James Ray believed the self-discipline and self-confidence he learned during flight training helped him achieve success in life and business. He felt strongly that these traits and assuming responsibility for one's own actions are learned skills and important character traits that can make one free to pursue their dreams.
During WWII, Mr. Ray served as a B-17 command pilot with the Eighth Air Force, 447th Bomb Group, based in Rattlesden, England. He achieved the rank of Major, and for his service was awarded the Air Medal and Distinguished Flying Cross, with Oak Leaf Clusters, two of the highest honors bestowed upon military aviators. After his service, aviation remained an ever present part of his life. He flew Cessna Citation jets for over 29 years.
James was one of the most prolific aviation philanthropists of our time – with much done anonymously. He regularly supported the Experimental Aircraft Association, the University of North Dakota's Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences, AOPA, and the Central Florida Aerospace Academy. For EAA, he was most noted for constructing the Air Academy Lodge and propelling the vision for the Air Academy program. Now in its thirty-fifth year, the Air Academy has been bringing youth ages 12 to 18 faithfully to the EAA campus each summer for camps. Over that time more, than 6,500 kids and 200 adult counselors have made memories, created life-long friendships, and some have found careers. Today, the Air Academy is the longest running residential aviation camp in the United States and has been named a top 10 summer camp by MSN.
The Ray Foundation has provided $1 million to fund the Ray Aviation Scholarship Fund, which seeks to improve the flight training success rate from the current 20 percent level to 80 percent. The scholarship program will be managed by EAA and administered through its chapter network. EAA chapters will be responsible for identifying youths for the Ray Aviation Scholars program and mentoring them through flight training. Through this grant, the Ray Foundation is furthering the legacy of James Ray, an EAA lifetime member who died in April 2017.
"The Ray Aviation Scholars program through EAA aims to meet two immediate needs — the growing demand for pilots and those in aviation careers, and the financial burden that often keeps young people from completing flight training," said Chuck Ahearn, president of the Ray Foundation. "The pilot community found within EAA chapters is the perfect group to provide the support and mentorship that will significantly improve the flight training success rate."
Mr. Ray's generous support of so many worthwhile aviation causes helps assure that aspiring young aviators will have the same opportunity to learn self-discipline and self-confidence for themselves for years to come. The success of the people and institutions he supported was a great source of pride for him.