A Billings nonprofit is helping veterans become pilots to advance their careers.
Veteran Air Warriors sponsors honorably discharged veterans by paying for their schooling to obtain a private pilot license. The organization helps vets use their GI Bill to pay for advanced flight training programs.
“There aren’t a lot of pilots getting into the system and a lot of pilots in it right now are in their late 50s, so they’re retiring fast,” said Cade Overstreet, managing director of Veteran Air Warriors. “We’re in a massive pilot shortage currently.”
The nation will need more than 28,000 pilots in the next 20 years to replace those leaving. The shortage also includes aviation employees and maintenance staff.
Half the battle is accumulating enough flight hours to obtain more advanced flight ratings, Overstreet said, which includes a commercial and instruction licenses.
The biggest obstacle is paying for it. Private pilot license programs usually cost between $8,000 to $15,000.
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“We want to relieve that monetary burden from you and we will pay for your private pilot license,” Overstreet said. “About half of all vets coming out, post-service, only have about $5,000 in savings.”
The organization will be hosting a fundraiser on Thursday, Sept. 12, at the Billings Flying Service Hangar at 5 p.m. The event will have a silent and live auction of items like military memorabilia, vacation packages, veteran sponsorships and more. More information can be found on the organization’s website.
Guest speakers will be Pete Hegseth, Fox News anchor and U.S. Army veteran and Medal of Honor recipient, and Leroy Petry, a U.S. Army ranger.
“Everything that we get is going directly back to the student,” he said. “Montana, we have such a high percentage of vets here, so we’re definitely a vet-oriented community.”
Veteran Air Warriors started in 2018, and has had one person graduate from the program. A few veterans are currently enrolled.