Monday, March 30, 2009


Every human being has a simple, undeniable desire to make their mark on the world, and to be remembered for something they did, known for their accomplishments. I can't claim to be any different, as I truly hope this blog effort is successful in inspiring others both to fly and to reach out and help others take flight. Yet, it is this individual spirit that is hurting aviation outreach so much--we're all so caught up making sure someone remembers us that we don't remember the true goal.

Recognizing this, and knowing that no one ever volunteers, I decided to try my own little outreach in partnership with my Women in Aviation chapter's annual outreach. Each year the MSU Northern Lights Chapter puts on a pilot panel where a variety of people of differing ages and experience levels are invited to attend presentations by several aviation professionals, and then ask questions following the presentations. Having rambled on here about the lack of exposure for local aviation organizations, I decided it was time for me to put my money where my mouth was (figuratively only, though--I'm in college, I don't have any money!) and work on getting a local EAA chapter to come to the pilot panel.

It's a lot harder than I expected. Even the chapter president acknowledged "it'd be nothing but good for us" but seemed less than enthusiastic about the opportunity to not only promote his chapter but sport aviation in general.

I'm not bad-mouthing this chapter in the least, just observing a surprising attitude. In fairness, I have not made it to a single one of their meeting due to schedule conflicts (skiplane fly-ins, spring break), so I understand that they may not be entirely thrilled about doing something for an organization they have never really got a chance to get to know. This particular EAA chapter is very good at offering some excellent scholarships each year, so I assumed they were active as an outreach organization. It may simply be they've never been approached for such an event.

With that in mind, I think this sort of partnership needs to be happening on a much greater scale. Each organization can have very different goals--Women in Aviation to encourage the involvement of women in aviation (and more so, professional aviation), EAA to support the development and preservation of sport aviation--but should partner on the vital issue of youth involvement. After all, our Women in Aviation chapter does not offer scholarships (we're a no-dues university chapter), but the EAA chapter does. Our Women in Aviation chapter does not have the insurance to sponsor flying events or Young Eagles, but the EAA chapter does. Our Women in Aviation chapter, being a university chapter, is young, with member ages ranging from 19 to 22 . . . the EAA chapter's average age is higher than that.

These differences are not hindrances to partnership, necessarily. They can make a unified effort more challenging, but also much better. A young person at this week's pilot panel can see both other young people involved in aviation and also experienced mentors who can help them along whichever path of involvement they may be interested in. Maybe a youth will talk to one of our student members and want to go flying for the first time in a small airplane--something the EAA chapter can help out with.

In the end, we all have the same goal--to ensure that there is a future for general aviation and the people interested in it. However, no organization is perfectly suited to the challenge of recruiting new enthusiasts. With a little bit of cooperation, we can present many of the myriad facets of this industry.

In short, while it may be a daunting task with which no one's familiar, it only takes one person to make the first call. Find another organization near you--it could be another chapter of the same organization or an entirely different organization--and work with each other on an event. It could be a Young Eagles rally, for instance--if the other chapter is inexperienced in Young Eagles rallies, offer to show them how you run yours, and involve the other chapter members in ground support. Talk with each other at the end of the event to learn what you both thought of the effort, including areas to improve. Or, partner with an organization like a Women in Aviation chapter that does not do flying events and let them run ground operations and bring activities for the kids.

There's nothing but good things to be gained from partnership efforts if they are approached respectfully. Each organization can maintain its individual identity, but it's time for more clubs and organizations to work with others in a cooperative, hand-in-hand effort.


Friday, March 27, 2009


I saw this featured recently in a Sport Aviation article, and thought it was an excellent idea for local organizations to use with younger children. It looks like fun! If I lost about 8 lbs I could even use it . . . .

It's called the Aqua Jet-X, and plans are available on Aircraft Spruce. It would really be a fabulous thing to use in concert with school presentations and Young Eagles days, with younger kids in mind. The plans and the materials are an investment--if you can make one kid look skyward with a twinkle in his eye, it's all been worth it.


P.S. If anyone near me makes one . . . first off, I'll help, but with the caveat that I get to play in it once!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


Sometimes, just when we think we know what's going on, we get a wake up call. Occasionally it's a gentle nudge, sometimes it's a figurative swift kick in the derriere.

Other days it's a simple awakening we never expected. Wednesday was one of those days.

I headed outside in shorts and a t-shirt for a brief jog before attending to other concerns. It was still a little cool out, 40 degrees, but I decided I'd be ok.

Stepping outside, a brisk wind reminded me that this was still Minnesota, and it was still technically winter. It also heralded life and the promise of a new day. With one step I began my short journey. Despite the wind, I felt my skin warming, a product of the bright shining sun and my own body's efforts. With each subsequent step I felt more and more alive, more and more in control of my own destiny and joy in life. As I ran, I let go of the stress and self-hatred of my daily life . . . I once again loved my life and my body for what they are and what they could be. I was moving and going somewhere entirely on my own, of my own doing, with no one else's intervention.

I do this for myself. It is my time to reconnect with myself. It's not quite cruising in the Cub at water-tower-reading height, but it is free.

This self-time is my pondering time, when things clarify themselves and I often redefine things in my life.

I gazed up at the perfect blue sky. I belong to the sky, I said to myself.

I thought myself quite eloquent for a few moments. Then, it dawned upon me the bare truth of that statement. My soul is not owned by this dreary earth--it was born to soar.

One foot forward. I considered my involvement in aviation, reviewing it frame-by-frame. Next foot forward. I remembered all of my wonderful aviation friends and secondary family. Other foot forward. I wondered where I would be without my involvement in aviation.


Where would I be? I didn't want to think about it.

I once read a book in which the main character, a pilot, stated he never wanted aviation to define who he was. I'm definitely on the other side of the fence. Yes, I do other things that help make me who I am, but I also know that I wouldn't be who I am and who I want to be without flying.

Ok. Call me a hopeless romantic. It's true.

It was an eye-opening "aha!" moment . . . I have so much to be grateful for, both in terms of successes I'm proud of and failures that I learned from. Aviation has taught me perseverance . . . goal-setting . . . passion . . . and true, devastating heartbreak. But no matter what, I would not be where I am, or who I am, without some crazy airport individuals and that adorable little Cub.

It was one of those moments where I realized how inexplicably lucky I am, and how much I owe the aviation community.

But I know I can never pay back the aviation community. Their goodwill, encouragement, and bummed rides are donations to the future of aviation . . . given in kind with the understanding that I will do all I can to pay it forward. (I guess they really did a good job guilting me, huh?)

It's why I believe so much in promoting grassroots aviation, and why I believe so strongly in a grassroots movement. While I read magazines about learning to fly, nothing could replace the first time I was introduced as the "ramp rat" (thanks Norm). I was in! I was validated! Nothing could replace the first time an airport member offered to take me flying . . . and let me fly his airplane. No article could ever top that.

So many kids go through life without those moments. Again, call me a hopeless romantic, but I think I have a higher calling, and not just literally. It may turn out that aviation is never a job for me--I don't know what the future holds, but I know I'm excited about it. I'm excited because I have in mind so many things I want to do--things that are farther-reaching and bigger than I could ever be, things that will hopefully bring new, passionate souls to recognize their calling to the sky.

But I can't do it alone. Will you help me reach out to others? Will you give me new ideas?

I know I'm cheesy, ok? But I am from Wisconsin, so it must be genetic. Cheesiness aside, I really do believe all of this corny stuff I write. I really do. Talk to me some time in person and you'll see.

And please help me to get others involved--I'd really appreciate any and all feedback.

P.S. I have added some photos to my Flickr gallery, found at


Bright Future

Monday, March 16, 2009

The "Other" Pilot

Chatting about the emergence of the Light Sport Aircraft/Sport Pilot rule the other day got me to pondering (which is always dangerous). We were talking about what should be done--should flight schools invest in LSAs to spark interest, or should they wait until eager would-be students show some interest?

There are, of course, pros and cons to both ways, and a delicate balance of the two is probably most ideal but least likely. Such balancing acts are difficult to manage.

It occurs to me that most of the problems are rooted in the marketing of sport pilot. It is the "other" pilot license, less-than and, subsequently, not enough. The private pilot's license is still seen as the "base model," if you will, of flying licenses. After the private license is introduced, the sport pilot license may be introduced briefly as the "other" option, with the insinuation that it requires less skill and is not as desirable.

I still believe that the LSA/SP rule has a good potential to help out aviation and flourish--after all, look at the new aircraft being produced for the LSA market. It's more innovation than we've seen in other GA aircraft sectors since decades ago, and I think it's wonderful to see the new designs emerging. However, I think we have yet to see flight schools' interest reach the same levels as that of LSA companies.

Again, I think everything relates to perception. There is the idea that LSAs are fragile creations only a small step up from a kite when many are light-years ahead of the tired flight school steeds. There is an awful lot of possibilities out there for LSA--but first, we need to recognize that a sport pilot is no less skilled than a private pilot. The basics of flying do not change, from a Cub to a Savage Cruiser to a Cherokee to a 777. In fact, the sport pilot should be commended for his realistic approach--how many private pilots could fulfill all of their flying desires with a sport pilot license?

To change this perception, education must continue. Aviation organizations need to embrace LSA/SP and work to promote it, educating both the public and flight training providers. An educated flying community is a powerful and successful community.

I hope to see LSA/SP grow a lot in the next few years--I truly think it is a great opportunity to get more people involved, young and old.


Friday, March 13, 2009

Fee'd to Death

Yesterday was a long day . . . after waking up around 7, I headed out to the airport to chase around the state of Wisconsin and make a new entry in my logbook. We were finally wheels-up at 11:40 after two hours of debating where explore. We elected to fly from Capitol to Platteville to Prairie du Chien to Baraboo to Sheboygan and back, stopping at each airport to meet the people that made it tick.

Platteville was up first. I anticipated it would be the least active but, as it turned out, I had to squeak myself in between a few others shooting touch-and-goes. A Cessna 170 waited outside the FBO for its pilot to return from town. The office and hangar were lit only by the sunlight streaming through the windows, the radio calls being made by students the only indication of life.

Within a few minutes, as I massaged the headset imprints out of my scalp, the owner, Jim Hughes, came in. What a friendly guy! He was definitely a good face for the airport, being very outgoing.

The "M" we came to see (it's not often in Wisconsin you see "Letter M" on the sectional)

The Hughes Aviation office and hangar (the "M" is in the picture on the sign)

Next up was Prairie du Chien, an airport on the very western edge of the state. Being right next door to the Mississippi, the airport is surrounded by bluffs which can lead to some funky winds. It was another pleasant experience, with some conversation shared around the airport table. I even found that the manager's grandson was looking at attending MSU.

En route! (I fly the Luscombe from the right, as Todd, its owner, is more comfortable in the left. Besides, flying from the right means the throttle is on the left . . . like it should be!)

It also turns out that someone in Prairie du Chien must have been jealous of the Platteville "M" . . . we found this as we flew north along the river before turning east.

Following Prairie du Chien was a stop at Baraboo-Wisconsin Dells. We had the misfortune to follow a Citation in and were subsequently forgotten in the shuffle, waiting nearly 30 minutes for our measly 5 gallons of gas.

I still think we had the coolest one!

Sheboygan was the next stop. My complaining stomach demanded appeasement, so we stopped at arguably one of the tastiest airport restaurants around. As the sun began to set, we waddled back to the airplane, stuffed to the brim, for the last leg home. The air had finally smoothed out, but oddly enough, there seemed to be more wind. I think I saw the GPS indicate 70 knots only once.

All told, the trip added 5.1 hours of PIC cross-country time to my logbook, along with a new pen and a free umbrella (which I proceeded to open indoors for show and tell, much to my mother's chagrin). It also brought about a new appreciation for the airport system we have here in the United States.

Having recently read an account of all the hoops one must jump through in Spain to go flying (including notifying them 24 hours in advance of your desire to fly--no impromptu hops allowed!), I had a new amount of gratefulness for the open system I'm lucky enough to have access to. We hadn't even decided where to go until the morning we left. I never had to worry about completing pages of paperwork just to tool around for the day. I never had to count up the many user fees for landing, parking, fueling, using the restrooms, or breathing. No one questioned our intent to puddlejump cross-country or to fly for the sake of flying.

I realize that pilots and enthusiasts in other countries face far more challenges that we here in the US do. For instance, a woman I met at the Women in Aviation conference, Jinko, commutes from Japan to the US for her flight training because of the prohibitive obstacles established by the Japanese government.


I do not think that recognizing the hindrances in other nations means that we can sit back and accept stifling legislation designed to box aviation into a "sensible" territory here in the US. I am not saying that general aviation pilots like myself should leave all the expenses of the airport and airway system to the commercial operators; I myself am in favor of the higher fuel tax option. I know that perhaps I'll end up paying for someone else's instrument approaches, but they'll probably end up paying to mow my grass runway anyhow. Semantics. The fact of the matter is, if I were faced with numerous surcharges, I'd be far less apt to go flying. Trying to itemize flying expenses into categories such as weather briefings (VFR or IFR? IFR means $), flight plans, and flight service tends to make us all stop, think, and try to make sense of what we're spending our money on.

We all know we're stuffing dollar bills into fuel tanks and that it doesn't make much sense.

If I had to think about the dollars I paid for a weather briefing (could've bought some fresh fruit with that) or the change I shook out of my purse for flight following (could've been a pricy drink at the coffee shop I like), I might just shake my head in disbelief and label this flying thing pure nonsense. It probably is, of course, but one must embrace nonsense in their daily life or else, I'm convinced, they'll simply explode. Making sense out of every little happening in life is not only impossible, it'll suck the fun right out of life!

Sure, I'm selfish and don't want to have to curtail my flying activities (ie, multiengine rating) any more than I already have (on indefinite hold). I can admit that. But, I also feel an obligation to protect the freedom flight affords by working to keep prohibitive obstacles locked up in some long-lost government file.

The fences are bad enough.

I can't say that I would've had as much fun scooting around the state had I needed to sit down and tally my user fees for my seven landings and two go-arounds. Having to think so much about something that is supposed to be just plain fun defeats the purpose of sport aviation.

Keeping this in mind, consider the aspiring pilot. Should he or she really need to keep track of how many touch-and-goes they've performed to make sure they don't overdraw their bank account? Are we to sacrifice safety and enjoyment because we can no longer justify our own passions to ourselves?

Like I said, I'm not saying the commercial operators should be made to foot part of the bill that is not theirs. I'm simply stating that we should do all we can to make sure aviation is not so imposing, with a plethora of surcharges and bill add-ons.

Let's face it. Aviation will never be cheap.

But it can be justifiable . . . assuming we don't scare others or ourselves off with all those little bills that suddenly add up to a mortgage payment. Let's not fee ourselves into obsolescence.

Just think about it.


Saturday, March 7, 2009

Noses Pressed Against Windows

I headed down to Atlanta, Georgia, for the Women in Aviation, International conference Wednesday, February 25th. Having elected to fly non-rev (again, I have good friends : ) ), I knew I was taking a chance on a flight filling up at the last minute. Everything looked to be in order, so I wasn't worried and began to look forward to the 65-degree weather.

Unfortunately, what makes non-revving so cheap is the fact that it is space-available--and space rapidly and unexpectedly became unavailable. I glumly stared out at the ramp and the snow, trying to figure out which flight to try to hop on next. But, miracles do happen, and despite the fact that the flight was oversold by a seat or two, a spot opened up for me at the last minute.

Having woken up around 4 am, I was exhausted and simply relieved to be on an airplane. Nap time seemed to be in order, until I noticed the little girl across the aisle. Seated next to her mother, she strained against her seat belt to peek over the bottom of the window sill. As the power came forward on the runway, her face lit up and she pressed her nose against the window. She turned excitedly to her mom and pointed, squirming closer to see more.

From the other side of the airplane, I smiled. This girl didn't think flight was routine--it was exotic, exciting, and worthy of wriggling out of her seatbelt for. While everyone else had already pulled out a newspaper or book, she stood at the window, fascinated, wanting more. It was refreshing and reassuring to see a young person, and a girl, no less, so excited about flying.

I wondered if the flight had made an impact upon her. Was it just another experience to check off on some life list, or did she some day want to see what it was like to be at the controls herself? I wanted to write down my information and tell her mom to give me a call so someday she could go flying, so she could feel what flying was like on a much more intimate level.

I didn't. I should have, but I didn't. I worried approaching them would appear odd.

Though I still wish I had talked to the girl and her mother, I walked away with a smile on my face, refreshed by the sight of such enthusiasm.

Maybe this isn't the most eloquent or striking entry, but the experience came at a key time. As the pressures of a full class schedule mounted and the distance between my log book entries increased, I tended to push the simple joys out of my consciousness and focus on the tasks that needed immediate attention. I find it necessary to take a step back and find joy in the little things in life--squinting as I walk to class because it means the sun is out, yawning because it means I stayed up late talking to friends instead of going to bed early, feeling a small tug at my heart when I hear someone else getting to fly because it means I have had the chance to do so myself.

I'm indescribably grateful that I have had the chance to fly and see the world differently, certainly, but sometimes I get caught up in life and commercial flight simply becomes a necessary step in getting to a new destination. My nose was not pressed up against that window. I had pulled out my book and was beginning to catch up on my to-do list.

It took an excited little girl whose name I will never know to remind me of the simple, pure wonder of flight. I think it's something that we become increasingly susceptible to over time--with enough hours, flying is something routine and no longer exotic. If we're lucky, we get to see someone like that little girl to remind us of the joy of flying. I hope that you have not forgotten the primal elation that watching the runway numbers slide gracefully under you evokes. I hope you remember those brilliant days when not even clouds dared to step in your way. I hope you never forget the thrill of that first solo--a thrill far too few get to experience.

I hope you remember those unadulterated, truthful reasons why you fly, whether they make sense or not--and I hope you will remember to speak up and share them with others so they can see what we see.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


Sorry, to those of you who actually make it a point to check this little blog on occasion. It has been crazy busy here and I'm still catching up!

Monday afternoon I finally returned from the Women in Aviation conference after 6 days away from home-away-from-home here at the dorms. Needless to say, with a project, test, and two quizzes ahead of me, I'm still unburying myself from a pile of things that need attending to. This includes events like our Women in Aviation pilot panel and MSU Aviation Department Banquet, both prone to last-minute emergencies. Dandy!

I haven't forgotten about this project or shoved it aside . . . in fact I handed out a card with the blog information on it to just about anyone at the conference who made the mistake of saying hello or making eye contact. I do have an update coming soon, but I'm going to post this right away before the blog gets neglected any further.

Stay tuned.