THS junior wins aviation lessons in national competition
Tullahoma High School junior Sarah Coffelt is the nationwide winner of the 2016 Flying Musicians Association Inc. Solo Program.
Nominated by THS Band Co-Director Martin McFarlane, Sarah was chosen from among five finalists across the country based on her academic and musical excellence and because she has expressed an interest in aviation.
Sarah will be paired with a local flight school and provided a scholarship for her lessons with funding provided by multiple corporate members and sponsors that contribute to the program.
Sarah, who works for the Tullahoma Regional Airport part time, was McFarlane’s prime candidate. She describes the shock of learning about her win and the reactions from both herself and her mother, Debbie Coffelt.
“We were at a soccer tournament near Chattanooga and we had just gotten off the field and we had just won the game,” she said. “We got in the car and we checked the website. My mom just yelled and started crying and it scared me at first because I didn’t know why she had reacted so hysterically, and then she said ‘You won!’ and I was in shock. I didn’t believe it.
“I’m still in shock from it. It doesn’t really feel real yet, and I don’t think it will feel real until I’m actually in the airplane and getting started.”
Sarah began her musical career in the sixth grade when she learned how to play the trumpet. Later, she migrated toward the French horn and has played it ever since.
She is currently the field commander of the Tullahoma High School Band and has had the honor of obtaining seats in both the Gold and Silver Bands of the Middle Tennessee State Band and Orchestra Association in their Mid-State competitions.
The competitions host players from all over Middle Tennessee and the best among the students earn a seat in the MTSBOA Honor Bands. Her nomination for the FMA Solo Program was a result of her hard work and dedication to her music.
After being nominated, each student is required to write a paragraph on anything he or she feels pertains to the desire to fly. Sarah chose to write about her experiences with the Tullahoma Airport.
“Working out there has given me experience around planes and now I’ve actually been able to work and gain experience where I see myself working in the future,” she said. “The first time that I realized that I wanted to pursue a career in aviation was when I saw a (Vanderbilt) Lifeflight helicopter. There was a bad wreck on the interstate, and I saw them fly in and pick up a patient and fly them up to Vanderbilt,” she said.
With the closest flight school being in Murfreesboro, the program is working with Sarah and the Tullahoma Airport to choose a local flight instructor. She is currently in the process of selecting the instructor whom she feels is the best match for her. Once the process is complete, she can begin her lessons.
The winners of the program are asked to manage a blog throughout the year as they move through their classes and work toward their solo flights. However, the program will not end there for Sarah and future winners.
“Not only do they get our help but they also get our assistance in their professions. We don’t just give them the money and say ‘Go do it.’ We help them and are there for them,” said John Zapp, president/CEO of FMA.
Those who work for the program are pilots and musicians who establish connections with the students and coach them during their flights. Many remain resourceful to the students later in their lives and serve as mentors as they move on in their careers or colleges depending on where their paths may lead them.
“I want aviation to be a part of my life even if it’s just a hobby,” she said.
Kinley Hughes can be reached by email at email@example.com.