“I Have Control of the Aircraft”

It was the COOLEST THING EVER the first time my flight instructor announced, “You have control of the aircraft.” “I have control of the aircraft,” I repeated back calmly, authoritatively. Inside though, my heart was beating a mile a minute. As a little girl, I had plastered my face against the window every time I flew in a commercial airplane, clamoring for a look at the beautiful clouds and the earth below that unfolded like a map. Now, here I was, in control of an aircraft. Surrounded by windows, I was 3,000 feet above the ground, and could see the world below and the sky everywhere I looked. My inner little girl was jumping up and down, screaming with excitement.

I was flying an airplane.

The ground felt different after that, like gravity was stronger, but I didn’t feel like a pilot either. Like many women pilots, I’m different than most of the other women I know – no kids and no desire to have a traditional family, curious about how things work, semi-science-y. I share the adventurous, independent spirit of a pilot; to pack a bag, quickly scan a map and pick a random destination. With kids, I couldn’t do that. Around most other women, I tend to run out of things to say. I don’t quite fit in, and I kinda like that.

One day, I completed my introductory flight training. It was my first cross-country flight, from Frederick, MD to Lancaster, PA. Beyond a tired hand and wrist when we returned to our hangar, it was an uneventful day to me. Then I got an email from my flight instructor. It was an eblast to everyone at AOPA, announcing that I had completed my introductory training. He wanted everyone to encourage me to continue on to my pilot’s certificate.

Suddenly, I was the center of attention.

I was getting emails from people I’d never met – pilots, congratulating me, enthusiastically prodding me to keep going with my training. I got invited to a hangar happy hour and when I arrived, I realized I was in the company of several AOPA executives. They approached me, gave me ‘attagirls’, they knew who I was. We talked about how I liked my first few flights, if the thermals made me nervous, if I had taken off or landed yet. Other student pilots were there too. We had a laugh about forgetting if the throttle goes in or comes out, and that the dial in the middle is the trim tab.

At that moment, we were all just pilots. They didn’t care about my marital status, my age, how many kids I have or don’t have. I am a pilot. I’m a part of the community. I’m family. I fit in here, and I kinda like that.

The freedom of flying isn’t just about the ‘happy lonely’ – being up in the sky, among the clouds, where the world below is beautiful and perfect and peaceful. It’s also about the community – the general aviation community. And AOPA works hard to promote that and protect it. They want to see you succeed. They want to see the future of general aviation as a bright legacy that they are passing on.

I start ground school this week.