer’s ahead and she intends to stay busy.

“I’ll be working a bit, playing lots of volleyball, and flying a lot,” she said. “And I’m looking forward to it all.”

For more information about Airhawks, contact or call 360-376-2450.

Note: Incorrect information in the print edition has been corrected in the online version.