Flight scholarship paves way to piloting goals for BHS student

Tristan Dawson earned two aviation scholarships to further his goals of being a pilot. He accepted one and turned the other over to another local flight enthusiast.

Tristan Dawson, a senior at Brainerd High School, stands outside his plane after taking his first solo flight July 30. Dawson recently earned a $10,000 scholarship from the Airplane Owners and Pilots Association to further his flight training. Submitted photo

Flying is something Tristan Dawson dreamed of since he was about 10. And now he’s almost there.

The Brainerd High School senior is looking forward to earning his private pilot’s license next month, thanks in part to a scholarship from the Airplane Owners and Pilots Association. The $10,000 scholarship will pay for basic flight training and perhaps more certifications down the road. But it’s not the only one Dawson received.

A few weeks before learning of the Airplane Owners and Pilots Association scholarship, Dawson earned a scholarship from the Brainerd chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association, also worth $10,000. Both scholarships are funded by the Ray Foundation, which primarily supports education programs and organizations focused on aviation and aerospace.

“I wasn’t expecting to win either of them, let alone both,” Dawson said. “But it’s pretty flattering, and it makes me feel really honored that there’s two different scholarship programs that see that potential in me and were able to see my passion for aviation and were both able to see that I want to make something out of this and I want to have an impact — a positive impact — on the community.”

Knowing the Experimental Aircraft Association scholarship would stay within the Brainerd lakes community, Dawson opted for the other, which is a national program which doles out about 120 scholarships throughout the country, he said.


“I knew that it would go back to another kid in the Brainerd community rather than going to some other kid on the other side of the country,” Dawson said of the Experimental Aircraft Association scholarship. “And I figured that by giving up that one, it would give the opportunity for someone else that I knew personally to have the same experiences that I would be having.”
Fellow BHS senior Joe Figgliuzzi was awarded the Experimental Aircraft Association scholarship and plans to start down the road toward becoming a commercial airline pilot.

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Both students got their feet wet with the Fundamentals of Aviation class at Brainerd HIgh School with instructor Tom Koop.

Dawson, however, plans to take a different path. He wants to pursue an aerospace engineering degree and eventually become a test pilot.

“Some of my responsibilities would be coming up with different prototype designs,” he said of the job. “So whether it’s designing new ailerons for a fighter jet to make it more maneuverable, and then you would go up and test it and get feedback on how controllable the plane is, or if it’s unstable or stable, or that sort of stuff.”

But first Dawson needs to get his private pilot’s license, which he hopes will happen Sept. 7, when he is scheduled for his check ride. The check ride is composed of both an oral and practical exam to assess Dawson’s flight knowledge and abilities.

It’s the first step toward a long-time goal that began with him wanting to become an astronaut. It started by reading a book by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, titled “An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught me about Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything.”

“He was talking about how becoming an astronaut is the end goal, but you have to find passions along the way that you would still be interested in doing for your entire life regardless of whether or not you made it to the overall goal of becoming an astronaut,” Dawson said. “And that was around the time I was 10 or 11 years old, and at that point, I was like, ‘I think being a pilot would be really, really cool.’ So I’ve wanted to get my pilot's license ever since I was 10 or 11 years old.”

And now he’s on his way, taking instructional classes in the Twin Cities for the summer and feeling grateful for the opportunities opened up by his scholarship earnings.


“It’s just great having this opportunity,” he said. “... It’s expensive, so it was something I always dreamed about, but it was never something that I thought I would actually get to do, so having the scholarship has opened a lot of doors for me, and I’m very grateful for it.”

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at .
Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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