[Originally posted on www.MelissaAirHeart.com on November 19th, 2012]
“So come with me, where dreams are born, and time is never planned. Just think of happy things, and your heart will fly on wings, forever, in Never Never Land!” ― J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan: Fairy Tales
My first lesson; circa 1997
Saturday, November 17th I flew to DeKalb, Illinois for my Private Pilot check ride. My heart is in my throat as I idled at the end of the runway. “This is it,” I tell myself. “This is the time where I have to prove I’m a pilot.” I took a deep breath and pushed the throttle forward and flew Northbound.
I took my first flight lessons in 1997 at the age of 20. Although it was pretty cool, I just wasn’t into it. I restarted again in 2004 and almost completed all the necessary requirements for my check ride, but life happened and I moved to Hawaii.
In 2008 I made a commitment to learn a new sport and either compete or become licensed in it. 2012 was a hard year to choose a goal, I started rock climbing but it wasn’t feasible. I wasn’t sure how flying fit as a sport, but decided to make it my goal anyways.
I started my lessons again in July and studied for my written, worked on finishing my flight requirements, got current and then studied for the ultimate finish line – the check ride with an FAA Examiner.
There were days I didn’t want to wake up early to fly. There were days I absolutely was overwhelmed with the flight lessons and all the knowledge I needed to know as a pilot. There were times I felt afraid in the plane and I felt that I hardly knew enough to be safe. But I had the goal. I had to finish. I had to move forward.
Tom Johnston was my fearless and talented flight instructor. We worked on stalls, ground reference maneuvers, flight planning – the whole nine yards. One maneuver I absolutely struggled with was my “soft-field landings.” I kept flaring out too low, forgetting to add in power and well, let’s just say my landings were less than graceful! And I kept messing up, over and over and over!!
One lesson Tom tells me, “I’m ready to schedule your check ride.”
I smiled and went flush, “Really?”
“Yup, you’re ready.”
I looked at him straightfaced and asked him pointblank, “Do you really think I’m ready?” All I could think of was all the maneuvers I’d consistently perform below standards.
“I wouldn’t sign you off if I didn’t think you could pass. You’re ready.”
We crammed in hours of early flights and evening study sessions. Each day nearing the check ride, each flight lesson I still would have a crappy soft-field landing. I highly doubted Tom’s decision that I was ready.
A few nights before the check ride a few things clicked, “How can flying not be a sport? It takes all of my mental strength to study and perform; it takes dedication to keep moving forward past the points where you want to quit; it takes team work; and it takes support from family and friends to help push you towards success.” I felt these exact feelings in all other aspects of my goals years past.
The exhilaration of flying is too keen, the pleasure too great, for it to be neglected as a sport. — Orville Wright
I landed in DeKalb. I had my bag of materials and a head full of piloting knowledge. I walked right in and met a friendly bunch of good ole’ boys in the FBO talking story and drinking coffee. One boasted, “Which one of us do you want to give your check ride?”
“Anyone whose going to be the nicest!” I replied. They all chuckled. I can tell they’d all been in my footsteps. They pointed out the Examiner and we got right down to business.
I had to do what’s called the practical test. He started to ask me a million questions about critical aspects of flying, most of which I was able to answer. Some answers I didn’t think I knew before I left just started spewing out of my mouth with surprising confidence. After two hours he was satisfied. It was now time to fly!
2nd Generation Pilots
Roger (father) – 1st generation, me, and brother (Rook) – 2nd Generation
Trust me, the nerves did not stop there! I pre-flighted the plane and we were westbound in the sky. We did several maneuvers, emergencies, navigated then after about forty-five minutes we heading back to the airport to shoot a couple of landings. We started with a short-field landing – no problem. We came to a full stop, took off and went around the pattern. “Okay, now I want you to do a soft-field landing.”
“You got it,” stumbled out of my mouth.
I had yet to have a successful soft-field landing to this point. It was now or never. I took a deep breath. I felt every stitch of my being in complete focus. I had to do this. I came in at a good angle. The airplane slowed. I thought one of Tom’s lessons, “Are you going for a ride in this plane or are you flying it?” I flared out at a perfect height, bumped in the power smoothly and brought her down to land. We touched down and it felt really good.
“Okay, go ahead and pull over at the next intersection.” the Examiner said flatly.
I pulled the plane of the runway and did my after-landing checklist.
“So, who are you going to take up for the first flight?”
“My boyfriend, of course.” I replied. I thought about what he said. He didn’t ask me to taxi back for another take off. “Are we done?”
“Yup, go ahead and taxi back.”
“Wait?! Does that mean I passed?!”
“It sure does, congratulations! That was one of the best soft-field landings I’ve seen in a long time.”
AHHHHHH!!!!!! I did it!!!!!!! I freakin’ did it!!!
I can’t tell you how rewarding it was to fulfill this goal. I feel that it is one of my top goal accomplishments thus far. It took such commitment on top of my every day life and support from my partner, Ben Lowe and my mom who helped me study and wake up early each morning. My instructor, Tom’s dedication to also wake up early and fly in the cold. I can already see that Tom really taught me how to be a great pilot, “I got this!” Much gratitude and appreciation to those three!!
My upcoming goal’s for flying is to take acrobatic lessons and get my instrument rating. As far as next year’s sport, that hasn’t come to me yet. Right now I just want to bask in my success.