Aviation Inspiration- Big Sister June

As Above the Clouds hosts its annual Big Sister / Little Sister Dream Flight Day this month, we salute and honor the life of Geraldyn “Jerrie” Cobb, a pioneer in aviation. Jerrie recently died at age 88 at her Florida home after a lifetime of aviation achievement; advocacy for women pilots in the space program; and after devoting 50 years to using her aviation skills for humanitarian missions.

Jerrie began her flying lessons at age 12, earned her private pilot certificate at age 16, and her commercial pilot license at 18.  At 21, while working in a clerical job at Miami International Airport, Jerrie applied for a pilot’s job to deliver surplus military planes around the world.  After initially being dismissed as a “girl wanna be pilot”, Jerrie opened her log book documenting more than 3,000 hours of flying time.  The next day she began flying World War II aircraft overseas.

Jerrie was the first woman to fly in the Paris Air Show, one of the first female aviation executives, and eventually earned the Amelia Earhart Gold Medal of Achievement, the Amelia Earhart Memorial Award and Woman of the Year in Aviation.  At age 28 Jerrie was the first woman to enter NASA’s astronaut testing program and was on track to be one of the United States’ first astronauts as a member of “The Mercury 13” female aviators group.  In spite of the Mercury 13’s intensive training, testing, and otherwise qualifying, in 1962 a Congressional Subcommittee voted to exclude women, based on gender, from participating as astronauts.

Not to be deterred from flying, Jerrie devoted the next several decades to flying in humanitarian missions, delivering lifesaving supplies and assistance to indigenous tribes in the Amazon.  And throughout her life, Jerrie continued to advocate for women’s equality in aviation.  In 1999 she, along with several of the original “Mercury 13”, sat in VIP seats at the launch of Eileen Collins, NASA’s first female shuttle commander, 37 years after the Congressional Committee had denied trained and qualified women the right to serve as astronauts.

Jerrie has been honored by several South American countries for her humanitarian work; has received the the Bishop Wright Air Industry Award for “Humanitarian Contributions to Modern Aviation”; is enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame; and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1981.  Jerrie wrote two books about her life: Woman Into Spacewith Jane Rieker, and Jerrie Cobb, Solo Pilot.

As we fly Above the Clouds, let us honor Jerrie Cobb as a trailblazer who inspired generations of men and women throughout the aviation and philanthropic communities, and helped chart the course for female aviators.

* * * * *

At Above the Clouds we believe in the positive transformative impact of aviation, and through our programs we inspire joy and hope in children and teens to help them reach for the stars in their own lives.  Along with our Dream Flyers Program, Above the Clouds offers two extended programs designed to nurture a sense of hope and possibility for a bright future in teens.

The Discovery Flyers Program is a one-to-one mentoring program that introduces teenagers to aviation and enables them to develop a lasting friendship with a caring, volunteer Discovery Pilot. Discovery Flyers have the opportunity to fly in the co-pilot’s seat with their mentor on a monthly basis. The Flyers learn about aviation, and they experience the self-esteem that results from a supportive relationship with a trusted, committed adult. The Discovery Flyers Program has served 25 youth since its establishment in 2015 and will serve 15 teens this year.

The Cadet Flyers Program gives a small number of teens the amazing opportunity to take flying lessons at no cost, and eventually to pilot an airplane by themselves – solo flying! This program, which has served ten teenagers thus far, gives low-income, at-risk youth a life-changing opportunity they never could have imagined for themselves, and it motivates them to focus, stay in school, and follow a path toward a better future. One of our Cadet Flyers was recently accepted into Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, as well as the Aviation Science Program at Bridgewater State University.  Another of our Cadet Flyers has completed his commercial rating and will be graduating soon from St. Louis University.

Flying in the copilot seat and seeing the world from a new perspective helps Above the Clouds’ kids see that the world is wide with possibility.  As flying first ignited a passion in Jerrie Cobb 75 years ago, our Discovery Flyers and Cadet Flyers Programs work to infuse each teen with the skills and confidence to chart his or her own course for a positive future.

Many thanks to our volunteer squadron of pilots, volunteers, and donors for all you do to help Above the Clouds continue to bring joy and hope through the wonder of flight.

Learn more about the Discovery Flyers Program here: https://abovethecloudskids.org/discovery-flyers/

Learn more about the Cadet Flyers Program here: https://abovethecloudskids.org/about-cadet-flyers/


Saluting our Volunteers

On April 6th, Above the Clouds kicked off the April 7-13 Points of Light National Volunteer Week a day early with its first 2019 Dream Flight Day. Over 60 volunteers donated more than 100 hours as artists, pilots, photographers, videographers, flight coordinators, go-pro managers, radio flight monitors, board members, fund raisers, committee members, name tag and supply organizers and welcome teams to insure a memorable Dream Flight experience for 13 children.


Ten airplane owners donated the use of their aircraft. Pilots drove and flew into Norwood from as far away as York, Maine, to donate their aircraft, expertise and time. Piedmont Airlines donated swag bags for each Flyer. Westwood High School students created personalize posters for each Dream Flight child. Roche Brothers Supermarkets and Panera Bread contributed food to feed children, their families and the dozens of people involved with making the Dream Flight experience truly magical.


Independent Sector recently quantified the estimated value of a volunteer hour in Massachusetts to be $32.15. The volunteer cadre at Above the Clouds respectfully suggests that the joy and hope of Dream Flights and other ATC programs cannot be drilled down into such a metric.


Instead, we prefer the broader view articulated below:


“Volunteerism has been a driving force in the strength and power of our civil society since this country’s founding,” said Independent Sector president and CEO Dan Cardinali. “We know that giving of our time, talent, and effort transforms organizations, communities, and our nation, and also has profound effects on the individuals giving their time. The Value of Volunteer Time gives us just one concrete measure to illustrate the power of individuals to transform communities.”


“We believe the most powerful force of change in our world is the individual- one who takes action and makes a positive difference,” said Points of Light president and CEO Natalye Paquin. “This data shows the value that volunteers bring to the sector and the world. When people use their talents and skills to take action and support causes they care about, we can build a stronger, more equitable world.”


Above the Clouds deeply appreciates the 100+ volunteers who are the light, lifeblood and joy makers of our programs. Thank you for giving of your time, talent and treasure. Your contributions are incalculable.


SOURCE: Independent Sector Releases New Value of Volunteer Time of $25.43 Per Hour. Independent Sector Press Release 04/11/2019.

Pilot Profile: Susan Schwaab











1. Where are you from?

      I am from Wisconsin and most of my family is here. I have lived in several other states however following career opportunities

2. How did you hear about ATC?

      I heard about ATC from googling on the internet! I believe I googled “flying kids from disadvantaged backgrounds” and ATC was the only thing that came up! I have been following ATC ever since.

3. What is something most people don’t know about you?

     I was going to business school after college, but instead decided to enlist in the Marine Reserve. No regrets. My initial aspiration in aviation was to be a flight attendant. In elementary school, that was my “what I want to be when I grow up” goal

4. What do you love about flying?

    I love the beauty, joy and freedom of flying as well as the feeling of being totally immersed and present in the moment when I’m in an airplane.

5. How long have you been a pilot?

   I have been flying since 1979. The joys of getting old!

6. What made you want to become a pilot?

   I was introduced to flying by a friend/boyfriend who was flying charter in the Madison area. He took me flying several times and I completely fell in love with it. When I told him that I was thinking of flying as a career, he told me “girls can’t be pilots”. Well, that settled it.

7. What are you most excited about by bringing ATC to Madison, WI?

   Bringing ATC to Madison is so exciting to me because it is such a beautiful way to bring community together around children to introduce them to new possibilities.

8. How do you think ATC is changing lives?

  I am very much looking forward to seeing how ATC changes lives! I am sure that the joy and perspective flying brings will make lifelong memories. I also love how ATC celebrates each individual child, some of whom may have never had that experience.

9. Is there something I haven’t asked you that you would like to say about ATC?

  I am so pleased to be part of such a unique program that fills such a need for lifting up children while bringing communities together.

10. Describe ATC in one word


Volunteer Spotlight: Alexandra










1. Where are you from?

    Canton Massachusetts; currently reside in Attleboro.

2. What is something that most people don’t know about you?

    Learning and academics have always been SO hard for me. I practically failed out of high school with no academic support (IEP’s, etc.) And yet here I am finishing my Master’s degree and volunteering for a great organization.

3. What do you love about volunteering?

    Meeting new people and hearing their backgrounds and learning new things. But most importantly, putting a smile on these kiddos’ faces!

4. How did you hear about ATC?

    Tara and Mike invited my friend Justine to join. When I caught wind, I asked to try it out for a day. Next thing you know I’m kind of hooked!

5. What made you want to become a volunteer for ATC?

    I was struggling with some depression and I wanted to do something that would not only help myself but others. ATC helped put my life into perspective and “not sweat the small stuff.”

6. How long have you been involved with ATC?

    I became involved in the summer of 2018.

7. Do you remember your first time volunteering for ATC? How was it?

    Yes, it was great. I was nervous about making too much of a commitment at first. But then, I remember taking photographs of the children and only thinking, “I wish I could have more responsibility and more involvement.” (when I told Tara this — BOOM–, the next thing I knew I was a flight coordinator!)

8. What is your most memorable experience with ATC?

    This past weekend I was able to work with a child diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. I am currently a Behavior Therapist in Newton Public Schools. I am finishing up my Master’s degree specializing in Autism. It was great taking what I know and applying it to such a special organization. I was able to create a social story to help the children further understand what to expect on their flight day. My child this weekend was BEYOND excited and thrilled to be on an airplane. Words will never be able to describe what that looks like.  You must experience it for yourself. 

9. How do you think ATC is changing lives?

    Many children at ATC have experienced challenges and struggles that are beyond describable. ATC provides them a day to let go of those negative emotions and feelings and allow them to have the fun they deserve. Next, ATC provides the children with choices; such as where they want to fly! They also have an opportunity to fly the plane themselves. Giving the children choices and “ control” is so important. It gives them that confidence and feeling of success before the day has even started! Speaking of control, they are even able to check the fuel in the airplane!  The entire experience from the flight, to the photo op, and fun secret prizes at the end keeps the children guessing throughout the day!

11. Is there something I haven’t asked you that you would like to say about ATC?

    Although I haven’t been involved at ATC for long, the support team and crew is growing TREMENDOUSLY. My mom has even come to participate and take pictures! There is no such thing as “too little work.” Everyone who comes is providing great support and love for these children. Participation can range from just showing up and cheering a kiddo on for an hour, to becoming a flight coordinator and creating social stories for the children. Every little bit counts. I never thought i’d become this attached, but after experiencing ATC in person, I can’t imagine not going back. 

12. Describe ATC is one word.


Tis the Season…

Above the Clouds brings joy and hope through the wonder of flight. Our Dream Flyers, Cadet Flyers and Discovery Flyers programs are intended to to help youth through difficult times or even realize a passion for aviation. December is known as the season of giving but it’s always the season of giving at Above the Clouds! Listed below are 3 stories that inspire us and we hope will inspire you to give back this holiday season. Happy Holidays and thank you for continuing to support Above the Clouds.

  1. Inspired by a Family Value of Giving Back, Teen Leads Foundation to Empower At-Risk Girls 
  2. Students Giving Back: Kiril’s Story
  3. Bell Field Teacher has her kids giving back to the community



Unity Through Community- PART 2


Make A Difference Project- Their goal is to make your day a little brighter by being a source of positivity, inspiration, and good news. They accomplish this by sharing the stories of organizations and individuals who are selflessly working to improve the lives of others and make the world a better place. To learn more visit: https://makeadifferenceproject.org/

Smart from the Start- A family support, community engagement and school readiness organization that has as its mission to prevent the academic achievement gap among young children living in the lowest income families and communities. “Smart” empowers parents and caregivers in under-served communities with the tools, resources and support they need to break cycles of chronic school underachievement and generational poverty. To learn more visit: http://smartfromthestartinc.org/

Lucy’s Love Bus- The mission of Lucy’s Love Bus is to improve quality of life for children with cancer and life-threatening illness, to support their families, and to mobilize the next generation of cancer activists. Lucy’s Children Integrative Therapies program offers funding on an individual basis to children with cancer for integrative therapies in their home, at the hospital, or on hospice. To learn more visit: https://lucyslovebus.org/welcome.html

Tufts Floating Hospital for Children- They strive to heal, to comfort, to teach, to learn and to seek the knowledge to promote health and prevent disease. Their patients and their families are at the center of everything they do. They dedicate themselves to furthering their rich tradition of health care, innovation, leadership, charity and the highest standard of care and service to all in their community. At Floating Hospital for Children, their patients are their inspiration. To learn more visit: https://www.floatinghospital.org/

Click this link to read Unity Through Community PART 1: https://abovethecloudskids.org/2017/02/08/unity-through-community/


Cadet Flyers: Pilots of Tomorrow

A recent article in The New York Times (see below) discusses the thousands of pilots who are nearing retirement and the desperate need of major airline carriers to replace them. “I’ve never seen the industry be at this level of pilot demand,” said Kenneth P. Byrnes, the chairman of the flight training department at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s campus in Daytona Beach, Fla. About two in five pilots at the five largest domestic carriers will reach mandatory retirement age (65) by 2026. This kind of demand is unprecedented and is making airlines desperate for qualified pilots.

Many of these major airline carriers, including JetBlue and American Airlines have programs that provide training to those interested in a career in aviation. “The program creates a career opportunity for people who might not have thought the industry was an option for them,” said Warren Christie, JetBlue’s Senior Vice President of Safety, Security and Air Operations. At Above the Clouds we have a program that provides training to those interested in aviation. The Cadet Flyers Program is a direct response to the growing number of young people who are either falling through the cracks at school or are involved with social service agencies due to poverty issues or difficult home situations. The drop-out rate in the Boston Public schools is unacceptably high, and almost one-third of the students do not graduate with their class.[1] Schools and social service agencies have been searching, often without success, for that elusive motivational tool that will serve as the conduit to encourage these teens to apply themselves, stay in school, achieve and follow a path toward a better future. Above the Clouds steps in to provide that missing motivational tool — the “coolness” of flight and the allure of learning to fly an airplane. Above the Clouds uniquely provides this programing on a cost-free basis for teens in need.

One of our Cadet Flyers, Kate, told us that “Above the Clouds has changed my life because they have shown me that there are always new opportunities in every direction. I never thought that I could learn to fly a plane but I took a chance and learned to believe in myself as much as they believed in me.” This program not only provides a path towards a career in aviation, but also provides the opportunity to learn about an industry they otherwise wouldn’t have known they were interested in.

Last month, Cadet Flyers took part in Jet Blue’s “ACE Academy Camp.” On Day One, student’s toured Logan Airport’s control tower, the tower simulator where the controllers train, and the JetBlue maintenance hangar where the teens saw an Airbus A320 up close while maintenance was being performed. On Day Two, they received a tour of Pease Air National Guard base in New Hampshire, hosted by a JetBlue pilot who also flies KC-135 tankers. The teens learned about many different professional aviation jobs including pilots and boom operators (the airmen who operate the equipment for aerial refueling.) Finally, on Day Three, the teens went to New Bedford to see the flight training department of Bridgewater State University and received ground school and simulator instruction. Each student even flew in a C-172 with one of the school’s flight instructors!

Our mission at Above the Clouds is to bring joy and hope through the wonder of small aircraft flight to children and teens who are seriously ill, disabled, underserved, or facing other serious adversity. The Cadet Flyers Program is one of the ways we aim to accomplish this goal. It is our hope that the Cadet Flyers Program will inspire some of these teens to pursue a career in aviation and help fill the need for pilots in the years to come.

[1] Boston Public Schools, Focus on Children, January 21, 2016

To learn more about the Cadet Flyers Program click here: www.abovethecloudskids.org/about-cadet-flyers/

NY Times Article: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/27/business/airlines-jobs-aspiring-pilots.html


Pilot Profile: Jon Payson









1. Where are you from?

      Manchester, MA

2. How did you hear about ATC?

      I was contacted by a pilot friend and former colleague who introduced me to Gary

3. What is something most people don’t know about you?

     I was going to business school after college, but instead decided to enlist in the Marine Reserve. No regrets.

4. How long have you been a pilot?

    I learned to fly more than 40 years ago.

5. What made you want to become a pilot?

    I was 15 and my (first) girlfriend was taking flying lessons – her dad (also her instructor) took me up for an hour in a super-cub. The romance didn’t last but the flying bug certainly did.

6. Where is your favorite place to fly?

   I am a regular at KPSM, formerly Pease AFB. They have a very forgiving 12,000-foot runway, full-featured instrument approaches, and very accommodating controllers.

8. Do you do Dream Flights? Discovery Flights? Cadet Flights?

   With ATC, I have only done Discovery Flights.

9. What do you love most about being a Discovery Pilot?

   I love flying and sharing the experience with young people, and it has given me a terrific opportunity to get to know a terrific young woman whom I never would have met otherwise.

10. Describe a typical Discovery Fly Day with your Discovery Flyer, Estebanya.

  We’ve done a lot of different things, from checking out the whales off Providence to flying down the Charles River through Boston to touring Mount Washington from the air. Each trip we add a little more aviation – flying the plane, talking to the tower, basic navigation…

11. How do you think ATC is changing lives?

  Our understanding of the world is very much a result of our experiences and interaction with others, and ATC marries some really differentiated experience with improbable connections between pilot and Flyer – consequently, our young Flyers discover new perspectives of their potential future lives.

12. Is there something I haven’t asked you that you would like to say about ATC?

  The generosity of so many pilots, volunteers, donors, and sponsors is inspiring.

13. Describe ATC in one word



To learn more about the Discovery Flyer Program click here: https://abovethecloudskids.org/discovery-flyers/

Cadet Flyer Spotlight: Corwin








  1. Where are you from?

          I am from Quincy, Massachusetts


2. What is something most people don’t know about you?

         Most of my friends do not know I have been helping my parent’s chinese take out restaurant at the early age of 10. My early childhood was mostly working and taking orders versus hanging out with school friends.


3. What is your favorite place that you have flown?

         Nantucket (KAC). It was the last flight I flew with my instructor, Matt Hurley, who got me interested in Saint Louis University where I currently train now to become a commercial pilot. We knew it was going to one of our last flights together which made it really special to me.


4. How long did you fly with ATC?

         I flew with Above the Clouds for 2 years.


5. How did you find out about ATC?

         I learned about Above the Clouds in 2014 when they reached out to me through their partnerships with Crossroads for Kids. I scheduled a date to head out to Norwood, MA and fell in love with the organization since.


6. What do you love about flying?

         I enjoy the independence the comes with flying. It is up to my own skills and knowledge to fly the plane safely. When I fly with an instructor, it is up to me, as the PIC, to figure out how to execute the maneuver properly. When I do solo cross countries by myself, the silence of radio chatter and the engine rumbling beneath my headset are very calming.


7. Do you remember your first flight? How was it?

        My first flight was an overwhelming experience of new lessons and knowledge. I did not think I could learn all the material that was being presented and not to mention the handling the flight controls for the first time. It was very difficult to maintain altitude and a heading because I did not know the effects of pitch and over controlling. In summary, it was a very bumpy first flight.


8. What is your most memorable ATC experience?

        My most memorable ATC experience had to be my solo flight on August 17, 2015. I became very nervous when my instructor hopped out of N8222D and told me to go solo. It was very unexpected but I knew that my training prepared me for that moment. I taxied out, took off, and did my 3 laps around the pattern. At the very end of it all, my instructor came onto the radio and congratulated me for achieving this milestone in aviation.


9. How has ATC changed your life?

       The organization has given me hope and inspiration to become a part of the next generation of pilots. No one in my family has any background in the industry so I would otherwise have no connections in aviation without ATC.


10. Talk me through a typical flight day with your pilot

       My flight block at Saint Louis University starts at 9:30 am. I typically wake up and get ready around 7 am to check the weather to see if I am flying and go over any lesson material I might need. I take the shuttle from campus at 9 am sharp and get to the airport at 9:20. I brief with my instructor about the lesson for the day and express any comments or questions I might have about a particular maneuver or procedure. My instructor will then authorize me to get the keys and I head out preflight one of our Diamond DA20 C1 eclipse trainer aircrafts. After the preflight in done and the airplane is untied, my instructor will hop into the plane and I will start the checklist and procedures to start the plane and taxi out to the runway. Once we are cleared to take off it’s all business from there. We execute every line item on the day’s lesson in 1.4 hobb time window. At the end of it all, I am exhausted and my back hurts. We ramp in, debrief about the things I did well and could improve upon next time, close out the lesson, and I am headed back on campus to attend my next lecture.


11. What is something you would tell someone that wants to become a Cadet Flyer?

      Do it. Whether you find out that you love aviation or not, it is one of the best experiences I ever had. The connections and resources that the organization has are very critical to the industry and could lead to a fulfilling career. Even if you do not become a pilot, there are many opportunities in the industry that ATC can help get connected with. But if your aspirations are to be a pilot, then ATC is the right place to be.


12. Describe ATC in one word

      Caring. They care about those who have had some affiliation with the organization, old and new. They welcome anyone with open arms and a passion for their mission.

Volunteer Spotlight: Laura Curran











1. Where are you from?

    I grew up in Hyde Park, but have lived in Norwood for the past 10 years.

2. What is something that most people don’t know about you?

    My first flight was in a helicopter over Niagara Falls when I was 11.

3. What do you love about volunteering?

    The impact it has on the kids.

4. How did you hear about ATC?

    Via another volunteer organization

5. What made you want to become a volunteer for ATC?

    It was very clear that ATC has something very special and different to offer children and their families.

6. How long have you been involved with ATC?

    Finishing my 3rd year.

7. Do you remember your first time volunteering for ATC? How was it?

    I was amazed at the energy and excitement of all the volunteers and the positive effect it had on the kids.

8. What is your most memorable experience with ATC?

    It was one of the Big Sister days and the Big Sister wrote to Martha thanking her for the great day and how she had not seen her ‘Little’ smile like she did that day.  Also, that the ‘Little’ was amazed that we were there for her and doing this for her – saying she never felt special until that day’.  That still makes me tear up.

9. How do you think ATC is changing lives?

    It empowers the kids to think beyond barriers.

10. Talk me through a typical Dream Flight Day you have with these kids.

    As a flight coordinator, my job is to see the child and his/her family upon arrival at Norwood Memorial Airport through to  their departure.  Beginning with the ground crew greeting; to meeting their pilot and planning their flight; to escorting them to the plane and watching them taxi; greet them upon their return and presenting their personalized flight jacket and of course, more photo ops!  They have their own personalized paparazzi to capture their time at ATC.

11. Is there something I haven’t asked you that you would like to say about ATC?

    ATC is about the whole family.  Clearly, the Dream Flyer is the focal person.  However, the entire family/chaperone is made part of the day.  I especially like to see that the siblings are treated ‘special’ too.  A lot of times, when there is a child with special needs, care, etc.. the other children are ‘in the background’.  On DFDs, everyone is involved.

12. Describe ATC is one word.