Aspen nonprofit ‘BettyFlies’ aims to inspire locals students to fly |

Aspen nonprofit ‘BettyFlies’ aims to inspire locals students to fly

Suzanne Pfister browses through old archives that she calls the "Betty Boxes", filled with memorabilia from her pilot mother, Betty Pfister. Suzanne has established the BettyFlies Foundation, a nonprofit aimed at providing aviation opportunities to local youth.
Jeremy Wallace/The Aspen Times

A nonprofit bearing the name of Aspen’s first lady of aviation and aimed at providing flying-related educational programs to area youth has taken off, but needs more than $200,000 to reach cruising altitude.

“There are no lack of puns in this business,” joked Suzanne Pfister, the daughter of the late Betty Haas Pfister and president of the BettyFlies Foundation.

Suzanne Pfister established the foundation in honor of her mother, who received the Congressional Gold Medal as a member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPS) in World War II.

The WASP program was focused on high achievement and assembled only the most exceptional women aviators in the country.

To free up male pilots for combat roles, it was the WASP’S job to test, fix and shuttle aircraft around the country in often questionable conditions. More than 30 of them lost their lives.

Suzanne Pfister is carrying her mother’s legacy forward through the foundation, created only two months ago.

It’s on a trajectory to raise the necessary funding to support several aviation education programs, including $100,000 towards an initiative at Aspen High School called “Every Student Flies”, created and developed by Michael Pearce and the Aspen Flight Academy. Pearce is a life-long aviator, airline Captain, and President of the Aspen Flight Academy’s Board of Directors.

Debuting this fall, the program will give every Aspen High School student — almost 600 in total — an opportunity to experience a “career” afternoon at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport.

They’ll get one hour of flight instruction and one hour of in-flight observation in a Diamond DA40 airplane with a certified flight instructor. Also as part of the program, students will get tours of the FAA tower and the aviation operations at Sardy Field.

They’ll learn about flight training, scholarships, collegiate-related programs and industry-related jobs.

“Not every kid is set to be a pilot, but it’s the personal development piece that I want for them,” Pfister said, adding that STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education opportunities are equally as important.

 “If I spark one kid, it will be worth the 12-hour days,” Pfister said Wednesday morning at the foundation’s small office in the basement of an old Victorian on Main Street.

Pfister and the BettyFlies Foundation team are in full fundraising mode.

“It is very important to me to raise this money because school starts in August,” she said.

The foundation also plans to put $120,000 toward flight school scholarships for 10 Aspen High School students who want to pursue piloting careers.

The remaining $30,000 to be raised will support an aviation-related collegiate scholarship.

Pfister was inspired after she was approached this past winter with a suggestion that her mother be the namesake at a new airport terminal being planned.

She soon learned that out of 80 local scholarships offered to Aspen students, none of them are aviation-related.

“That pissed the Betty off in me,” Pfister quipped with a smile.

So she got to work enlisting volunteers, establishing a nonprofit and a board of directors, and is now launching the fundraising campaign.

About $25,000 has been raised thus far with donations as small as $10.

“Every dollar counts and no amount is too small,” Pfister said. “I can’t tell you how generous people have been.”

She sent 4,000 mailers out this week and a GoFundMe page was set up Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Pfister is working the phones and emails to friends of Betty.

“The FOBs (friends of Betty’s) are the keys to the kingdom for support,” Pfister said. “I’ve also had a lot of support from people who love aviation and aviation history.”

The inaugural BettyFlies Summer Social at the Aspen Historical Society’s Wheeler Stallard House is being planned for 4 to 7 p.m. July 26. It will be a fundraiser with a suggested donation.

The foundation also will have a booth at the Aspen Saturday Market on July 13.

Betty embodied the notion that achievements can be made when inspired by flight.

Betty was instrumental in developing a heliport at Aspen Valley Hospital and establishing a control tower at Sardy Field.

An inductee of the Aspen Hall of Fame, Betty Pfister also founded the Pitkin County Air Rescue Group, an organization that laid the ground work for Mountain Rescue Aspen.

Pfister said she’s proud of her mother’s legacy and the way she and her father, Art Pfister, raised their family.

“I’ve always wanted to do good; it’s in my nature,” Pfister said. “It was instilled in me by my parents.”

Betty also founded and organized the Snowmass annual balloon race, which Suzanne helped with every year when she was growing up.

The Pfister kids also were accustomed to the red emergency phone ringing on the living room coffee table that was made out of a gurney.

Betty routinely would take her children up in her plane and go to parts unknown.

“As a teenager I didn’t fully appreciate it, but I see now that it was an extraordinary way to live,” Suzanne said.

The BettyFlies Foundation is a way to keep alive Betty’s insight, and use aviation to ignite student self-confidence, broaden interest in STEM and match the future need for aviation professionals with the careers of young students.

“I believe we can make a real difference in the lives of our valley’s youth,” Suzanne Pfister said. “My mother was a trailblazer in the true sense of the word.

“She was a flight enthusiast, but she always thought outside the box in all her endeavors. We will be encouraging our applicants to do the same.”