My “Private” Journey

By Rose Rivera

Think back to the first flight you were ever on. For some of us, that is a long time ago. For others, it may be a shorter time span. I was on several Young Eagles flights before I ever took my first flight lesson, but I still remember the overwhelming feeling of being in a small airplane as you start learning to fly. I probably taxied that 152 like a taildragger for the first few months until I could figure out that the feet do the steering. Keep my hands in my lap!

And radio calls…oh my! They sounded like a bunch of mumbo jumbo. I couldn’t figure out heads or tails of what they were saying, no pun intended. When I did learn to hear the call sign, it was still a challenge to know what to repeat and to know what the calls to other airplanes were about. And that’s on top of getting over talking on a recorded radio!

But out of all the new things to learn, I think stalls came close to being the hardest to first get used to. They scared me very badly the first time my instructor ever demonstrated them. Power-on stalls especially. It is so easy to get a big wing drop in those little trainer airplanes, and then you need to recover fast, or you are headed toward a spin nose down to the earth.

Yes, there a lot of things to learn when flying an aircraft. But aren’t we glad we put the time into it? First off, it is so much fun to be able to take a hunk of metal and maneuver it through the skies like a graceful bird. A couple times during my training the tower told me that the landings looked nice after a day of practicing takeoffs and landings. It felt good to know I was beginning to handle the airplane well. Secondly, aircraft are very useful in our lives. Think about how much we depend on aviation now: transportation, deliveries, vacation, military purposes, search and rescue, and more. Another thing, we get to be involved with such a great community of aviation enthusiasts.

Learning to fly an airplane takes time. When we train to learn something, there are two main sides that I can think of: the exciting aspect and the painful aspect. The exciting aspect is when we are making progress. All of us want to see results. It is awesome when the training starts to pay off. The “painful” stage is, well, the other part. It can be painful for a lot of reasons; maybe it is difficult because of finances or resources or time or skill or other background things going on. There is a lot that can make training for something challenging, but we need both sides of training to accomplish the goal.

Aviation teaches us so many practical skills along the way. Which one of us trained with an instructor and only, solely, entirely, learned to fly the airplane? We learn to read charts, do practical math, solve problems/dilemmas, maintain situational awareness, and (my special weak point) remember where north, south, east, and west are. I struggled with it so much that after one flight, my instructor sat me down and went over the points of the compass. In my head I was thinking, “Yeah, I know that north is opposite of south. I just can’t seem to remember it in the air!”

In my training there came a day when my instructor thought I was ready to solo. I don’t think any of us will forget the day we solo. It kind of stands out to us as monumental along the way.  On August 19, 2021, I did a couple laps with my instructor first to make sure that my landings were still up to par and suitable. Then he told me to do a full stop. I knew what was coming next…excited, yes, but somewhat apprehensive. As my instructor suggested, I told tower that I was a student pilot solo when calling, and that I was ready for takeoff. He was super helpful and accommodating throughout my first short flight alone. In that one half-hour, I walked through a door. I could do this. I could fly. Anything is possible. I will not forget the feeling of satisfaction knowing that I was flying the aircraft. Most importantly, by the time I was done with the solo, the aircraft was reusable.

By the time mid-January rolled around, I was ready for another step in the training — solo cross-country. There was more pre-planning involved with the cross-country than with the solo. I made sure to really study the weather, print out my taxiway diagrams, and charge my navigation device. My instructor made sure to cover any last-minute questions, and I was set to go. After an extra careful pre-flight and run up, I was on my way. Again, I had the same fleeting notion, “What if I can’t do it?” However, I just stuck with the training I had been doing (the exciting and painful parts) and followed through. The weather ended up being beautiful. Overall, it was a really smooth flight with no major issues or problems.

195 days from first soloing the aircraft was the day I met with a DPE (designated pilot examiner). Checkride day! My anticipation of it made it very nerve wracking. Yet, during the actual test, I settled in quickly and was able to rely on my good training to take me through. Everything went really smoothly with only a couple of minor rough spots. The takeoffs and landings were a great way to end the checkride. I hit my points right on for the spot landings, and the soft field was excellent in technique. The DPE was quite pleased and said that I came well prepared. Whew!! Less than a week before the checkride, I discovered that my landings had deteriorated significantly and needed some serious practice. So, every day until the checkride, I went out and practiced touch and gos. Training pays off! One of those days was a 1.5 hour flight but tower was so busy, I ended up including some extra practice that day; I did three 360s, one go-around, and at least one extended downwind, all on a solo flight. Talk about traffic!

Going back to the training though, there were a lot of people who made all this possible for me. It started with local EAA chapters. I worked with a couple of different ones, including one in Orlando, one in Umatilla, Florida, and another one in Leesburg, Florida. All of the chapters encouraged me and helped me get closer to flying, but the Leesburg chapter sent out lists of scholarships for the youth to look at. One of these was the Jones Brothers scholarship. I applied. Not too long after, I was awarded this scholarship from them to begin working on a private pilot certificate and another scholarship to pursue my seaplane rating. A big thanks to the Jones Brothers for their part in all of this! After finishing the Jones Brothers funds, EAA Chapter 534 donated Ray Aviation Scholarship funds. Another very important person throughout my training was my instructor. He set up a foundation for my flying that I will always have with me. I really enjoyed working with him. As you can tell, this was definitely not a one-man (or woman) journey. It took a whole team of people to help me get here. Not only did I not have to do it on my own, but I would go so far as to say I could not have done it on my own.

Out of all the things that my local EAA Chapter 534 has done for me, one of the best things they did for me was networking. I met so many different mentors who were able to help me. I met so many different people who gave me good advice. I met so many different friends who were also interested in aviation. I am extremely grateful for the support from everyone. However, the list of people who helped me would not be complete without including my family. They were patient when I studied. They came out to watch when I reached a milestone. They were there when I needed encouragement. I don’t know what I would do without them.

So, what do you do with aviation? Or maybe the better question is what do you want to do with aviation? Because no matter where we are or no matter how far we come, we can always go a step further and learn a little more. For me, aviation is a tool. I want to use it to transport supplies and people. My entire life I have dreamed of being a missionary in Africa, and I am still trying to fit the pieces together in how to do that. But I realize that aviation can do a lot and be a significant help in reducing the workload of other missionaries and broaden the horizons of people in remote areas. A walk (hike, rather) that would take hours, maybe days on foot, can now be done in mere minutes with an airplane. It took me a long time to fully grasp the power and potential aviation has. It is truly remarkable. I began desiring to include aviation into my missionary dreams…and so the race began.

Sometimes small things are big steps. For example, when I was learning to fly, I had a really difficult time figuring out what a left traffic pattern was, and what a right traffic pattern was. It just didn’t click. Now it is a piece of cake. A small step, but it is a very important part of flying. It is a reality that one person is unable to solve all the world’s problems, but it is just as much a reality that one person is able to solve a problem no one else can. There are times when I do not feel ready or capable to complete this task. Others have stepped in and encouraged me along the way. I take hope in knowing that this is my Heavenly Father’s plan for me. He never makes mistakes, so I know this is the right path. It is much more than simply choosing a career. It is about fulfilling a purpose. Few people ever receive such a clear indication of the direction of their life. I have. With that comes a large responsibility.

All along the way, God has been there — my first flight, my first solo, my cross-country, and my checkride. He has never left me, and I know He never will. There is a peace that comes with doing your part and leaving the details and results to Him. A God that loves you that much is worth living and dying for. Everything in this world is so temporary; let’s live for what will last, the eternal. His will is the ultimate goal for my life. I hope that God gets all the glory from what I do. I have learned (am learning) that following Him certainly does not mean everything goes right. In fact, it usually means a lot goes wrong. But He somehow works the bad to make it into something good. It may not be good at the time. It may not be pleasant. It may not feel like there is a purpose in it, but God knows. And He always fulfills His promises.

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” Colossians 3:17

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