Women in Aviation Week Post-Flight Debriefing

I always look forward to this annual event since getting more women involved in aviation has become my biggest life cause.  But then leading up to it, I start to stress about the weather, about people getting airsick, about someone not liking it.  I question why I put myself through the stress.  Will I really make a difference in someone’s life?  Will people remember this flight?  I tell myself not to fret about such things, especially the weather, since I can’t do a thing about any of them.  But since I want everyone to have a great time, of course I still worry about those things.  You could set your watch by my insomnia when I’d wake up in the middle of each night and check the weather, see that the forecast hadn’t changed since the last time I looked, think about how many times the forecast is correct versus incorrect, and hope that the predicted fog will lift sooner than forecast.  Having satisfied my curiosity but the outlook not looking any better, I could finally fall back asleep, restless though it was.

And the first day of my event nearly confirmed my fears of the weather not cooperating.  The low fog threatened to cancel the only flight for the day I had after the second one cancelled.  But, somehow, like magic, the clouds lifted *just* enough to fly the Lakefront Airport control tower supervisor and his two daughters over the city and then across the lake to see their house (they got an extra long ride since the other flight cancelled).

Taking off!  Photo by Matthew Cahn

Taking off! Photo by Matthew Cahn

I’m never sure if the kids are liking the flight.  They either talk nonstop about what they’re seeing or are totally silent, and I don’t know what to make of either reaction.  I ask every few minutes if they’re feeling okay to make sure they’re not about to throw up on the instrument panel or on me.  And once the flight is over and I can talk more, I ask how they liked it and get a subdued “That was cool” that I’m never sure if they really liked it or are just saying that to be kind.

Friday's happy passengers!

Friday’s happy passengers!

She looks like she belongs there!

She looks like she belongs there!

I walked them back into the terminal building and asked if the girls wanted to be pilots, and they both shook their heads shyly.  Ah well.  You can’t win ‘em all.  So I was delighted when their dad posted on Facebook later in the day that as soon as they got to the parking lot, they said they want to take flying lessons.  His exact words were “And I thought Catholic school was expensive!”  I love hearing that I influenced someone to take flying lessons, but I also feel sorry for the parents who have to pay for it!  I spared my parents that expense (though they certainly were not spared many other expenses with my odd hobbies growing up!) when I took up flying long after I had moved out.  You’re welcome!

Friday was a nice, easy day of flying with only the one flight after the fog lifted.  But I knew Saturday would be a long day, and of course I woke up in the middle of the night hoping everything would go smoothly.

We got started a little late on Saturday when my plane came back late from a lesson just before my flights, which then made all the rest of the flights I had late.  But it allowed me to get to know my first passenger a little better while we talked as we waited for the plane.  Bella is the cute daughter of one of our tower controllers, and she was full of energy and even more ready to go flying than I was!  We also share the same favorite color, so we bonded much better than I normally do with kids.  She and her dad came up with me for a couple of circles around the city to see the Superdome, all the skyscrapers downtown, the weird aquarium building, the French Quarter, the river, the parks, and all those houses and cemeteries we have dotting the landscape.

After the flight, Bella said she loved it and even gave me a hug on her way out.  That’s the kind of payment that makes me keep giving these flights for free!

Check out that look of authority with a wink and a thumbs up!

Check out that look of authority with a wink and a thumbs up!

My next flight was another special one since I had asked my best friend and his girlfriend if they wanted to come for a flight.  I joked with my best friend the night before that a lot of men see my posts about giving free flights to women and girls during the Women in Aviation week event and offer to wear a dress if they can come.  I always say “You can definitely come if you do that as long as I can take pictures!”  Sadly, no one actually takes me up on it.  But my best friend is different.  He’s a special case.  He’s never…how shall I put this?…taken life too seriously.  So when I mentioned the dress thing, and since he’s been a devoted Red Dress Run participant for years (it’s a popular bar hop event in New Orleans that sees nearly the entire male population of New Orleans wear a red dress), I saw that telltale sparkle in his eye and figured I’d be in for quite a sight when they showed up at the airport.  And I was not disappointed!  Luckily, his girlfriend is very understanding and takes his antics in stride.  He looked girlier than either of us did!  I get out of the plane from my previous flight to see him strutting up in a sleeveless red and black dress with a v-line neck, normally for cleavage but on a guy just shows chest hair, hairy legs, and a nice set of high heels that actually made me a little jealous of his shoes!  I laughed when I realized that this is a normal thing in New Orleans for a girl to be jealous of her guy friend’s shoes.  We took some pictures by the plane and even did a cover girl shoot with me egging him on “Work it, girl!  Work it!”

My best friend who took *Women* in Aviation Week seriously and showed up dressed for the occasion!

My best friend who took *Women* in Aviation Week seriously and showed up dressed for the occasion!

This was his "sexy" pose

This was his “sexy” pose

Right in the middle of my six flights on Saturday was my brother, his wife, and their two kids.  None of us were sure if the kids would like it or not.  I had taken my niece taxiing around in the plane years ago to get her used to the noise (neither of the kids like loud noises), but this was our first time actually flying.  So I took my brother and my niece on the first flight of the Seidemann family, and my niece liked it so much she asked if she could come on the next flight!  I think my brother may have liked it even more than my niece!  He’s heavily involved in cemetery preservation with his work for the state Attorney General, and he must have snapped a picture of every little cemetery in the city (and we have a ton)!  He even pointed out a few that I had never noticed before, and I’ve been on this merry-go-round once or twice.  My brother, who has never liked any kind of flying and who I wasn’t sure would come, even said that he could see how flying could be addictive and was surprised how smooth it was (thankfully that was one of the smoothest flights of the day)!  We then loaded up my sister-in-law, offloaded my brother, and put my nephew in.  As Lakefront Airport sits right on Lake Pontchartrain (which technically is not even a lake since it opens into the Gulf of Mexico and is actually an estuary, but who’s counting?), many of my passengers commented on how huge the lake looks even from the air.  My niece thought it was the ocean, and I can easily see the confusion when you look across and can’t see land on the other side.  Lake/Ocean confusion aside, another happy set of Seidemann passengers!

I had one last flight after my brother’s family to end quite a long day of flying.  Saturday’s passenger count was 13 people and 13 smiles getting out of the plane, the perfect ratio!

I could relax a little Saturday night as I knew Sunday was a shorter day with only two flights.  Even still, my mind will not let me sleep all night, and I had to get up to check the weather and worry about it some more.  I skipped my morning run so I could get some extra sleep and was pleased to see a nice, clear blue sky when I woke up.  Sigh of relief.

My first flight was the Airport Director’s daughter and her friend, and I realized that there’s a direct correlation between age (teenage) and number of selfies taken.  I thought about reminding them that there was actual scenery out the window, but I suppose everyone enjoys flying in her own way!

She has clearly mastered the art of selfies!

She has clearly mastered the art of selfies!

We lined up according to height...starting with the plane

We lined up according to height…starting with the plane

My next and last flight of the day was another tower controller’s daughter, her fiancé, and her fiancé’s brother.  The fiancé was the most nervous passenger I’ve ever had, and I worried that he’d really freak out once we got in the air.  It was his first flight ever, not just in a small plane, but ever.  I’ve taken a few people on their first flight ever, and they are always a little nervous.  But every time in the past, as soon as we got into the air, they forget the nervousness as they plaster their face to the window and marvel at the view.  I was hoping he would do the same, but I was starting to wonder.  I went through my schpeel about if you feel slightly dizzy or queasy, let me know right away and we’ll come straight back to the airport.  He went on and on about his life insurance policy and who would get his money if he died.  I asked him multiple times if he really wanted to go.  I’m not going to take anyone up who doesn’t want to go.  He said he was ready.  I wondered if this was going to be the story I end up telling around the airport about some crazy passenger who flipped out once we got airborne.  But all the worrying (his and, ergo, mine) was for nothing.  We hadn’t even reached our city tour altitude of 1,500 feet before he said he wanted to buy a plane and have me fly it.  Phew!  It was slightly bumpy, but everyone said they felt fine when I asked.  He was totally calm when we got out of the plane and took lots of pictures standing next to the plane.

A Girl and Her Plane!

A Girl and Her Plane!

That’s a wrap!  Total passengers: 21 (mostly women, a few men, and one dude in a dress).  Hopefully a few of those will become regulars at the flight school.  Total flights: 9.  Total engine running time: 5.5 hours.  And I’m happy to report that on Sunday night, I slept like a rock without having my mind wake me up to check the weather.  Until next year, happy Women in Aviation Week!

Fly It Forward for Women of Aviation Week!

I will be participating in the Fly It Forward initiative for the second year in a row during the international Women of Aviation week by giving short airplane rides to women and girls March 3-9, but since that is also Mardi Gras week here in New Orleans, I’ll only be flying after Mardi Gras.  You can contact me via my website, Facebook page, email, or phone to tell me what day/time you’d like to come (reservation required).  We will be flying from Lakefront Airport at the main terminal building (the art deco one that was recently reopened) from 12:00pm to 5:00pm Friday and Saturday and from 12:00pm to 3:00pm Sunday.  We will only fly if the weather is clear, for your safety and so you can enjoy the beautiful view.  Children are welcome as long as you think they would like to come and will not be scared or misbehave, but no babies please.  Feel free to tell your friends and forward this information.

Since I will personally be covering the costs of these flights, the only thing I ask in return is that you either “like” my Facebook page (the link is on the right side menu of this page) or sign up to receive email updates from my website if you are not on Facebook.

For more information about the Fly It Forward initiative, please visit http://www.womenofaviationweek.org/contests/fly-it-foward-challenge/.

I hope to see lots of eager women and girls at Lakefront Airport during the international Women of Aviation week!

A Girl and Someone Else’s DC-3

I hadn’t planned to go to Dallas this year for the annual AOPA (Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association) conference.  I was still settling into my new job and still (and will be for a long time) trying to save money and build my savings back up from being unemployed for 11 very long months.  But when my instrument instructor from years ago when I was living in California said he and some of my other pilot friends were going, I checked out ticket prices to get there and figured I could spend the little bit of money it would cost for the short flight on Southwest, and I got one way just on points, so my rationalization of the trip was even easier.  Until I was looking at the information on what would be going on around the conference and…ooh shiny!  You know the way kids will notice anything shiny?  That’s me with really cool airplanes.  I decided it was some serious fate in the works when I saw on AOPA’s Facebook page that a group called The Greatest Generation (http://www.gga1.org/) would be giving rides and the opportunity to actually fly (for a price, of course)…wait for it!…a C-47!  What’s a C-47, you ask?  I don’t blame you.  I had to look that one up myself.  But I almost swallowed my tongue when I saw that C-47 is just the military’s way of saying DC-3.  You read that right.  A chance to not only ride in but to also pilot a DC-3?!?  Is my mind playing tricks on me?

I mentioned that you could do these things for a price, yes.  But what about trying to save money, Erin?  Thank you for asking.  I did some quick calculating in my head of some stuff I was selling on eBay and justified the entire flight experience with that.  Okay, so it really came up $200 short.  But what’s an extra $200 above what I just sold on eBay for a chance to fly a DC-3?  Nada.  That’s what.  Here’s my credit card.  I had been so good lately about saving money.  One has to occasionally reward oneself for good behavior.

I began to read more about DC-3s and C-47s in general and tried to find as much information as I could about this plane in particular, named Southern Cross.  DC-3s came about when American Airlines asked Douglas for a larger version of the DC-2 that would allow for better sleeping accommodations on international flights.  The DC-2 was a 14-passenger plane, and the new plane, designated DC-3, would accommodate 24 passengers.  It is credited as being the biggest influence for the nearly 600% increase in airline passenger traffic between 1936 and 1941.  It was one of the famous “Pan Am Clippers” and is invoked often when speaking of the “golden age” of aviation.  It took what was then thought of as a short 16 hours from San Francisco to Hawaii, something that now takes about five hours.  The military quickly figured out that it would be great for transport but specified some modifications to be made, including larger engines, stronger floors, and larger cargo doors, in its large order of them in 1940, now with the military designation of C-47 Skytrains.  It was also known as “Dakota” by the British, R4D by the Navy, Skytrooper, Gooney Bird, and a few colorful names I won’t mention here.  It flew the infamous Burmese Hump and was a utilitarian troop transport in various campaigns in WWII.  It was also the original aircraft used in the Berlin Airlift before being replaced by the bigger and faster C-54 Skymasters and DC-4s.  What an incredibly noble and storied past!

I barely slept the two nights leading up to my flight.  I kept telling myself, while tossing and turning, how ridiculous it was to lose sleep over this, but my mind just wouldn’t turn off wondering what it was going to be like.  I knew our time together would be far too fleeting – only 30 minutes.  So I wanted to make the most of every second!

When I arrived at the Vintage Flying Museum at Ft. Worth Meacham Airport (KFTW), the C-47 was already pulled out of the large hangar and was parked on the ramp near a taxiway.  The C-47 is a taildragger, as all planes used to be before the tricycle gear became the norm.  And I have my taildragger endorsement, having flown many Citabrias, Super Decathlons, an Extra, and a Pitts.  But never anything like this!  It pointed up so high that it looked like it was begging to be taken into the air and was too impatient to wait.  Since I knew I’d only have 30 minutes to fly it, I wanted to spend at least that amount of time beforehand taking pictures of it.  I had just taken my first one when a gentleman asked “Are you here for the pilot experience?”  Why, yes.  Yes I am.  He introduced himself as Chris, one of the C-47 pilots, and said he flies in from Florida just so he can fly the plane.  Can’t blame him there!

I must be dreaming.  Do I really get to fly this?

I must be dreaming. Do I really get to fly this?

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Chris escorted me inside the hangar and introduced me to Jim Terry, the C-47 instructor.  I also met Don, the other pilot who I would be sharing a flight with.  Jim brought us into a small room on the side of the hangar that had a submarine torpedo sitting on the floor.  Well that’s something you don’t see everyday!  Jim already had a diagram of the airport drawn on the whiteboard and talked about the important speeds for tail lift, rotation, climb out, downwind, and final approach.  I tried to ingrain them in my memory but also knew that in the heat of controlling the airplane for the first time, I’d forget absolutely everything, possibly even my name, and would rely heavily on Jim for instruction.  He also said that it’s so loud with takeoff power that we won’t be able to hear each other even with our headsets on, so he’d use hand signals during that time.  I actually didn’t believe that and thought I’d be able to hear with my super-duper noise cancelling headset.  All this information was great, but all I could think was “So when do I get to fly it?!?”

FINALLY (okay, so it was only like 10 minutes), we got to do a walkaround of the airplane with Jim explaining things as we went along.  The wingspan on this thing is a whopping 95 feet, just a tad longer than my airplane’s 36 feet.  And the cockpit sits up about 16 feet high, giving me a rather different perspective than sitting about six feet high in my airplane.  You gotta love an airplane that you have to climb up an incline from the back to get into the cockpit!  The main gears were so big that the top of the tire came up to my chest.  Just the flaps alone were about the size of my entire wingspan.  The cover for the landing light had protective wiring covering it because apparently if a rock or enemy fire broke the cover and the landing light, it was such a huge drag that the wing could barely produce enough lift to stay in the air.  Oh and those big, beautiful radial engines!  They were covered in oil and there was a pretty good oil spot on the ground just from sitting out for an hour or two, and Jim said that’s all normal.  This airplane is definitely not for the faint of heart nor for those who mind getting dirty.

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This wingspan is just slightly bigger than my Cessna's

This wingspan is just slightly bigger than my Cessna’s

Big, beautiful radial engine!

Big, beautiful radial engine!

The top of this tire was as high as my chest.

The top of this tire was as high as my chest.

Lots of oil everywhere, but you'd need oil, too, if you were that old and still running smoothly!

Lots of oil everywhere, but you’d need oil, too, if you were that old and still running smoothly!

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It's begging to go fly!

It’s begging to go fly!

Since Don had more ratings than I have, I suggested he go first so I could watch and hopefully learn something from seeing him fly it and more hopefully not make a total ass of myself when it was my turn.  It was a really dreary, overcast day with a big storm and cold front due to hit that night.  We taxied out and picked up the ATIS that said the ceiling was broken at 900 feet.  In order to fly under Visual Flight Rules (VFR), the ceiling has to be at least 1,000 feet high, but Jim said that since we would only be staying in the pattern, we’d have no problem getting a Special VFR from the ground controller.  So when he called up the ground controller and the controller asked “Do you have an IFR flight plan on file?”, Jim said “Negative.  Request Special VFR to remain in the pattern.”  The ground controller came back with “Unable Special VFR.”  My world came crashing down as I knew that the weather would only deteriorate from here on for the day.  Good thing I didn’t have a microphone or I would have yelled “But don’t you get that this is a once-in-a-lifetime flight?!?  Please let me go!”  We all looked at our watches to see how long it would be for the next weather update to come out.  It was 10 minutes away.  Jim said he couldn’t sit there with the engines running for 10 minutes, so we taxied back to the hangar and shut down.  Both Don and I were completely dejected.  By the looks on our faces, you’d think someone had just died.  Jim suggested we look around the museum while we waited, which we did while we traded flying stories and compared ratings and hours.  About 15 minutes later, Jim found us and said that they had signed up a full plane of passengers who wanted to take a ride around the city.  The ceiling had miraculously lifted to 1,100 feet.  He asked if we wanted to ride along and then hopefully we’d be able to fly it after.  Did we want to ride along?  Gosh, lemme spend a whole nanosecond thinking about that.  “YES!”  Did I say that too loudly and eagerly?

Since Don had already had the pleasure of taxiing it before, he let me taxi it over to the conference flightline where we’d pick up the passengers.  It’s normal for me to need a cushion even in my plane to be able to reach the rudders.  I needed two cushions in this plane and still had to kind of slouch so I could get full deflection on the rudders.  And full deflection was absolutely necessary because it took full deflection to get any response from the plane.  So I’d be taxiing, it’d stray a bit from the centerline, I’d gingerly push on the rudder like I’m used to doing in my plane to get a quick response, realize it hadn’t budged, and then put in full rudder, but then it was already pointed too far the other way.  So taxiing, and this is with the tailwheel lock making it easier on the straight parts of the taxiway, was a full leg workout.  I pulled up to the flightline, and I’m telling you every single person standing there had their cameras out taking pictures and video of this beautiful beast.  I felt a little weird being the one driving it in all these pictures and wished I could have told them this was my first time ever touching the airplane just to see their reaction.  I’m sure they expected some grizzled war-weary veteran to be sitting up there, certainly not l’il ol’ me with my two cushions behind me.  Once we shut down the engines, though, it was time for me to give up my fantasy and turn it back to the real pilots.

Finally get to sit there and taxi it!

Finally get to sit there and taxi it!

Since the city tour had sold out all 22 seats, Don and I perched on the foldout jump seats where the parachuters used to sit and were happy as could be while we secretly prayed that the ceiling would stay high enough for us to fly it later.  Jim wasn’t lying when he said it got loud with takeoff power.  I used my phone’s sound level meter app (consequence of being an audiologist’s daughter), and it got up to 105dB!  This plane is no joke!  Once we were in the air and I was looking out over the huge right wing, I started to get really choked up.  I was so thankful to be one of the few people to ever have such an opportunity, and I kept having to fight back tears of joy.  I would NOT be the woman who cried on this airplane, even if I were crying for a good reason.  I just turned my head further outside while I fought back the tears each time.

Wings over Dallas/Ft. Worth

Wings over Dallas/Ft. Worth

The flight was short, just enough time for the passengers to snap some pictures while we circled over the city.  It was a little crosswindy coming back in for a landing, and Chris put it down in a textbook one wheel down first crosswind landing.  Jim had said to never pull back once we land to put the tail down.  It will settle by itself as we lose speed, and it settled down ever so gently and slowly as if someone were setting down a newborn baby and didn’t want to wake it.  After the passengers got off, the ground crew said we had another full flight signed up and then would have some free time.  So would we like to ride again?

Can I fly you, too?

Can I fly you, too?

As we were waiting for the passengers to board, Jim saw me looking around the bulkhead reading things that people had written on it.  There were lots of war veterans who had written their unit and years served.  Jim pointed to one and said “This one is my favorite.”  It was a person’s name and said that this very airplane had taken her out of Berlin during the Berlin Airlift.  Jim asked her if she was sure it was this airplane since there were so many C-47s used in the Berlin Airlift.  She assured him that she had written the tail number in her diary, and it was definitely this very airplane.  That gives you pause.

Things just got real.  This airplane saved lives!

Things just got real. This airplane saved lives!

I have to say that between two rides, a BBQ lunch with the pilots and ground crew, and then finally our own flight time, I definitely feel like I got more than my money’s worth!  Jim and his crew really went out of their way to make it up to us that we couldn’t fly in the morning when we had planned, even though the weather wasn’t their fault.  On the second ride, I sat in the tail because there was a small vent in the side of the plane that let some air in back there.  It was a hot day in Fort Worth, and the airplane not only didn’t have any A/C but also not much airflow inside at all.  After we got back from lunch and were climbing up into the front of the plane, Jim joked “Let me get up there and turn on the air conditioning.”

It was Don’s turn again, so I let him go first.  I didn’t learn a damn thing from watching him fly other than it looked like a lot of work.  He flew while Jim handled the flaps and gear, synced the engines, and pushed a bunch of buttons that I had no idea what they did.  Don landed it and pulled off onto a taxiway and then it was my turn.

I climbed up there, moved the seat all the way up and forward, asked Don to grab me a second cushion, and then grabbed the yoke and tried to contain my excitement.  I taxied onto the runway and held the brakes as we pushed the throttles full forward.  Keep in mind this was my first flight ever in a multi engine, so I really just pointed the plane around the pattern while Jim handled the props, throttles, gear, and flaps.  I touched the throttles once, which was enough for the time being since I had my hands full keeping it pointed in the right direction.  He gave the signal, and I let off the brakes as we went roaring forward.  He gave another signal and I gently pushed forward on the yoke to lift the tailwheel.  We rolled down the runway some more while gaining more speed, and he gave another signal to rotate.  I pulled back gently on the yoke and we rose slowly into the air.  HUGE difference here is that in my airplane, when you pitch for optimum rate of climb speed, the airplane is pitched pretty far up.  The airplane looks like it’s reaching for the sky.  The C-47 pretty much lifted off level and felt like someone was simply pushing it up from under it rather than pointing up to the sky.  Soon after we broke ground, Jim reduced the throttles a bit and we could hear each other over the radios again.  I also only realized to use trim when I felt my bicep straining under the weight of pulling the yoke back as if I were lifting up the airplane myself.  Funny how even the most basic airplane feature is forgotten when learning a new one.  It’s been so long since I was a student pilot that I don’t remember how I felt then, but I assume I felt a lot like I did flying the C-47 for the first time.  I felt totally spastic and like my almost 600 hours showed no experience whatsoever.  He said to start my crosswind turn and warned that it takes way more rudder than aileron.  Rather than easily and docilely turning, it felt like you had to encourage it around.  Each turn was enormous and something you’d have to really think about ahead of time, much like I would imagine driving a bus feels like compared to driving a small car.

Can you give me another cushion please?

Can you give me another cushion please?

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We came around for my first landing, and the great thing about the C-47 is that as long as you arrest the descent about a foot or so before touching down, it’ll slowly settle onto the runway to give you a smooth as silk landing that makes you look and feel like a good pilot.  We kept the tail up as we rolled and applied full power to do another lap around the patch.  Luckily for me, the controller asked me to extend upwind and then again downwind, so I got an extra 30 seconds or so to fly the plane.  Even with feeling like a bumbling idiot, I didn’t want it to end.  The plane gave me another very gentle touchdown and then the tail slowly settled onto the ground.  Once it was on the ground, Jim pulled the yoke back all the way to plant it, and the yoke was squished up against my chest from being so far forward with the cushions.  Clearly this airplane was not built for someone my size, but, then again, few if any things are.  I just took it as the airplane giving me a goodbye hug.

I taxied back and reluctantly shut down the engines, not wanting our time together to end.  Again we parked it on the convention flightline, and people immediately swarmed all around it to take pictures even though there was already another DC-3 parked there.

Don and I walked away together to go check out the other displays, but I kept looking back at the Southern Cross.  Nothing could come close to topping that.

In the cab ride back to Dallas Love Field, the driver asked what brought me to Fort Worth.  I told him I was here for an aviation convention.  He asked if I was a pilot, and I said yes, staring out the window while daydreaming of my time in the DC-3.  I’m used to people asking me questions when I say I’m a pilot, questions like “What do you fly?”  “Is it hard?”  “How long have you been a pilot?”  “Do you fly for an airline?”  But he sprang a new one on me: “Have you ever seen any UFOs while you’re up there?”

Hunting for Hurricanes

Anyone who knows me knows that I would give a female reproductive organ (or what’s left of mine) to ride in a C-130.  It’s my favorite big plane.  Yes, I had to break down my favorite airplane into two categories because who could possibly name one favorite airplane?  So I have a favorite big plane and a favorite little plane…well…and maybe a favorite plane of the week…if not of the day.  Anyhoo, the C-130 Hercules is it.  The sound.  The size.  The things that can fit into it.  If you don’t know what a C-130 is but you’ve seen the Blue Angels performing at airshows, it’s the big transport airplane they use.  The Blue Angels’ one, flown by Marines, is called Fat Albert and even has JATO (jet assisted take off) to make it even cooler.  I’ve nearly driven my car up a light pole on multiple occasions when I see a C-130 fly by.

So when I got the itinerary for the Southeast section meeting of the 99s (the international organization of women pilots started by Amelia Earhart and 98 other women pilots http://www.ninety-nines.org/) and it said we’d get to climb around a C-130, let’s just say it’s a good thing I have high ceilings or I would have hit my head.  But that’s not all!  It also said you could choose to fly into either Gulfport airport (KGPT; landed there, done that) or a private grass strip called Shade Tree Airport (http://www.shadetreeairport.com/) owned by one of the 99s and her husband.  Ooh!  Private!  Grass!  Strip!  I signed up faster than whatever the Southern equivalent of a New York minute is!  So I’d have to get up super early after working super late the night before.  Small price to pay for a C-130.

I had my alarm set for 5:45.  I used to get up even earlier than that all the time when I worked the early morning shift.  But it’s funny how quickly being on the night shift makes one forget about things like the sun might not be up at that hour.  It was totally dark when I looked outside, and only then did I think to check the sunrise time online to see if it would even be light for my 6:45 departure.  Teensy little minor detail there.  I did get to enjoy a beautiful sunrise on the way there, making it difficult to see much, but it was pretty anyway.

Sunrise over the Gulf Coast

Sunrise over the Gulf Coast

Flying into a grass strip is pretty different than flying to a paved runway airport.  You can typically see paved runways from miles away.  But grass strips look like any other patch of grass.  I had checked out Google maps beforehand hoping to find some landmarks that would help me find it.  Well, there was grass, and trees, and some small ponds, and more grass, but nothing that looked any different from the adjacent grass, trees, and small ponds.  So I knew I’d have to rely pretty heavily on my GPS and just keep zooming it in more and more as I got closer to make sure I didn’t fly past it.  When you are talking to an approach controller, they want you to let them know when you have your landing field in sight.  And if you forget to do that, they’ll kindly remind you with something like “November Five Niner Zero Sierra Papa, airport is at your twelve o’clock and six miles,” which is exactly what my controller said to me.  I replied “Zero Sierra Papa, I’m gonna have to get a lot closer than this to see it!”  How far away was I when I finally saw it?  About 50 feet thanks to the tall trees that surrounded it on all sides.  Not long enough to set up a stabilized approach, but I knew I’d have to overfly the runway anyway to check out the windsock so I could figure out which way to land.  The wind was favoring the direction I had come from, so I needed to make a traffic pattern to come back around to land.  I flew the upwind leg, turned 90 degrees to fly the crosswind leg, checked back out the window to make sure I didn’t lose sight of the airport, turned another 90 degrees for downwind…and lost it.  Well, that’s the beauty of flying a good rectangular traffic pattern: I knew I’d find it again on base or final.  First notch of flaps when I figured I was somewhere near abeam what would be the runway numbers if the grass had runway numbers, turn base and put in another notch of flaps, still no airport, turn final and there it is!  Dump full flaps, figure out if I can make it safely, check my airspeed since I wanted to land a little slower than on a paved runway, and put it down for its first grass landing since I moved back from California.  I was gingerly slowing down as I didn’t want to jam on the brakes and get stuck if there was a soft spot, and just as I was about to slow enough to turn around, there was a down slope to the runway.  Well, I’m in no hurry, so I was patient.  Once I slowed down enough to turn around, I could see my tracks in the grass, still wet with morning dew.  Ahhhhhhh.  What a beautiful sight for a pilot!

My tracks in the grass at Shade Tree Airport

My tracks in the grass at Shade Tree Airport

I turned around and noticed someone in a golf cart drive right up to the edge of the runway.  That usually means “Follow me”, so I did just that.  He escorted me to a nice spot to park my plane in front of a cute Acadian house with rocking chairs on the porch.  One of the Mississippi 99s, the one who owned the airport, in fact, was waiting to drive me to Keesler Air Force Base (KBIX) to meet the other 99s who had flown and driven in the night before.  We had to send in our information a week in advance to get passes to drive into the base.  We were escorted to a parking lot next to one of many huge buildings.  The base seemed to go on forever, the grounds very clean and manicured as you would expect at a military base.

We were a large group of 44 women (44 99s, to be exact or to confuse you, whatever the case may be) and a few brave men who could somehow deal with the estrogen overload.  We piled into a presentation room where Major Kait Woods, a member of the Hurricane Hunter squadron (http://www.hurricanehunters.com/), was waiting to show us a slideshow and explain the airplane and their missions before we went outside to the flightline to see the airplane.

Sign leading out to the flightline

Sign leading out to the flightline

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I actually got a little choked up (no one saw that!) when I gazed longingly at a picture looking out the window of the C-130 flying through a storm.  The Hurricane Hunter squadron flies the model WC-130J, the most noticeable difference from the normal C-130 being that the J model has six-bladed props versus the four-bladed props in non-J models.  They often fly at 500-1,500 feet above the water while they observe the sea state to determine the rotation of a storm.  In hurricanes that are Category 3 and higher, they will penetrate the storm at 10,000 feet because at that altitude, there is no icing and less lightning formation.  Their flight pattern looks like an “X”, and each leg of the X is 105 nautical miles (NM).  They fly four penetrations per mission.  She said the eye of a hurricane can be anywhere from 3 to 30 NM wide!  They drop these small tubes called “dropsondes” that transmit data in real time to the base – temperature, dew point, and pressure – to give a vertical profile of the storm, and they continue transmitting until they hit the water when the salt water breaks a seal on the casing, and the water getting into it stops the transmissions.

Major Woods pointed out how important it is to understand the movement of hurricanes because it costs an average of one million dollars per square mile that needs to be evacuated.  That’s a good enough reason!

During the winter, when there are thankfully no hurricanes for them to hunt, they fly presidential support by transporting vehicles and other supplies, they conduct air medical training missions, and they participate in great projects like Wounded Warriors (http://www.woundedwarriorproject.org/).

This was all fascinating, really I was learning a lot, but I couldn’t contain my excitement and wanted to go touch the airplane.  Major Woods warned us not to walk past a red line painted on the ground once we exited the building to get to the flightline or the base security would come have a word with us.  I stood with my toe on the red line like I was waiting for a race gun to go off until our escort led us out to the airplane.

Erin hears angels singing when she sees this

Erin hears angels singing when she sees this

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The inside of a C-130 is, of course, immense.  You can drive cars and tanks into it.  And you can fit 44 eager 99s into it with room to spare.  It’s bigger than my first many apartments.  I really wanted to strap myself in and refuse to leave, but I showed a lot of self-control and got out when the tour was over.

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A dropsonde and the tube they use to drop it

A dropsonde and the tube they use to drop it

Step back, ya'll!  I got this!

Step back, ya’ll! I got this!

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We went back inside where they said we could buy t-shirts if we wanted.  They said since they hadn’t been going to as many airshows since the government sequestration hit, they weren’t making as much money since the t-shirt sales at airshows was a pretty big money maker.  One of the 99s assured them that we’d make up for at least a few missed airshows.  The t-shirts were stored in a small closet off the main hall, and when they opened that door for a bunch of women who are crazy about all things aviation, I swear it was like hand-to-hand combat trying to get anywhere near the closet.  I was only about five people back when they opened the door, and I’m telling you a 70-something year old lady elbowed her way past me.  I patiently waited my turn and then squeezed into one side of the closet.  It was like being at a bazaar in Marrakesh with women yelling out “What size is that one?”  “How much is that one?”  “Can you throw me one of those?”  It’s a good thing I liked the shirts they had on that side of the closet because there was no way I could change position once inside.  Trying one on for size was like trying to move around in a subway during rush hour in China.  I put my money in the collection box and then dodged and weaved my way upstream through the crowd.  From the looks of it, we probably just funded the next WC-130J they buy.

Next we went to another part of the base where they had the WC-130J simulator and got to climb inside it.  Want to know how much just one WC-130J simulator costs?  $30 million big ones.  Looking up at the raised simulator (they are raised since they are full motion, so they need room to move), I thought “Hmm.  So that’s what $30 million looks like.”

The WC-130J full motion simulator

The WC-130J full motion simulator

After the simulator, we drove to another building on base where two officers met us outside.  The man said that he was going to show us something even cooler than the C-130.  They were about to give us a tour of the air traffic controller training facility.  What?  Did I just hear him right?  Sir, no offense to you and your tin pushers.  I mean, some of my best friends are tin pushers.  But there simply ain’t no amount of air traffic controllers and their gizmos and wingdings that can equal anything near as cool as a WC-130J.  Thank you very kindly for trying, though.

Air Traffic Control training simulator

Air Traffic Control training simulator

Next we headed over to Infinity Space Center near the Stennis International Airport for a self-guided tour of the space museum.  It was geared more towards kids, but since we were acting like older kids today, that worked just fine.  My parents used to drive us over to Florida when my brother and I were kids to watch the space shuttle launches.  I don’t remember them at all, but it stirs something inside me every time I see video of a launch.  The engineering needed to produce that kind of raw power is amazing.  So I sat and watched the videos they had playing on loop of launches and the building of a launch pad in the swamp.  I stood on a scale that told me my weight on each planet in our solar system.  I much prefer my weight on Pluto to the one here on Earth.  Weren’t we all supposed to be living on the other planets by now?  I think we need to restart that discussion just so I can weigh 1/5 of what I do here.

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Wait!  Why does this only come in kids sizes?  I want one!

Wait! Why does this only come in kids sizes? I want one!

We finished the day at Stennis Airport with a tour of the Aerojet Rocketdyne rocket engine assembly facility.  We couldn’t take pictures there, but we got to walk around the assembly floor and see some engines in storage, one that our tour guide said was worth $1.6 billion!  Hmm.  So that’s what $1.6 billion looks like.  It actually just looked like something big covered in plastic.  It’s baffling what some pieces of metal stuck together cost.  I guess the same goes for airplanes.

We headed back to Shade Tree Airport where it was bustling with the exact kind of activity you would expect at a grass runway: two Stearman taildraggers were giving rides, chairs were set up for an outdoor aviation movie night, and local pilots had brought all manner of food and drink to enjoy the evening with friends.  Sadly, I had to leave to get back home for the reopening of the Lakefront Airport terminal building (more on that in a later post).  I left with multiple requests to come back anytime.  I love my friendly aviation community!  And I got to finish off the day with a colorful sunset coming home.

Snoopy and his flying doghouse at Shade Tree Airport

Snoopy and his flying doghouse at Shade Tree Airport

The Snoopy wind tetrahedron at Shade Tree Airport

The Snoopy wind tetrahedron at Shade Tree Airport

Orion sitting on the flightline at Shade Tree Airport

Orion sitting on the flightline at Shade Tree Airport

Sunset over the Gulf Coast

Sunset over the Gulf Coast

Sharing the Passion with Others

A while back, during my short stint as a line girl (Line Girl and Line Girl Part 2), I was about to leave work one night when a couple showed up with their little boy, Linus.  It was his third birthday, and they were taking him on an airplane ride to celebrate.  He had on the cutest blue astronaut suit.  I found out they were going to be in my plane, and since their pilot was running a little late, I and another line guy showed him around some airplanes in the hangar while his mother, a professional photographer (http://www.dorkaphotographyblog.com/), took pictures.

Linus had so many questions that I wouldn’t even be finished answering one and he’d already be asking the next one.  I asked if he wanted to go sit in my airplane so he could see the one he’d be flying in, and he made a beeline for my plane.  His mother must have taken about 400 pictures, and that was even before they got off the ground!  She sent me some of me with Linus on my lap while I explained how the airplane and instruments work.  He pointed to every single thing on the panel and asked “What’s that?”  I told him there’d be a quiz at the end, and he asked “What’s a quiz?”

Linus checking out my plane Photo: Dorka Hegedus http://www.dorkaphotographyblog.com/

Linus checking out my plane
Photo: Dorka Hegedus http://www.dorkaphotographyblog.com/

"What's that?" Photo: Dorka Hegedus http://www.dorkaphotographyblog.com/

“What’s that?”
Photo: Dorka Hegedus http://www.dorkaphotographyblog.com/

"I got this, mom!" Photo: Dorka Hegedus http://www.dorkaphotographyblog.com/

“I got this, mom!”
Photo: Dorka Hegedus http://www.dorkaphotographyblog.com/

 

Ya’ll know I’ll talk about flying to anyone who will listen.  But I especially love talking to cute kids in astronaut suits who wear me out with their inquisitiveness and excitement.  Flying and owning an airplane isn’t just about the joy it brings me; I love to see the joy it brings others.

Beautiful moonrise! Photo: Dorka Hegedus http://www.dorkaphotographyblog.com/

Beautiful moonrise!
Photo: Dorka Hegedus http://www.dorkaphotographyblog.com/

The Art of Not Flying

You likely noticed I haven’t blogged in a while.  Well, first, there’s the direct correlation between the amount of flying I do and actually having flying material to write about… so you can guess that I haven’t been flying much lately.  Second, I can make excuses like new job, new boyfriend, and Southern summer weather that’s not very conducive to flying, and now another new job (a permanent one this time, well, as permanent as a job can be rather than the contract job I’d been working for the past five months), but I’ll spare you.  Yes, I’m having major flying withdrawals and need to remedy that very soon.  But when I can’t fly, which was the case a couple of weekends ago due to unforecast thunderstorms popping up everywhere, the next best thing is to talk about it to a group of young, enthusiastic, and malleable minds, as I happily had the chance to do.

I received a call a few weeks ago from Adrienne, a woman corporate pilot who had stopped by the fixed base operation where I keep my airplane at Lakefront Airport and asked the front desk staff if they knew of any women pilots who would be willing to talk to a group of about 20 middle school and high school girls from a group called Girl Up NOLA.  Did they ever!  They gave her my number and briefly told her about my recent Women of Aviation week event when I took dozens of girls and women flying.  Adrienne asked if I’d be interested in talking about my flying and airplane ownership on a Saturday morning at the airport.  Like I need an excuse to come to the airport?!?  And encourage girls to take up flying or to choose aviation as a profession?!?  Of course I was saying yes before she even finished the question!

Adrienne not only flies corporate jets for a major company, but she also works for Aviation Career Enrichment (ACE; http://www.flyace.org/), which holds seminars and camps around the country to introduce youths to aviation and all the options available in the aviation field as a career choice.  She had organized a panel of four people to talk for an hour and then for the girls to tour the control tower and check out a few airplanes up close for the second hour.

The panel of speakers consisted of Adrienne, me, a fellow 99 Doris, and a local flight instructor Don.  Adrienne kicked it off by talking about overcoming obstacles in life to reach your goal.  She started out handling logistics at an airport but not flying.  The pilots she worked with saw her potential and suggested she take flying lessons.  Now she flies big, state-of-the-art jets that would make pilots from the major air carriers jealous.  My fellow 99 Doris is a helicopter mechanic who teaches other helicopter mechanics.  And Don is a flight instructor, mechanic, and maintenance inspector.

Each of us talked about obstacles we’ve overcome in our pursuit of goals in aviation.  I don’t know of anyone who ever said it was easy.  The two things absolutely necessary to fly are time and money, and most people I talk to didn’t have much of either one of those when they wanted to learn how to fly.  But, like those of us on the speaking panel, we all made it happen.  When you want to do something badly enough, as we did with our varied entries into aviation, you will make it happen.  Of course we all talked about the fact that only 5-6% of licensed pilots are women.  And I mentioned that only 2% of aircraft owners are women, which makes me quite unique, I suppose!

After Adrienne asked each one of us on the panel about our aviation experiences, the girls split up into two groups, one going to the airport control tower for a quick tour and the other going to check out some airplanes and a full-motion flight simulator that were on display, and then the groups switched so that they could all get the full airport experience.

There were lots of smiling faces once the event was over, and I hope to be hearing from some of them as future aviators and seeing some at the airport taking flying lessons.

Moral of the story: if you can’t fly and are grounded for one reason or another, at least do what you can to talk others into one day sharing the same passion so you can have more people to sympathize with you at the airport as you look outside hoping the bad weather will pass.

Half of the group of girls with our panel members smiling after a fun day

Half of the group of girls with our panel members smiling after a fun day

Women of Aviation Week Roundup

My event for Women of Aviation worldwide week didn’t start out well.  The weather was okay enough on Monday, but the wind was positively tornado-esque!  It was straight down the runway, which would make for perfectly safe takeoffs and landings, but it was bumpy up in the air.  Monday was the only day that had not been filled up with mothers and daughters scheduling a flight, so the plan was to offer rides to the kind women who work the front desk at the FBO where my plane is based.  I made the offer with the caveat that it would be bumpy and not recommended for a first flight in a small airplane.  And I’d much rather take people who enjoy the flight rather than get queasy and wish for the flight to end, so I wasn’t totally disappointed when I had no takers on my offer.  Still, I had been planning and looking forward to this event for so long that not flying at all the first day was not at all what I wanted to happen.  I also hoped that it did not portend how the rest of the week was to go.

The second day definitely improved!  I had five people signed up for two flights: a mother with her two young girls and later a mother and her teenage daughter.  It was still windy and a little bumpy.  As always, I tell all passengers to let me know the instant they start feeling dizzy or nauseous so we can head straight back to the airport.  And when I asked the mother on the first flight if either of the girls ever get carsick, she said no and that if anyone got sick it would be her.  Unfortunately, I am sad to report, she was right.  We were over downtown when she said she was starting to feel a little green.  I pointed the airplane straight back to the airport and gave her status updates: “About three minutes out,” “Almost there,” and “On final approach.”  She made it back without incident, and when I checked on her after I taxied off the runway, she said she felt better already.  The girls were troopers and went from being very shy around me to gushing over how much they enjoyed the flight (with those wide eyes I always enjoy seeing after a first flight)!

On the second flight, I could tell the teenage daughter wanted to sign up then and there for flight lessons, and I was pleasantly surprised when her mother couldn’t stop saying “That was so incredible!” when we landed.  I wouldn’t be surprised if she signs up for lessons, too!

It was pretty much the same all week: an occasional passenger whose stomach didn’t’ like the bumps after about 20 minutes but, more often, an airplane full of huge smiles, wide eyes, and such excitement that many were left speechless!

A happy passenger looking a lot like a future pilot!

A happy passenger looking a lot like a future pilot!

The wind and bumps never did totally die down, no matter how much I willed them to the entire week.  I had the weather update on my computer, and I’d anxiously click to refresh it when I knew the new hourly data and forecast would be out.  I found, however, that there is no correlation between time spent staring at the forecast and any weather improvement whatsoever.  Muttering expletives at the forecast also seemed to be futile.  I’d go for my morning run and fret over whether the wind would be straight down the runway and steady or crosswindy and gusty.  Would it be bumpy in the air?  Or smooth?  No way to tell for sure until we got up there.

Restoration project on the original terminal building

Restoration project on the original terminal building (photo by Olivia Brinich)

The girls I took flying would see their house, their school, their relatives’ houses, and their friends’ schools.  They pointed out cemeteries (we have a lot in New Orleans with our famous above-ground graves), landmarks, parks, and the impossible-to-miss Superdome.  They marveled over how small cars, huge ships, houses, and people looked from the air.  They took enough pictures to form a perfectly complete aerial map of the city to rival the ones we see all the time taken from expensive satellites.

The beautiful Mississippi River, downtown, and home of da Who Dat Nation! (photo by Olivia Brinich)

The beautiful Mississippi River, downtown, and home of da Who Dat Nation! (photo by Olivia Brinich)

Downtown and Superdome

Downtown and Superdome (photo by Olivia Brinich)

City Park, New Orleans Museum of Art, Big Lake, and Bayou St. John

City Park, New Orleans Museum of Art, Big Lake, and Bayou St. John (photo by Olivia Brinich)

Superdome and Crescent City Connection bridge

Superdome and Crescent City Connection bridge (photo by Olivia Brinich)

Crescent City Connection bridge over the Mississippi River

Crescent City Connection bridge over the Mississippi River (photo by Olivia Brinich)

A few of my guy friends heard about what I was doing and offered to wear a dress or a skirt so they could join us.  I told them I’d agree to that only if I could take pictures of them dressed that way!  They weren’t as keen on the idea after that.

We even did an interview with local news anchor Susan Roesgen.  She and her crew came out to the airport, and while her cameraman was setting up his equipment for my interview, she was asking me questions and taking notes on what to talk about once he started filming.  After answering a few of her questions, she said “We have to stop and wait for him to get set up so we don’t miss any of this.  You’re just a sound byte a second!”  I added that little tidbit to my résumé faster than you can say Women of Aviation!

Susan Roesgen and her cameraman

Susan Roesgen and her cameraman (photo by Olivia Brinich)

Interview for News with a Twist with Susan Roesgen

Interview for News with a Twist with Susan Roesgen (photo by Olivia Brinich)

And, for the excuse to end all excuses for being late to a meeting, I was able to utter rare words that I believe few people, if any, have been able to say.  I had a condominium board meeting to attend, having recently been elected to the board, but it was too close to one of my afternoon flights, and I was taking a special guest: a local voodoo priestess!  So, upon rushing into the board meeting, I said “Sorry I’m late.  I was flying a voodoo priestess around the city.”

Priestess Miriam ready to go flying

Priestess Miriam ready to go flying

Final numbers: 26 girls and women taken on first flights in a small plane.  If I influence even one of them to be a pilot, I will be a happy Women of Aviation week event coordinator!

An absolutely adorable note from one of my passengers

An absolutely adorable note from one of my passengers

Blessing of the Airplane, New Orleans Style!

You’ve likely heard of the Blessing of the Fleet, which many Catholic communities do for their fishing boats at the start of fishing season.  It’s such a big deal that many towns have entire festivals devoted to it and is quite popular in the South and along the Eastern Seaboard.  And since New Orleans is such a Catholic city, we’ll pretty much bless anything that moves and a few things that don’t!

In researching the blessing of vehicles, I found an approved Blessing of an Airplane in the Sancta Missa Blessing of Things Designated for Ordinary Use.  Is an airplane “for ordinary use”?  Discuss amongst yourselves.  I even found a picture of Pope John Paul II blessing a TWA airplane, one that flew him over Medjugorje, which he also blessed…from the air.  Thai Airways had their planes blessed by a Buddhist Supreme Patriarch.  And the Buddhists believe that blessing vehicles brings luck and avoids accidents.

Well, why not bless my airplane then?  But not just any blessing!  It would have to be New Orleans style!  Since I love all things New Orleans, I couldn’t resist inviting local voodoo Priestess Miriam Chamani to come out and bless the airplane after having the pleasure of meeting her recently and visiting her incredible voodoo temple.  Now, before you hit the send button on your hate mail to me and before you go all hatin’ on voodoo, please humor me for a minute.  Voodoo rituals and ceremonies, as in many other religions, can be used for good or evil purposes.  Louisiana Voodoo is also very heavily influenced by Christianity, including recitation of the Lord’s Prayer and Hail Mary and attaching the images of Catholic Saints to their own spirits.  In contrast to what you see in the movies, Louisiana Voodoo today is used mainly to serve others and positively influence life through connection with nature, spirits, and ancestors.  I think that’s why it fits so well into New Orleans culture because we also highly value our connection with nature and our families.

To make it even more special, it was just days after Priestess Miriam’s 70th birthday, so I asked if she’d like me to take her on a short flight around the city as a birthday present.  When I told my friends at the airport about my plans, they said to be sure she blessed the airplane *before* she came flying with me to be sure her heart was in it!  Sound advice, that.

I fretted all week over what the weather would do on our scheduled blessing day, and I’m happy to report that I was blessed not only with a voodoo blessing but also with beautiful weather on a clear day!

Priestess Miriam and Erin enjoying the gorgeous weather

Priestess Miriam and Erin enjoying the gorgeous weather

I had no idea what to expect for a voodoo blessing.  Priestess Miriam began by cleansing the airplane with a refreshingly-scented spray called Florida Water.  She sprayed that thang down!  Must have used up the entire can of spray.  Note to self: if I ever need a new paint job, hire the Priestess!  Florida Water is used as a cleanser and protective wash.  It has essence of sweet orange, lavender, and clove.  Tomorrow’s student pilot renters will wonder what the strange, exotic smell is in the airplane.

Cleansing the airplane with Florida Water spray

Cleansing the airplane with Florida Water spray

Next she purified the plane by taking a mouthful of gin and spraying it from her mouth onto the airplane.  Yes, dear readers, I actually enlisted the services of someone to come spit all over my plane.  Never thought I’d be saying that!  This was repeated all over the fuselage and control surfaces.  And since it was a windy day, I was getting a bit purified myself when the wind caught the spray!  Once the airplane was dripping with spat-out gin, she then poured small quantities of gin on the ground all around the airplane to purify my parking spot.  Too bad the plane isn’t always parked in that spot!

Spitting gin on the airplane to purify it

Spitting gin on the airplane to purify it

She wondered out loud if she should burn the incense she brought, but I didn’t think the fire rescue squad at the airport would like to see us setting fire to anything near the airplanes, so I just took the bag of incense and other goodies she had brought and told her I’d burn them in my house.  In the bag was sage, some unknown mixture of aromatic herbs, and something labeled “evil away”.

Last, she said a lovely and peaceful prayer with one hand on the engine cowling, one hand under mine just above the spinner, and my other hand on the other side of the engine cowling.  She prayed for safety on all flights, that the airplane bring joy to its passengers, and that the pilot always be blessed.  She prayed for the airplane’s synergistic union with the elements of nature, especially the winds.  I nodded my head a few times in agreement because it’s what I hope for on every flight I take!

Praying together for safe flights

Praying together for safe flights

Then it was time for the flight.  She seemed slightly apprehensive at first but was calm and joyous in the air.  We took off towards the West and headed South to fly and circle over the city.  I pointed out the French Quarter and Rampart Street, where her temple is located, and she marveled at how small everything looked.  We flew over the Crescent City Connection bridge, saw the Mercedes logo on the top of the Superdome that many people don’t know about because they never see it from that angle, and noted the many cemeteries that look like miniature cities.  Audubon Park, St. Charles Avenue, City Park, the Fair Grounds, Bayou St. John, I-10, traffic, and the river twisting and turning as far as the eye could see.  We saw it all!  There were a few small bumps, but she just let out a “Weeeee!” each time the airplane jumped.

Coming in for a landing, she said it’s amazing how easy it is to fly, especially in a small airplane.  You take off, you fly, you land.  No waiting in line.  No taking your shoes off.  No delays.  We wanted to fly over the city, and we did just that.  What a wonderful freedom!

I was going to push the airplane back myself and save her the trouble of helping me, but she was curious how much the plane weighed and how hard it was to push back.  So I got out the tow bar, and this spry 70-year old lady helped me push it back into the now-purified parking spot.  She said she thoroughly enjoyed the flight and thanked me profusely for taking her flying.  She couldn’t wait to tell all her friends how she got to fly over New Orleans and how beautiful it was.  Funny, that’s exactly what I’m doing right now!

My Mom Told Me to Never Pick Up Hitchhikers

Sorry, Mom.

Just over a week ago, a friend in my local 99s group, a group of all women pilots started way back by Amelia Earhart, contacted me to ask if I could give a ride to a woman who was hitchhiking to all fifty states in general aviation planes.  Louisiana was number nineteen after starting out in Rochester, New York, seven months ago.  At first, I thought “What the hell?  How is this possible?”  But then I realized what a cool concept it was and started to get a little jealous of the adventure she must be having.  I immediately wanted to be a part of it, so I was a bit disappointed when my friend told me that a pilot had come into her small airport and said he could give Amber, aka the Jethiking Gypsy, a ride to New Orleans before I’d even left my house to fly there and get her.  My friend gave me Amber’s contact info just in case we could hook up in New Orleans.

Of course, I looked up her website first thing ( www.jethiking.com ).  Who was this person with this crazy, cool idea?  She looked young, I guessed somewhere around my age, and I enjoyed reading her blogs about previous stops.  She is a travel writer by trade, and it showed in her stories and in the adventures she would seek out at each stop, always hungry for something noteworthy to write about.  I emailed Amber and offered my spare bedroom for her to stay and asked where she was going next so that perhaps I could fly her to her next stop.  She emailed right back, taking me up on the offer to stay but said she had a ride to Georgia the next week.  Well, damn.

Once we got together, though, picking her up just after she had a shrimp po-boy downtown, she said she would like to get to her next state sooner than next week and would rather fly to Mississippi or Alabama instead of all the way up to Savannah, Georgia, which was her originally-offered flight.  As a hitchhiker, I suppose you can’t be too choosy about where you’re going, though I understood her desire to do them consecutively to avoid having to back-track later to states that she’s missed along the way.

In the short time from picking her up to whisking her off to an airport safety meeting that just happened to be going on that night at Lakefront Airport, where I thought she could get in some good networking, we bonded over talking about flying, airplanes, traveling, and men.  She was easy to get along with and had great stories about traveling that could entertain me endlessly.  I wondered how this “jethiking” experiment would be different if the wanderer were a man.  Would people be as amiable as they were with her?  Would I have taken a strange man into my house?  For my mom’s peace of mind, I’d say probably not.  Amber also mentioned that she would like to get her Private Pilot’s license when she finished her trip,
and you know I had something to say about that!

Unfortunately, the weather here in New Orleans had other plans than getting her to her next stop soon.  Between low cloud ceilings, then the approaching front with rain on and off for days, then the strong and gusty winds after the front, she was stuck here for a week.  Since there are worse places to be stuck, we made the most of it by eating some great New Orleans food, going for an airport tower tour hosted by some of the finest air traffic controllers in the country, attending my flight school’s Aviation Movie Night, enjoying breaks in the rain at my beloved City Park, and visiting a voodoo temple downtown and talking with the priestess.  So at least I can safely say that her stay here was a fun-filled one with lots of cool memories she can take with her.

Finally, the weather cooperated and we were able to fly from Lakefront Airport to Jack Edwards Airport in Gulf Shores, Alabama, where she had arranged an interview with the local media.  We even went out with a bang from New Orleans!  Never a dull moment around my city, we had been cleared for takeoff and were just about to taxi onto the runway when the tower quickly cancelled my takeoff clearance.  Wha?  Had I done something wrong?  “Coyote on the runway,” said the controller.  Well, that’s a first for me!  The controller called the Air Rescue guys to chase the coyote off the runway, and we departed into smooth, clear air with wonderful visibility.

The flight along the Gulf Coast was beautiful with the barrier islands on our right and the coast and beaches on our left.  We also enjoyed a 30 knot tailwind, though I admit I was sad to see our time together coming to an end.

We landed at Gulf Shores and saw the photographer filming the plane as I taxied to the ramp.  This poor guy, Brian Kelly, had been extremely patient with our “We’ll be there today!” and a few hours later when the weather turned sour “No we won’t” for days on end.  He took pictures of us next to the airplane and of me signing her logbook to document our trip, and then he filmed us talking about the flight and our time together.

Check out the video here: http://videos.al.com/al/2013/02/the_jethiking_gypsy_lands_at_g.html.

Brian Kelly’s full article is here: http://blog.al.com/gulf-coast/2013/02/the_jethiking_gypsy_travel_wri.html

Enjoying lemonade and sweet tea at Lambert's in Gulf Shores

Enjoying lemonade and sweet tea at Lambert’s in Gulf Shores

Amber will be in Gulf Shores for just one day and then will ride with the pilot who had offered the trip to Georgia, but since he’ll catch her on his return trip, she’ll be headed back to Biloxi, Mississippi, and plans to hit Arkansas before making her way to Florida in time for the Sun-n-Fun fly-in in April.

I am very proud to say that I was one of only two female pilots she’s ridden with so far.  I just hope she gets to ride with many more of us in her next thirty states.

Now a big fan of her as a person and of her project, I’ll be following along with rapt attention.  I also hope our paths cross again soon and that I can be of some help when she gets back home and starts taking flying lessons.

So, Mom, sorry for picking up a hitchhiker.  We had a blast!

Fly It Forward for Women of Aviation Week

I will be participating in the Fly It Forward initiative during the international Women of Aviation week by giving short airplane rides to women and girls March 4-10.  You can either contact me via my website, Facebook page, email, or phone to tell me what day/time you’d like to come.  We will be flying from Lakefront Airport, Hawthorne Aviation between 1:00 and 3:00 pm each day during the week of March 4-10.  We will only fly if the weather is clear, for your safety and so you can enjoy the beautiful view.  Children are welcome as long as you think they would like to come and will not be scared or misbehave.  No babies please.  Feel free to tell your friends and forward this information.  Since I will personally be covering the costs of these flights, the only thing I ask in return is that you either “like” my Facebook page and share it on your page with a short message about how much fun you had or sign up to receive email updates from my website if you are not on Facebook.

For more information about the Fly It Forward initiative, please visit http://www.womenofaviationweek.org/contests/fly-it-foward-challenge/.  And here is the link to the New Orleans event http://www.womenofaviationweek.org/rsvpmaker/la-new-orleans/.

I hope to see lots of eager women and girls at Lakefront Airport during the international Women of Aviation week!