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Ormond Beach Observer Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021 11 months ago

On the wings of success: Ormond Beach pilot is still living her dream

Capt. Judy Rice always wanted to learn how to fly an airplane. Now, she's a role model for those who wish to do the same.
by: Jarleene Almenas Senior Editor

Growing up in the 1950s, Judy Rice was told girls didn't fly. 

It's one of her earliest memories, and despite being around 4 years old, she still remembers her broken heart. 

"I pressed it down into my soul, because I wanted to be a good girl," Rice recalled.

But nothing that was said to her stopped her from dreaming. As a child her bed was always pushed up against the window so that she could look up at the sky. One night, she heard a loud rushing sound from her bed at sunset, and she bolted down the stairs to the front yard. 

Up above her, was a man in a hot air balloon.

“That balloonist yells down to me, ‘What’s wrong little girl? Cat’s got your tongue?’" Rice recalled. "It still chokes me up. He has no idea the impact that had on me at 3 or 4 years old, and that’s when I said, ‘Someday, I’m going to get there.’”

And get there, she did.

Breaking barriers

At age 40, after 16 years of being a special education teacher, Rice had her first flying lesson in her home state of Minnesota, and it's all because her 10-year-old son expressed his own interest in learning how to fly. After his lesson, he looked to the instructor and told him of her mother's dream, one she had repressed for almost four decades. 

“It was breathtaking," Rice said. "Students say this, and it’s true, when you see the world from up there, and you’re looking down, it changes your whole perspective on life. All of the sudden, you realize how small we are.”

Judy Rice said Chuck, her 1971 American Aviation AA-1A airplane, is her 'main guy.' Courtesy photo

Now at 70 years old, Rice is living her dream. The founder of ThinkGlobal Flight, a worldwide flight that promotes science, technology, engineering arts and mathematics education in students, the next 30 years of her life have been filled with teaching students in aviation. A former president of the National Coalition for Aviation and Space Education, Rice left her school teaching position after 18 years to focus on developing aviation and aerospace courses and curriculums for the National 4-H Aerospace Curriculum Project. 

Since 1993, the Ormond Beach resident, who is also an instructor wit Epic Flight Academy, has been recognized with awards such as the Experimental Aircraft Association's Outstanding Ground Volunteer Award, the Minnesota Governor's Award for Excellence in Aerospace Education, and in 2020, was awarded with a National Aeronautic Association record for speed over a recognized course from Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, to Reykjavik, Iceland.

In 2015, she also conducted a world flight that engaged over 20,000 students in the United States and over 30 more countries in the span of one month.

A role model

In 2007, while she was working as a contractor for the National 4-H Aerospace Curriculum Project, Rice received an assignment based out of the Flagler Executive Airport. 

By that time, she had Chuck, a cherry red 1971 American Aviation AA-1A airplane, that matches not only the color of Rice's hair, but also her car and flight jumpsuit. And Chuck needed a hangar. 

“He’s really, other than my son, my main focus in life. He’s my guy,” Rice said with a laugh.

However, the Flagler Executive Airport had no hangars available, and a very long waiting list. But, there was a hangar open at the Ormond Beach Municipal Airport. 

A stop in 2012 at Lakeland, one of the 50 state national tour stops made by Capt. Judy Rice to prepare for her world flight in 2015. Courtesy photo

The rest, for her, was history. At the Ormond airport, she said she found an airport with a community and leadership that appreciated aviation, and from the beginning, she knew she would retire here, though there's little chance of Rice bidding her flying days goodbye anytime soon. 

Though she mainly teaches out of the New Smyrna Beach Municipal Airport, she hopes that with future expansions to the Ormond Beach airport, she'll be able to expand operations locally. After all, like her role model Bessie Coleman, the first African-American woman and Native American to hold a pilot license, she's never given up on her dreams, and she said her main mission in life is to help others not only realize their dreams, but find the courage to pursue them.

“I say this with emotion," Rice said. "I humbly bring the world to Ormond Beach, especially the airport. I bring the world to the youth of Ormond Beach, to the city, to the airport, with love.”

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