Two aspiring pilots will have the opportunity to begin their flying careers after being awarded the Chris Middlebrook Flying Scholarship.
Gunnedah’s Lachlan Batinic and Ryan King were successful in winning the two-year scholarship worth $10,000 each, following a strong field of nine applicants.
Sponsored by Middlebrook Air Operations, it was established in 2012 by Peter and Judy Middlebrook in memory of their son, Chris, a keen, young pilot who tragically lost his life in a car accident.
Lachlan and Ryan, both in Year 11, were selected after a difficult decision-making process when the panel couldn’t decide between the two. Usually one scholarship is awarded but after the previous winner didn’t use all of the last scholarship, there was room for another.
Since primary school, Ryan, who attends Tamworth’s Carinya Christian School, said he wanted to be an aeronautical engineer in the Airforce, however an introductory flying lesson from his parents as a Christmas present changed all that.
“Ever since then I’ve had the flight fever,” Ryan said.
He said he wanted to pursue his restricted licence this way through the scholarship, before gaining a pilots licence where there will be more opportunities.
“I was really surprised. Mum and dad are really happy. Very proud,” he said.
“I love planes and it means a lot. It will open new pathways hopefully.”
Lachlan, who attends Gunnedah High School, became interested in flying after hearing a presentation at a school assembly from previous scholarship winner, Kayla Smith.
He went on to participate in a course in Tamworth and that’s when he said he realised he wanted to enter the defence force as a pilot.
“The scholarship will help you get the basics and get a feel for it and hopefully it is exactly what I want to do,” Lachlan said.
“I’m looking forward to learning and hopefully taking mum or dad up - that would be a pretty special thing.”
The scholarship includes 30 hours towards a pilot licence over a two year period, or shorter if the recipients wish, through the Gunnedah Aero Club.
The students achieve a restricted pilots licence at the end and if they can afford it, can go on to 50 hours and obtain an unrestricted licence which allows them to fly anywhere in Australia.
“Hopefully by selecting young people 17 years and under, that when they finish school, it’s a good tool if they want to engage in the airforce and further training through the armed forces,” Pete Middlebrook said.
The scholarship is extremely important to the Middlebrook family as Chris was learning to fly when he passed away.
“We are sponsoring this in his memory and hoping to encourage other young people,” Judy Middlebrook said.
“There’s a such a great shortage of quality agricultural pilots since the drought, but even though the winners may not go in this direction, it gives them the opportunity to make a decision about which way they might want to head.”
The Gunnedah Aero Club congratulated Lachlan and Ryan on their achievement and looks forward to watching them progress towards their pilots licence.
“Through the Chris Middlebrook Flying Scholarship the club has seen a growing interest in students wanting to pursue a career in aviation and through the support and generosity of the Middlebrook family, the scholarship provides a great opportunity for local students to begin,” club secretary Aaron Goddard said.