July 31, 2013 - When landing in the desert, LOHS 2003 graduate Victoria Neuville Zajko will scan for bumps, rocks, or anything that could make it too eventful.
With one other French female pilot, Zajko will spend 50 hours flying a four-seat, 50-gallon Cessna 172 airplane on a famous airmail route from France to Senegal, Africa, to deliver 500 plus paper airplanes.
Her mission is to spread the possibility of flight to boys and girls while air-bridging the two different cultures.
The Kids Airbridge is a 100 percent community funded project that will 'twin' 20 classrooms of kids aged six to twelve in North America to 20 Senegalese classrooms in order to collaboratively learn about aviation.
Their first assignment is sending over hand-made paper airplanes, with the other assignments collaborating over the Internet to learn aviation history, the physics of flying, geography skills and even art.
"This is for boys and girls from both sides of the world," she said. "I hope they get to learn about new cultures and see that despite their differences each class is capable of achieving great things."
Beginning in Toulhouse, France, they will jet over to Spain, fly through Morocco and into Africa for 14 days, staying in a different city each night.
It's not flying the small airplane over the ocean, desert, and foreign countries that make her a little nervous; it's the foreign countries.
"They each have their own rules and different airspace I have to learn about, I'm going to have to have my head screwed on straight, we are going to be flying over the desert and over water," she said. "If something goes wrong, and you have to land in the middle of nowhere, that's something you have to think about."
She will prepare extensively for the trip and have alternate options for each landing.
This opportunity did not fly out of nowhere, however, as it took her almost a decade to get to where she is today, mainly because it is in her blood.
Her father, both grandfathers, and uncle were all pilots. Her great uncle was a WWII ace. Her dad paid for her to attend ground school at age 15 where she flew her first discovery flight.
She began college, dropped her academic load to become a pilot and was about to complete her commercial pilot training when she learned she had a detached retina, forcing her to stop flying for a while.
After two laser treatments she passed the exam required for commercial pilots.
Following her move to Frederick, MD where she currently works in aviation insurance, she joined a brand new airport community and discovered a movement called Women of Aviation Worldwide Week.
Their main goal is to introduce girls and women to aviation—only six percent of the pilot population is female—and encourage them to enter aeronautic vocations.
After earning the airport a world-record for an event she created, helping more than 750 females experience their first flights in a small aircraft, she became the "partner in crime" to Mireille Goyer, the founder of Women of Aviation, and also co-pilot to the Senegal mission.
Together the duet has launched the Kids Airbridge Initiative after Goyer came to Zajko with the idea. "I was like I'll go anywhere, I'll fly anything. This is wonderful," Zajko said.
"It sprouted from the impact we were making from that event, and now we are retracing a historical route," she said.
Because the Kids Airbridge is funded only through donations on an online website, http://www.kidsairbridge.org/, if donations don't amount to exactly $25,000, they will all be returned and the project will be postponed.
With the design of the website a donator can choose from a list of possible amounts, each amount granting them a "perk" or little gift as a thank-you.
If a donator contributes $1,500, they can select a classroom out of any city in North America to participate in the yearlong project. Donations will cover more than operational costs of the project, they will cover the collaborative website development between continents and a percentage of them will purchase school supplies given to the Senegalese students.
She would really like Lake Orion to host one of the 20 schools.
"I know those schools, I would love to go back and personally pick up the mail myself," she said, having attended Pine Tree, Waldon and Lake Orion High.
She is confident that the Kids Airbridge Initiative will take place, whether this year or over the next few years.
"I don't give up very easily, so if it doesn't happen now it will happen in the future. I know Goyer is the same stubborn pilot I am," she said.