- Associated Press - Saturday, December 26, 2015

ASPEN, Colo. (AP) - Aspen High School sophomore Grace Ferguson is setting new heights for herself and the school’s aerospace and aviation program as the first female to solo her own flight.

But less than two years ago, the 16-year-old lacked any aviation training or experience.

In fact, planes drew painful memories for Ferguson and her family, who lost both her grandmother and uncle in a plane crash when she was young.

Ferguson said she was placed in an aviation class by chance because she needed another extracurricular credit.

The class is part of the Aspen School District’s 2 1/2-year-old aviator program, called Aspen AERO AV8R.

“I didn’t know anything about the program until I was put in it,” Ferguson said. “At first, it was pretty hard for me. But once I started getting into it more, it started getting fun for me.”

Ferguson’s aviation instructor, Aspen High School Director of Aeronautics Greg Roark, said Ferguson is being modest.

“When Grace started, she, like so many, struggled with the material. The courses are not easy; there is a tremendous amount of information, and it’s a different type of reading because it’s very technical,” Roark said.

In addition to tricky technical literature and a heavy course load, there are a number of exams and hours of flight training that also must be met, Ferguson said.

But Ferguson was driven, Roark said.

“She asked herself, ‘How do I do this? How do I make this work for me?’” he said.

Through Grace’s determination, she was able to become not only the first female student to solo her own flight but also the first student to earn a 100 percent on the Federal Aviation Administration exam.

Ferguson said she tries to live her life by a simple quote she follows: “Do the thing you fear the most, and the death of fear is certain.”

“When I did my solo, it was as if my grandma and all of them were there with me,” she said. “It felt really powerful.”

Ferguson’s father, Matthew Ferguson, said the family is very proud of her.

“Her courage overcoming a family tragedy has inspired us all,” he said.

Roark echoed that sentiment.

“Grace is not only an example to other students about what you can do when you put your mind to something, but she is also an inspiration to me,” Roark said.

While Ferguson said she isn’t sure what her future in aviation entails, she said she is keeping her options open.

“I haven’t really thought about it,” Ferguson said. “Right now it’s just something I love to do.”

___

Information from: The Aspen Times, https://www.aspentimes.com/

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