Inspiring the Next Generation of Helicopter Pilots and Mechanics

FAA Safety Briefing
Cleared for Takeoff
4 min readSep 5

By Gene Trainor, FAA Rotorcraft Collective

It’s been a few years since FAA aerospace engineer Monica Merritt got that letter from a student she tutored at a local Fort Worth, Texas, school. It still brings a smile.

She and three other women from the then FAA Rotorcraft Directorate tutored high school students during their lunch breaks. She asked one student what he wanted to do after he graduated, and he responded that he planned to work at his family’s bakery. He told her that he wanted to go to college, but that dream seemed impossible.

Merritt took an interest in this student and told him that if he wanted to go to college, he would need to work hard. She also gave him a book about how to achieve his college dreams. Four years later, he wrote her a letter that read: “I wanted to let you know that because of you, I went to college and graduated.”

Monica Merritt (left) and Emanuele “Manny” Figlia (right).

“I made a difference,” said Merritt, who manages the flight test section for the FAA’s Central Certification Branch. “It’s a nice feeling.”

Across the helicopter community, pilots, mechanics, engineers, and others visit schools, tutor students, attend college job fairs, and serve as flight instructors, all in an effort to inspire young people to consider aviation careers. Demand is high nationwide for aerospace industry workers, particularly within the rotorcraft community.

You don’t have to tell that to Ross Landes, deputy director for the FAA’s 580-employee Compliance and Airworthiness Division. The division oversees the continued operational safety and the certification and validation of aircraft and aircraft parts manufactured in and outside the United States. Landes has several vacancies that he needs to fill — most of them engineering and pilot positions — for a variety of aircraft.

“To maintain excellence for our stakeholders, we have to make investments in safety and compliance findings,” said Landes, adding that this includes hiring a dedicated workforce.

Like the FAA, major manufacturers, such as Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin Company, encourage their employees to volunteer at science fairs and serve as judges. A few years ago, the Connecticut-based company landed a helicopter at a local high school for a STEM competition.

“Students toured inside the helicopter and talked to pilots and engineers,” said Chris Lowenstein, a Lockheed Martin fellow at Sikorsky.

Emanuele “Manny” Figlia, an adviser to the U.S. Helicopter Safety Team, has been a flight instructor for about 35 years. “I speak to young people whenever I get the chance,” said Figlia, a former Airbus Helicopters safety director who now works for GrandView Aviation. “I offer my time freely. It’s my passion.”

Merritt said that she tries to emphasize the importance of STEM to young people because she believes that the United States needs to excel in these areas to remain competitive. She and FAA helicopter test pilot Ryan Nelson visited a few schools last spring. She recalls being the only woman and Latina in her aerospace engineering classes at Arizona State University, so she also makes it a point to speak to young Latinas.

“When I was younger and in school, people encouraged me, helped me, and gave me confidence,” Merritt said. “You need to pay it forward. You never know how some encouragement might affect people.”

Interested in an aerospace career? Check out the FAA’s pilot and mechanic portal pages at and You can also check out the FAA job page at, which highlights some of the many exciting career opportunities at the FAA and how to apply. Finally, if you are in the aviation workforce and want to pay it forward, check out the FAA’s Aviation and Space Education program page at for ways you can help shape the future of flight.

This article was originally published in the September/October 2023 issue of FAA Safety Briefing magazine.



FAA Safety Briefing
Cleared for Takeoff

Official FAA safety policy voice for general aviation. Magazine that is part of the national FAA Safety Team (FAASTeam).