All by myself…sort of

I did it!

I got back in the plane by myself (with Gizmo) and flew to Corvallis and then to Scappoose and then to Hillsboro, completing my FAA required solo time for cross-country flying. From this day forward I never have to venture more than a few miles from my home airport BY MYSELF again!

But here’s the thing: what got me in the plane this time was realizing that I wasn’t alone.

Over the course of the past year and a half of flight training I have picked up a small army of supporters along the way. First it was just a retired pilot that agreed to take me up a few times in exchange for a pool cue rack I was selling. Then I was invited to the pilots’ standing breakfast every Saturday morning at the Blue Hangar Cafe. It wasn’t long before friends and family jumped on board. Then I met the 99s. Supporters began commenting on my blog. Once my first solo flight was announced to the office I found other aviators and sailors and navigators in the woodwork at my workplace. Even my non-aviation minded friends ask how I’m doing and encourage me to keep at it.

I thought it was appropriate, since I was thinking of all of you, for you to come with me on this second cross-country solo. So sit back while I spin my yarn and enjoy the pictures.

Yesterday morning I felt nervous as usual as I got in the car to drive up to the airport. I turned on the radio,

“Good morning Portland, beautiful weather today on this 79th anniversary of the Hindenburg…”

Channel change. It was Tom Petty.

“…and I’m free! Free falling!…”

You’ve got to be kidding me. Channel change.

Classical radio was the only safe channel. So, it was Schubert all the way to the airport. When my brain wandered and began to think of all that could go wrong I heard Patty’s voice, my 99s scholarship mentor, in my head, “Whatever happens, you will find that your training will take over.”

I got to the plane, strapped Gizmo in and performed my preflight only calling my CFI over twice to double check why my radio wouldn’t work and why the flap rod didn’t move freely.

I took my time. I added oil to the engine even thought it had the minimum required. I ordered full tanks of gas even though I wouldn’t need all of it. I had the windshield cleaned. I ate a granola bar. When I felt good and ready, the 115 lbs me lugged the 1,405 lbs airplane down to the end of the row by myself. A sight that did indeed turn heads.

My 1,405 lbs bird.

At Colins’ recommendation I said all of my checklists out loud. I gave Gizmo the preflight briefing and instructed him in the requirement of the shoulder harness and the importance of a sterile cockpit during takeoff and landing.

Up and away we went into the clear blue sky, 700 feet per minute until we reached 3,000 feet. I didn’t request flight following this time, but decided to listen to each airport as I passed along the way.

As I approached the southern edge of the West Practice Area, I made a radio call that I was over the Newberg VOR. A familiar voice came back “sounds like you’re kicking ass and taking names.” It was CFI #5 out with another student.

Over the ridge, out of the [somewhat] familiar, and then boom, there it was – the Willamette Valley stretching onward as far as the eye could see. My first checkpoint was a particular crook in the Willamette River.

This particular crook in the Willamette River was my checkpoint.

I found all of my checkpoints along the way, and even some other stuff I saw on the map I decided to look for just for fun. There were airports everywhere – Newberg, McMinnville, Salem, Independence. Cross country solo #2 was going swimmingly well.

Bird’s eye view of Independence’s airport.

In no time at all I was crossing East of the large hills just North of Corvallis. Just over those hills was Beaver Stadium (Oregon State U’s unmistakable stadium with a beaver painted on the field) and just past that would be the airport.

Corvallis, Oregon State University and Beaver Stadium.

I didn’t spot the stadium at first, but fortunately I had once interviewed for a job at OSU and was familiar with the town and campus. I found the university, and I knew from my airport diagram that the airport was 4 miles SW of the town, so that’s where I headed. It took a minute, but eventually I spotted the airport.

The weather reported variable winds at 9 knots, mostly from the North. I set up for runway 35, called my turns and then about 30 feet off of the runway decided I didn’t like any of what was happening. The glide path would have worked but I couldn’t get the nose to line up with the runway and I was all over the place with my ailerons. Nope, it’s a go-around.

I hadn’t done a go-around in a while. I remembered the carb heat and the throttle go in, I forgot not to pick up all three notches of flaps at once and not before my airspeed picked up, so instead of climbing out I coasted just a bit lower and lower to the runway I didn’t want to land on. I caught what I had done the minute I did it and then had that panic moment when I heard Lee, my very first CFI’s voice “nothing happens fast in an airplane.” Right. Just hold it steady, it will climb.

Sure enough it did. I decided the winds were just a bit too much for me to try again and headed back out over the little town.

Ok, in two minutes I should see the airport in Independence, right when the Willamette River meanders over almost to the town. Two minutes came and went. I could still see Corvallis. I wasn’t even past the hills. Twelve minutes passed and I believed I was over Independence, only this town didn’t have an airport. The river turned across the valley just as it was supposed to, but no airport to be found.

I trekked on, I would see Salem to my right, it’s hard to miss, it’s a large city.

Much later than expected, I saw a large city to my right. Salem is Delta airspace and I was able to tune into their tower frequency. Only this time I couldn’t spot the airport in Salem either.

I studied the sectional, suddenly there were lots of features I didn’t recall seeing before. The sectional had multiple places where the river split, before I only knew of one on my route. I looked out the window and saw a large bridge crossing over the Willamette, but no such bridge on my sectional.

I had been flying for about 20 minutes, up ahead of me must be McMinnville, maybe Newberg? That large road below me must be I-5…but where are my checkpoints?

Baby bird. Lost. Again. Wishing I had Fred Noonan on board.


Then it happened all over again. Out of nowhere came the nausea, the lightheadedness, and the shaking. Only this time I was certain I was physically fine. This time I understood it better. This was panic.

At that moment I heard Monica, one of my Texas 99s in my head who admitted to experiencing the exact same thing on a few of her solo flights, “just remember, you’ve got a map and you’ve got a radio.”

Right. I looked at the map, got the frequency for the local FSS and tuned it in. A friendly man answered and asked how he could help. I explained I was a student pilot on a solo flight and I needed some help navigating.

You guys, he was amazing. He spoke to me calmly and checked in often. I’m certain he was a pilot because a number of the things he said to me gave me the distinct impression he knew exactly what I was going through.

He had me squawk 7700 (gulp!) because getting lost is an emergency. He contacted Portland Approach and said they showed me about a mile SW of Independence.

What?! How?! I was never supposed to be West of Independence! How has twenty-five minutes of flight not gotten me past a checkpoint I was supposed to pass five minutes into the flight?!

Then he gave me an option, “if you want I’ll stay with you and we’ll talk it out until you know where you are again or I could pass you to Portland Approach and they will guide you back on track.”

I opted for Portland Approach figuring he was just being nice to offer to stay with me. Portland Approach had a controller that was just as friendly and understanding. I admitted I was lost and he gave me a new transponder code to squawk and asked me to ident. Then he gave me a heading, asked a few things about my aircraft and affirmed that I was doing just fine.

Inside I was conflicted. On the one hand I was relieved to be in the hands of capable people that would hold my hand until I knew where I was again – the panic was gone. On the other hand I felt like a complete failure. Twice now I had ventured out on my own and twice I had gotten lost and bothered otherwise very busy controllers in Charlie airspace with my inability to navigate.

Then I heard it. Another of the pilots on the same frequency was repeating back an instruction the controller had given him and ended it with “…maintain 5,000, great job on the student pilot.”

That was for me. He just told me I was doing great.

I’m not alone up here. I’ve just added one more to my small army of supporters and I don’t even know his name.

The controller took me right back into the West Practice Area, flew me straight over KHIO (my home airport) and then, when I confirmed I had KSPB in sight, cleared me to change the frequency.

Can you spot KSPB? I can!

 

I took this picture for my folks, I knew they’d love the aerial view of the boats.

I came into Scappoose for a touch and go on 33, announcing each of my turns to the local traffic. Again, I didn’t like the landing and aborted it but this time I made quite literal the touching and going. I tip-toed the main wheels down, never touched the nose gear to the runway and jumped back up into the sky. On my way up a radio call came from the FBO “is there any traffic in the area, please report?”

[click] “Cessna 521 is on the upwind for 33.”

“Oh good! A man called over here from McMinnville FSS asking about you, how you doing up there?”

Pilots. They really are the coolest people.

On my way back over the ridge between KSPB and KHIO I called him up, assured him I was doing great and thanked him for being wonderful.

Can you spot KHIO? Me neither, but I know it should be on the left-hand side of this picture.

I used Rob’s trick of holding up my right hand when the tower cleared me to make right traffic for 31 Left (why can’t we just call it “the big runway” to reduce confusion?).

The last landing was just as botched as the first two. Some days you’ve got it, some days you don’t. I put it down hard. Hard enough to bounce a few times. Remembering as I did Rob’s comment that it is supposed to be messy now while I’m still new at this. Pretty landings will come later, right now just put it on the ground safely.

Snapped this picture of KHIO as I was flying over on my pass from Corvallis to Scappoose.

I taxied back in and the minute I started to beat myself up about getting lost flying a straight shot from South to North up a valley with a major freeway beneath me the whole time, I heard Ron’s voice (even though I’ve never actually heard it) when he told me to stop being so hard on myself. It’s way too soon in the game to expect 100% proficiency in navigating unfamiliar territory. I took a lot of people on that flight with me and all of them probably have similar stories worthy of a kick in the pants or two.

Finally, to all of you, those I named in this article, and the many many many many others that have been voices of support and encouragement along the way, thank you for seeing to it that I never fly alone.

No, not yet, but thanks for asking

Hello fellow aviators, well-wishers and vagrant blog browsers! I know what you’re thinking, “surely she has soloed by now, weeks have gone by.”

Perhaps my title was a dead giveaway but um, no, not yet, but thanks for asking.

After I learned I passed the progress check (and made a special request to NEVER work with the junior chipmunk again…perhaps more of a demand actually) I was instructed to be sure to wear a crappy shirt to my next lesson…[eek!!!].

The night before the big day I had my first 99s chapter meeting. You guys will never believe who the guest speaker was. Just when I was sure he would be permanently removed from all my future endeavors in aviation in waltzes the junior chipmunk. His introduction did in fact confirm he is not yet old enough to drink alcohol and somehow in roughly three years of flying he has secured his place in the upper echelon of the flight school. Suspecting a paternal connection with the flight chief, I politely endured his presentation while all of the women around me gawked and drooled over the handsome young man that was kind enough to charitably give of his time to teach a bunch of girls how to use the ForeFlight app. I’m beginning to suspect this chipmunk and I are going to have a long and winding road of engagements, specifically because I am making it my mission to avoid him. Isn’t that how life tends to go?

But I digress, this post is about my next few lessons. My next lesson was supposed to be the first solo but that morning something was off. I can’t put my finger on it, but the moment I woke up everything felt wrong. I still went through the motions. I wore the crappy shirt. I did a little chair flying to prepare. I arrived early to the airport so that when my flight time started my manifest was filled out and my pre-flight was knocked out.

Off we went to fly the pattern three times before the big event. Everything was executed exactly right. I rotated at 60 knots, I climbed at 70 knots, I turned crosswind to face Mt. St. Helens at 700 feet. I climbed to pattern altitude and turned downwind towards Mt. Hood. Just past the numbers I pulled my power back, pitched for 80 knots, pulled the carb heat, and pulled my first notch of flaps. I turned base at 900 feet, pulled my second notch of flaps and dropped it down to 500 feet to turn final. Turning final I pulled my last notch of flaps, aimed right at the runway and brought it down….safely but not so pretty. “Shake it off, Val, you haven’t flown in a week and a half.” Carb heat in, flaps up, full throttle, off we went again.

The second time around we caught some turbulence on the downwind leg that unsettled me. The clouds that morning looked ominous and bulges were forming across the ceiling. It looked as if the bottom would drop at any moment, but we kept flying in hopes it would hold out. The second landing was better, one might even say pretty.

The third time around the turbulence caught us on the downwind and the base leg. Then about twenty feet above the runway the plane was swept dramatically off to the right. I decided to execute a go around. It wasn’t a clean go around. It was a messy, ‘oh crap I forgot to put the throttle in all the way or pull my flaps up because I suddenly couldn’t hear myself on the radio’ go around. I announced my go around to the tower about four times before  my instructor clarified they had heard me and helped me recover. Then the tower sent us to the right pattern (we had been in the left) ending at a different runway. Now I was flustered and by the time I was turning to the downwind I had lost sight of the airport entirely. That’s when the turbulence began again. Frankly I was scared. I was doing the flying but if I were to be totally honest, I didn’t want my CFI to get out even if all he was doing was sitting and watching. The weather was changing by the minute and I was completely out of sorts.

I had one more pretty landing that day, then a not so pretty landing, and my final landing came with a warning from my CFI that if I put the plane down that crooked again I was in danger of flipping it. Needless to say, we taxied back to the parking area, tied the plane up and ended the lesson without me soloing. I was devastated, but I understood why. I have put a lot of time and effort into understanding what achieves the perfect landing since then.

Our next two lessons were ground school on account of the weather. I have begun cross-country plotting which has resulted in my E6-B flying across the room once about every ten minutes (if one more person preaches to me how easy it is to use and understand…). It is fair to say I am pretty frustrated with my aviation training right now. But I’m holding on because a legion of pilots assure me that it gets better and that someday this will all be worth it. So, I have three more lessons this week and hopefully one of them will see me soloing.

The Next Hiccup

Well, folks, I can’t seem to win at this flying thing.

I enrolled at an aviation school, got a flight instructor and began again. Now I’m a few more lessons in, a few hundred more dollars spent, and have somehow managed to go backwards.

As my mentor helped me to understand, my instructor is afraid to let go of the plane and its costing me time and money. I am at about 10 flight hours now and I have an instructor that won’t let me taxi, takeoff, land or get on the radio for even a second. It’s pretty frustrating considering with other pilots and other instructors I have done all of these things before.

Our lessons are simple, she takes me up, I put on foggles and do very basic maneuvers or simply go up and down, left and right without foggles, and then she lands the plane, taxis it back to a parking spot and the lesson is over. I thought I was getting somewhere because I have begun filling out the flight manifest and doing the preflight by myself. It has been brought to my attention I am mistaken. At this rate I’ll never solo.

Our next ground lesson is on the four forces of flight. Oh goody. The one after that is on aircraft systems. I am bored out of my mind and have already done all of these lessons before on my own time.

When I enrolled I was told my five logged flight hours and other not-so-logged flight hours would be taken into consideration. In reality, I’m barely flying the plane during any of my lessons and I’m paying dearly at a fancy flight school to review ground lessons I already know.

How do I feel about flying these days? Frustrated. Bored. Depressed. Angry. Ready to give up and quit.

It doesn’t help that it’s so ridiculously expensive. I feel like I am throwing hundred dollar bills in the trash. And I feel incredibly guilty because this is money that could be going to other ambitions my husband and I have. We work so hard lately and barely see each other. We’re trying to save up for a house and to send my husband back to school. Every time I shell out hundreds of dollars for one lesson and don’t actually learn anything new I feel like I’m failing my family. I feel like I am letting a bad instructor take advantage of us. I ask lots of questions and I study everything she tells me to but I still feel like I’m spinning my wheels and the guilt of how much I’m spending to get nowhere is crushing. It keeps me up at night. Exibit A: It’s after midnight now and instead of sleeping, I’m writing this post.

My flight instructor hasn’t been on time to one of our lessons. She chats with other pilots passing by in the hall during time I’m being charged for ground school. I’m hearing a lot of “we’ll get to that later” when I ask questions. Frankly, I’d like to fire her.

But on the other side of that coin is the realization that the aviation world is small, the female aviation world is smaller and I’m really not sure I want to piss off one of the few allies I have in a town I just moved to.

My mentor and I talked it over and came to a decision. I’m going to talk to my CFI and explain that I am disappointed with my progress so far and starting with our next lesson I will be in control of the plane the whole flight unless there is a life threatening situation where she needs to take it from me. If she agrees, I’ll give her another shot. If not, I’m switching instructors. Again.

More than anything I am brokenhearted. I wanted so badly for this plan to work out better. So far it doesn’t seem to be working out at all….except for my instructor, who is banking.

Beginning Again

Today is the day, folks. The skies are blue, the winds are calm, I’ve bought all of the materials a student pilot should have. It’s time to put on my big girl panties and get back up there.


In about an hour I’m off to what I’m told is one of the best 141 aviation programs in the Northwest. I will meet my CFI (a fellow 99!) for my first official lesson. I will be instructed in pre-flight operations and airport procedures. I might even go up today.

With fall weather this great the airport is bound to be buzzing with activity. Here’s to new adventures, and new friends. Wish me luck!

Getting back up there

Our lives in Oregon have been unfolding in the most marvelous way. We have started to feel bad for sharing the fun we are having with friends and family back home. After a while it sounds insincere: “Sorry it’s still 107 back there and you’re under an ozone alert again. What did we do today? Oh, well we hiked through Forrest Park with our dogs; picked fresh raspberries from a farm; played on the beach all day; had coffee at a cafe full of adoptable cats; went to the open air market across the street; rode the MAX downtown to see the Flugtag; visited an international rose garden; ate our body weight in fresh smoked salmon and dungeness crab; discovered our favorite food truck pod; tried chocolate/apricot/blackberry beer…”

But there is a downside to living in a new place full of things to do: it makes it that much harder to focus on the things you are putting off. And I was putting off my flight training.

I have not been up in an airplane since March. After we got settled in here, “call the local 99s” sat on my to-do list for twenty-seventh days untouched. For two months I couldn’t even find where I packed my headset or log book.

Each day a new layer of guilt was suppressed under another adventure that distracted me from continuing my flight training. After all, serious students don’t neglect their training, lose their headsets and stall contacting the people that could help them get started in a new area until the rainy season begins.

Each day I didn’t do it, it got harder and harder to call.

And then it came to me: I was afraid.

My first round with a flight club and a couple of dueling instructors had left me overwhelmed and frustrated. I knew all kinds of things about aviation, but nothing connected to any other part of the body of knowledge I had. I had been left to pick up little morsels of information here and there from some retired airport bums that happened to be CFIs. I was learning everything I could from flight magazines and online videos but I’d still never had a structured flight lesson. I’d never even seen a syllabus or had any idea what was expected of me. I had taken off and landed a plane a few times but no one had ever actually shown me how. I had never sat down with anyone and talked about what our goals for the lesson would be. I was never sent home with reading for our next lesson. And not so surprisingly, it hadn’t gone so well. I felt like I was just shelling out money but not really getting anywhere. I was constantly frustrated because I didn’t know if I was doing anything right. I just knew I was doing it and I guess that was good enough.

And for the past six months, that fear and frustration has kept me out of airplanes.

To be honest, if it weren’t for winning a flying scholarship I might have dropped the whole thing by now. There’s a certain impetus that comes from a number of people  putting their faith and money on my chances of getting licensed and I feel I can’t let them down.

And so, about a week ago, I made one of the more awkward calls of my life and contacted a 99 with the Columbia Cascades Chapter who directed me to a local airport 10 minutes from my apartment with a training program where some fellow 99s were studying and teaching. Yesterday I took a tour of the facility and today I submitted my application. It’s time.

Airplane maintenance

table with tools and airplane in the background Once again I have another post about the wonderful things I am learning with the Ninety-Nines. This month’s get together was a potluck at the hangar of one of the members to learn about basic airplane maintenance.

Rosie the Riveter…well, a friendly woman that bore a striking resemblance to Rosie from the grease under her fingernails to the bandana tying her hair up, did a brief presentation for us. We were given a list of tools to keep on hand, and then – let’s face it, we’re girls – we were carefully shown each tool and how it worked. A packet with pictures of women performing various maintenance was passed around for the visual learners. Then, those that wanted were invited to come up and play.

A group of us approached the table full of tools the way one approaches an unfamiliar horse. Once it was established any question was safe (the first woman led with “so uh…which one of these things is an oil filter?”) I had lots of questions about how to secure a safety wire and how many spark plugs a plane has and what that little pipe coming out of the front of the plane by the nose wheel was about.

I learned that pilots (with supervision at first) can change their oil, spark plugs, starters, alternators and tires. I also learned that many of my colleagues started flying before we taught anything about how the mechanisms inside a plane work. As a student pilot, I have unavoidably stumbled into all kinds of information about how instruments work via pressure compression, diaphragms, and Bourdon tubes. After some conversation, I was surprised to find this was not the curriculum even twenty years ago. It was also comforting to see that there are many commonalities between cars and airplanes. If you’ve changed the oil and brake pads in your car, you can likely change the oil and brake pads in your plane with little trouble.

I think it bears mentioning I was advised not to trifle with the magnetos, prop, valves, anything serialized or attempt to jack the plane without assistance.

Clever tips I learned:

  • Put nitrogen in your tires, it doesn’t expand.
  • Kitty litter is great for oil spills.
  • Aero kroil is great for corroded parts or breaking bolts that won’t budge.

Afterwards my partner and I were invited to tour the hangar apartment. It was beautiful and now we’re really leaning towards a hangar apartment when we get to Oregon…even though owning an airplane is still a few years away.

me with an RV experimental aircraft

Yours truly, starting to think my first plane purchase will be an RV

Ain’t I a Woman?

Brace yourselves. I’ve decided to enter the conversation about feminism. Fear not, this is not an angry post and I have no blame to put upon anyone for my life choices except myself. I only aim to offer a peek into a woman’s life for those out there that are not sure what to think among all of the rage and rhetoric #Howtospotafeminist has awoken.

At first I was going to write something for Mother’s Day. I have a different take on it because it is actually the most difficult holiday of the year for me. Mother’s Day is for thanking loving, dotting, cheer-leading mothers for all of the affection and guidance they gave us.

The problem is I don’t have that kind of mother.

Every year I spend about an hour in the card aisle sorting through cards that read something like “Dearest Mother, you were always there for me, through thick and thin, I owe everything I am to you…” and eventually getting the one that just says “Happy Mother’s Day” on the inside.

It is hard for me because my mother was not the culturally expected mother. She did not cook. She did not clean. She was not waiting five minutes before choir practice let out to pick me up like all of the other mothers. I never remember her hauling a camcorder or a home-made poster to a school play. She was never in the front row. She did not teach me how to do my hair. She did not teach me how to shave. She did not teach me how to wear make-up. She did not teach me about my menstrual cycle. I have never talked to her about a boyfriend. She declined my offers to go wedding dress shopping with me. Almost every experience the greeting card industry capitalizes on for Mother’s Day is an experience my mother and I never had. So every Mother’s Day I struggle with this message from society that I had a bad mother with the actual experience that I had, which was that she was not a bad mother, just a different kind of mother.

I learned plenty from mom. I learned how to dress like a business woman. I learned to love female literary characters that prized adventure above all. I learned women can work and have a family. I learned women can have coherent arguments and debate with men respectfully. I learned if you don’t like a job after two weeks, quit while you’re ahead. I learned to love traveling. I learned to love nature and how to make bird feeders. My mother was not a bad mother just because she wasn’t societies idea of what a mother should be. Overbearing with affection or not she gave birth to me, claimed me, brought me home and taught me the values she had.

It might come as a surprise though to learn she is not a feminist. When my sister and I begin with any sort of feminist rhetoric, my mother insists she did not teach us that hogwash. My mother is a product of her generation. A generation that knew their goals in life were to find the perfect prom date, go to college, join a sorority, graduate, get married to a good provider, have babies, and (as the 1970s and ’80s suggested) work if they wanted. I asked my mother once why she had children. Her answer: “It’s just what you do. What kind of question is that?!”

I am part of a new generation. A generation who always had women in the workforce. I remember female astronauts and governors when I was a kid. This week I had an appointment with a female gynecologist – a choice my mother did not always have. While my mother’s only question was how many children to have, I am allowed to question if I want to have children or not. It is indisputable women have made large gains from my mother’s generation to mine. But the work is not yet finished.

Below I have outlines 3 scenarios – all true stories – seen through my eyes as a woman in this new generation. These are areas that yet need improvement.

Scenario A:

When I was nineteen, I was a sophomore in college. One sunny, Tuesday morning I went to my journalism class like it was a normal day.

Only it wasn’t.

With a front row seat in the center of my university’s media center I watched the second plane live as it crashed into the World Trade Center. News savvy professors, student broadcasters and reporters swarmed around me as the live feeds came on tvs and radios and printed from newswires. I listened as the man being interviewed at the Pentagon heard a loud boom down the hall and wanted to step outside for a minute to see what was going on. Seconds later footage of billows of smoke rising up from the building were on every tv screen.

Like many young people I was sickened, confused, enraged, shocked and a slew of other emotions. It wasn’t long before many college students wanted to help in any way that they could and decided to join the military.

I was no different.

I remember what I was told: “Don’t join. Your heart is in the right place, but its not a safe place for a young woman.” Statistics of military sexual assault against female recruits are still staggering today. Another adviser told me: “It won’t be the experience you think it will. You’re a girl. They’re going to put you behind a desk somewhere. People aren’t ready for their daughters to be slain in battle.”

I didn’t join the military. It was my own choice. But it was a choice I came to after multiple advisers convinced me I wouldn’t be safe with my own fellow recruits. The few women I know that have served in our military have vivid stories of their sexual assaults. It’s almost a given for girls that join the forces.

A few years ago the Veteran’s Center at my university asked for employees to assemble care packages for the troops. I put together a box that included feminine products (I figure military grade sanitary napkins are no one’s friend). The Veteran’s Center was hesitant to accept my donation. “The girls aren’t usually sent to the remote areas and they get care packages with this stuff from their families” I was told.

Area # 1 for improvement: Make the US Military a safe place for any American soldier that wants to serve their country. As a woman I was willing to lay down my life for my country. I was willing to go to dangerous, far-away places to fight. I was willing to be a prisoner of war. I was willing to come home in a box. I was not willing to be attacked by my own unit because of my sex. I was not willing to face the constant psychological trauma that I would never be safe from boot camp to discharge from my fellow soldiers. I was not willing to be trained with a rifle and wield nothing more than a phone chord on active duty just because I was a girl.

I did go to New York a few years later on a mission trip. I was able to do something about all of the feelings I felt that day. But it haunts me still that there are women out there that want to serve and feel that they cannot without accepting they will at some point during their duty face rape from other American soldiers. We can do better. We must do better.

Scenario B:

Eight years ago I graduated with my second degree. Immediately I went into the work force interviewing at many of the same companies as a number of my colleagues.

People talk.

Imagine my surprise when one of my colleagues five years my junior with less education and work experience interviewed for the exact same job and was offered higher pay than me.

I asked if he negotiated the higher rate? He said he did not, he took their first offer. I remember trying to negotiate a higher rate and was told the pay rates were fixed.

So men at this company regardless of experience or education were “fixed” at a higher pay rate than women.

I managed to marry someone in my field and he and I have compared notes. Again I hold higher degrees and certifications and in our work history (at many of the same companies) he has always made more than me.

Area # 2 for improvement: Equal pay for equal work. Appropriate pay for varying levels of education and work experience regardless of gender. When comparing notes with my husband we also learned he has never been asked to fill in at the front desk answering phones or bake for the office. I have. At every job I’ve ever had. Other joys reserved only for the fairer sex are having to explain my romantic status to employers during interviews and fielding the “where do you see yourself in five years” question away from their goal of figuring out if I will get pregnant and leave.

Scenario C:

Something went terribly wrong with feminism. Somehow “feminist” became a dirty word. Somehow women turned against feminism. Is it just me or is that like African-Americans turning against the NAACP?

Recently I joined an international women’s aviation organization called the Ninety-Nines (or 99s, they’re not picky). Shortly thereafter I was “warned” about some of the “crazy feminists” I ought not rub elbows with…wait for it….by other women….IN AVIATION!

I have also been warned about some “crazy feminists” at the university where I work (“that are definitely lesbians,” they whisper).

Somehow by marrying a man, sporting sun dresses and choosing to only sporadically use my sailor vocabulary words I have unintentionally pulled off the guise of being an anti-feminist. Women approach me all the time about those “crazy feminists” (“crazy” always seems to accompany the word “feminist”) that I should stay away from. They show up in every social setting and apparently making eye contact with them turns you fat and gay.

Area # 3 for improvement: Teach women that feminists are not the enemy and they come in all shapes, sizes and sexual orientations. It is not a network of male-bashing crazy women. It is a cohort that includes both men and women (yes, men can be and some are feminists too) that strives for the mutual respect and opportunity of the sexes. Some are more militant than others, but that can be found in any group. God bless the crazy ones. They bring the attention that starts the conversation. Feminism is what earned women the right to vote, and own property, and keep our own last names after marriage, and be doctors and pilots and mechanics. It is a beautiful thing and it needs all the support it can get. For just as women are allowed to come out of their boxes, men will be allowed to too. We need feminism for the health of our society. For the men that feel ashamed of their tears and the women that are shamed for not wanting children. For the men that have no outlet to express their depression and the women that have no outlet to express their rage. For every emotion and reaction that is labeled masculine or feminine and not allowed by the other sex.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of where improvements can be made. But reflecting on my life tonight as a woman in a country that says it grants liberty and justice for all; that tells the tired, huddled masses yearning to breathe free that this is a land of opportunity for everyone, I think it’s a great place to start.

Challenge Accepted!

Hi fellow aviators! It has been one month, one week and three days since I have gone up in an airplane. My first fly-out with the 99s was rescheduled because of bad weather, and I have otherwise been without a plane to train on since quitting the airplane club.

To tell the truth, I’ve lost a lot of momentum in the last month. With so many uncertainties in my life with our cross-country move this summer I’ve had a hard time justifying the cost and time away from finishing our house renovations, job hunting and packing to go fly. Even the flight magazines I used to devour the day I got them in the mail have started collecting dust on the shelf.

I talked it over with my mentor through the 99s and she advised me to wait until we get to Oregon to pick up flying again. Its a big commitment (in more ways that one) and I am spread pretty thin right now with all of my other obligations.

I have no idea what life will bring with this move. With the uncertainty of it all I was starting to think it would be years before I stepped into an airplane again for a lesson. But this weekend I got an email from the national 99s trustees about the Amelia Earhart Memorial FLY NOW Scholarship and I am pleased to tell you that you are reading the blog of one of the scholarship’s award winners!!! It’s a $3,000 scholarship towards my private license that has to be completed by May 2016.

This is fantastic! Not only do I have new resources to keep me going, I have a deadline to motivate me towards my goal.

Check your six Oregon, you’ve got a woman on a mission on your tail.

Hey! Pilots from Oregon, any good schools you could recommend? I’m leaning towards a 141 program. Drop me a line in the comments if you have any suggestions. We plan to be based near the Portland area.

Clearance

I love female pilots. I love being around them. I love the brilliant jokes they make. I love the way they graciously thank someone for holding one door open and without changing demeanor kick down the next one. I love the ingenious tricks they have come up with to make the female piloting world a more functional place, like using football sit-upons to give you the height you may not have to reach the petals. I love the way they chose to joke about their abilities instead of brag about their ratings when introducing themselves. I love the helpful tips they freely share like “always bring a little jacket to any FAA building. It’s always cold where the FAA’s involved.”

But perhaps my favorite thing about female pilots is their ability to network and get clearance into just about anywhere. Last night my 99s chapter was cleared to tour an Air Route Traffic Control Center for a hub airport.

It should make all Americans feel at ease to know these places are very secure.

How strict were they?

When I pulled my car up to the gate to show my driver’s license I was instructed to put it in reverse and park in a nearby lot. I was fourteen minutes early. Even though my name was on a list they received weeks ago, I was not allowed in until exactly 18:00.

At 18:00 we were brought into the guard shack, passed through a metal detector, and given required badges made from our driver’s licenses. We were escorted by multiple guides through the gates and down to a nearby building. After a presentation, Q & As and instructions to turn our phones off and not take any pictures, we were taken to the location where ATC personnel were doing their thing.

It looked more like a hacker’s basement than an FAA office. It was dimly lit and there were giant computer screens all the way up the makeshift walls. Everyone had a custom built cubicle space. There wasn’t a window anywhere, even by the weather guy’s station.

We were escorted two by two into each room to listen in on a phone and watch the ATCs at work.

The guy I watched was in charge of one little section of the sky looking at departures from DFW that had cleared the tower. When they left his air space he passed them off to the fellow working at the next set of computer screens. I was amazed at the amount of power and responsibility this guy had even though I barely understood what he was doing. It also gave me my first glance at how commercial pilots converse with ATC. Pilots asked him for clearance to change their course. “Denied.” They asked if he had any shortcuts he could work for them. “Ya, hold on a minute.” They asked about the weather. If he told them to change altitudes, they did. No questions. No protests. Just Roger. My guy was very down-to-earth and friendly but I wonder how many ATC folks start to get god complexes after being the final word on so many people’s lives in the sky all day.

Movie Poster for Pushing Tin

Google Images

I can honestly say it’s nothing like Pushing Tin. John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton are a far cry from the beer-belied, hunched over gentleman with a “don’t tread on me, I’m eligible for retirement” lanyard I saw.  It’s actually quite boring. I sat there for twenty minutes and still couldn’t tell what the wizard in front of me punching all of the numbers and moving this little wheel was actually doing. At one point I joked to myself “does he know he doesn’t move the planes on the screen no matter how many buttons he punches?” Seriously, what’s the point of the buttons?!

After a while we were taken back out of the facility. I was glad to go. Interesting as it was to watch people space planes out, twenty minutes of numbers moving around a screen at a snail’s pace in a dark room was all I could take. I appreciate what they do, but I’ll stick to piloting.

Heeding to cautionary tales

Well folks, I did something bold today. I fired my CFI and quit the airplane club.

Now when I say “fired” and “quit” it actually means I crafted two very poetic and polite emails to express my gratitude and gently explain my position to the club manager and my CFI. The hard truth of it is I’m back to the beginning, needing a plane for training and a program for ground school.

For a while now I have felt frustrated and uninformed. Every time I asked a question I got very vague answers. When I asked for a checklist, or suggested list of readings I was given an “all in good time” response. When I tried to show my CFI a curriculum I wanted to work from, he ignored it.

The airplane club turned out to be a bust too. The schedule filled up fast and new members were joining the club every week. I could get a plane just before sunrise for 30 minutes, or after 5pm. Sometimes. The planes were ill-maintained metal death tubes. When people spoke to the club owner about fuel leaks and planes not starting after refueling he dismissed it as nothing. Every pre-flight there was another laundry list of items that “really weren’t safe, but we’ll let it ride.” Then came the kicker: the Cessna I was training on left the fleet suddenly one day. Just like that [insert snap here]! I had it reserved through spring break and out of the blue an email came from the club owner that the Cessna was leaving the fleet two weeks early and all future reservations for it would be cancelled. I was left with a much larger Piper Pathfinder 235. After jumping through about a dozen hoops I was cleared to fly it. It didn’t help that it was $20 more an hour to rent, it cost $30 more than the Cessna did to fill up, and my CFI showed up an hour late for our lesson that day. When we went up the lesson was more basic than a discovery flight. “Turn left” “good” “turn right” “good” The end. My CFI said he wanted to give me a chance to get used to a much larger plane before we did new stuff.

I left the airport that day almost in tears. I had worked so hard and studied as best I could to be forced into a more expensive plane I honestly had no business flying to learn absolutely nothing new. I was going backwards, and it was costing me more.

Then I got some sound advice from a number of brilliant 99s. One of them told me how she did what I am doing (studying independently and hiring an independent CFI at a local airport). She had been through three CFIs, had bought a plane, finished her training and still didn’t feel ready to take her check-ride. “I’m just not sure I learned the things I should have” she told me. Another 99 told me her story. She was at a 141 school and had a lousy flight instructor, but didn’t know it until he went on vacation and she had another CFI sub in for him. She asked me what I had learned so far and all I could list was “I turn left and right…my CFI showed me one stall…He walks me through landings and takeoffs…sometimes I do the takeoffs, but I’m really not sure if I’m doing it right…I know some of the instruments.” That’s it. I didn’t realize it, but after more than 5 logged hours, that’s pretty pathetic. Especially considering some people who really put their minds to it solo after 7 hours. Then I was given advice about all of the things I could do on the ground to prep for my time in the air. I felt so gullible. I had been asking about this stuff and never really gotten an answer and moved on blindly into the next lesson time and time again.

You don’t know what you’re doing wrong if no one has ever told you how to do it right. All I knew to do was read everything I could get my hands on and keep going up with my instructor. After all, that’s what he told me to do. I’m glad I expanded my horizons to get access to the advice of other pilots on what their journey was like and how I can avoid the pitfalls they fell into. I don’t want to end up like the one that preceded my path, owns her own airplane, and still doesn’t feel ready for her check ride. I also don’t want to stay with an instructor that has no structure or timetable for my training and can’t give a clear answer to any of my questions.
I deserve better. The money I have worked very hard for and sacrificed to save deserves better. The time I am spending away from my family needs to be worth more than another lesson of “turn right…good…now turn left.” So today I did something bold. I quit what I was doing because it wasn’t working and I am starting again.Starting tomorrow morning I am researching 141 programs (and applying for scholarships because dear lord they’re expensive).

Future pilot out. [microphone drops]