MONTGOMERY, Ohio -- Although she grew up with a father and uncle who flew -- the former in the Navy, the latter as a hobby -- Natalie Kelley didn't think of stepping into the cockpit herself until well after her 40th birthday.
"I lacked confidence," she said. "I didn't think I was smart enough. It took me a long time to finally say, ‘I can do this, and I'm going to do it.'"
Many women never reach that place. Of the approximately 600,000 pilots in the United States, only about 6 percent -- roughly 36,000 -- are female. Kelley, who said she found both freedom and humility by learning to steer herself above the clouds, wants to change that statistic.
"I think women shy away from things that are typically male-dominated, but it's so empowering to do (something) that is typically a male thing," she said. "To fly a plane and experience that control, it's huge for confidence level."
That's why she's sponsoring a $5,000 scholarship for women at Sporty's Academy, a flight training center in Batavia, Ohio. She wants other women to find what she found when she began to fly, and she wants to help them get there.
"You need someone to encourage you," she said. "It's very intimidating."
For her, the encouragement came from her father and uncle; for future woman pilots, she hopes it will come from female support systems in the profession. In an effort to become such a support system, Kelley funded the scholarship herself and hopes to develop a mentoring relationship with the woman who earns it.
"It's important for women to seek things that they love," she said. "Don't stop dreaming, don't stop looking for that thing that's part of your personality. We fill our time with so many obligations, and we wind up empty because we're doing things we don't love."