Family duo win aviation scholarship in Fort Smith

The Terry Harrold School of Aviation awards two Indigenous students with a $2,500 scholarship. (Photo courtesy of the Terry Harrold School of Aviation)

A dynamic pair have taken to the skies to serve the North and ultimately their communities.

SaNaeah Allen and Loyal Letcher are students at the Terry Harrold School of Aviation and cousins sharing in their dream to become pilots.

Loyal Letcher receiving his scholarship. (Photo courtesy of the Terry Harrold School of Aviation)

SaNaeah Allen receiving his scholarship. (Photo courtesy of the Terry Harrold School of Aviation)

Earlier this month, the boys each received a $2,500 scholarship to assist them in their education.

Letcher says “it was a really big help because the hardest part of the program was just getting the finances.”

The Aviation Management program costs roughly $75,000.

Personal headsets alone cost thousands of dollars.

The boys describe the program as demanding, not only financially but with their time as well, making it difficult to work part-time.

“If you have distractions in your life and things like that, then that’s going to really slow down your progress,” says Allen.

Allen says he felt a morale boost after winning the money –  a reminder that his parents are counting on him.

Letcher was so proud of his winnings he put his giant cheque on the wall.

Letcher’s cheque sits above his desk as a constant reminder of his goals. (Photo courtesy of Loyal Letcher)

The pair were congratulated by their peers with a mini cake and coffee celebration.

It’s important to them to stay close to home and be northern pilots, above all else.

“In my mind, it’s absolute freedom, being a pilot, it’s kind of like being a bird,” says Allen, “and I get to explore all the places that I never got to.”

Letcher’s goal to be a pilot stems from the need to help his family.

“My original intent of joining the (program) was just to help my parents,” he says.

The Letcher family owns a lodge near the Nahanni National Park, which is only accessible by plane.

“Growing up as a kid, my parents would take me out to the lodge and I just really enjoyed being out there,” he says, “I really admired being able to just have free access to the area.”

The pair gained a whole lot more than they bargained for joining this program, as their relationship grew as well.

Although they are both from Fort Simpson they often didn’t spend much time together, until now.

“Since being in the program together we’ve become more sociable, it’s definitely shown our common interest,” says Letcher.

After graduation, they plan on staying in the North, but if that doesn’t work Allen says he’s prepared to go wherever the wind takes him.

Eye in the sky

Raphaël Jeansonne is the head instructor and is now responsible for overseeing the program.

He attributes the calmness and listening skills of the boys to be key in being a successful pilot.

Moreover, they have special skills, survival skills, that come from living in the north that are essential when looking for a job, he says.

“It’s a different world in the North,” he says, and they are well prepared.

“One of the main struggles with aviation is its big money to get into,” he says, “but any kind of money is very helpful.”

James Heidema is the chief operating officer and one of the originators of the aviation school.

“They’re exactly the kind of students that we want.”

“A big challenge we face is that most of our pilots come from the south, come and learn to fly up here,” he says,” and they leave us and then we get to do it again, and again.”

He describes them as “serious students” who fly well that are dedicated to staying here, where they’re needed.

The boys recently got their private license earlier this month and are moving towards their commercial licence.

“They’re very recruitable, very hireable, not only by ourselves, but a number of airlines,” he says.

Heidema says “without question” there is a job waiting for them after graduation.

By Oct.1 the school is looking forward to receiving another aircraft with a twin-engine to prepare students in their next steps to becoming northern pilots.

Currently, the school has about 10 students and they’re looking to expand operations and recruit more students sometime next year.

About the Author

Mariah Caruso
Mariah Caruso is a digital journalist, originally from Toronto, Canada. She graduated from the University of Toronto with a Hons. Bachelor of Arts and completed her Journalism post-grad at Sheridan College. She has an insatiable appetite for life, storytelling, connecting to the people, and getting to the heart of the issue. On her spare time, you can find her at your local coffee shop writing songs, poetry and prose or at the gym out-lifting men. If you have a story idea, feel free to send her an email at or call 867-766-2552 Ext 108