Some things in my life have simply become fuzzy memories. I vaguely remember the general details of certain occurrences. Other situations, however, I remember very vividly. The decision to become a pilot is one of those wonderful memories that I seem to remember so well.
I grew up in a small town in Utah that wasn't exactly known for its aviation roots. For so long, I've told this story from the first grade...so that must be the truth! I know it was very early on in my public education experience that I learned about aviation. It happened at one of those school assemblies where they get us all together to discuss the negative effects of drugs or make us practice for an upcoming Christmas program where we get to sing lots of songs for our folks. This particular school assembly was held outside. It sounds silly, but none of us knew why we were sitting out on the grass of the huge playground. Soon a chop-chop-chop sound appeared and continued to draw closer until we made visual with its maker: a Robinson 22 helicopter. I admit that I didn't know what it was then. That didn't prevent me from watching in awe, with my mouth dropped open, I'm sure, as the helicopter came into view. It slowly descended until a perfect landing was made one-hundred feet from us.
"This is pretty dang cool," I thought to myself.
As the engine shut down and the rotor blades came to a halt, we were all invited to gather closer around the helicopter. The glass door opened and out stepped a man in a flight suit. And I was sold. Getting to fly something like that while wearing something so nifty? Count me in, sir! The pilot talked to us for about half an hour about the specs of his helicopter as well as how he got into flying himself. He was an uncle of one of my schoolmates, and Trevor certainly became the Popular Kid for the next several weeks. Others' enthusiasm began to die down after that, and the assembly organized by my school leaders was soon forgotten by most kids.
But not me.
It was at that point that I realized I really wanted to fly. It just seemed perfect for me, and I got butterflies every time the thought popped into my head. Which was quite often, considering I would run outside to follow the sound of anything flying overhead for the next ten years. My family just laughed at me when this happened. I would hear the annoyed shouts from inside that it was my turn for the game we were playing, but it didn't matter to me. There are airplanes to see out here, people! I would watch whatever flew over until it was out of sight.
While growing up, I had many opportunities to fly on commercial airliners with my dad. I remember my first flight as we boarded the Southwest 737, still painted with the classic brown and orange stripes. I was around seven years old. I lingered a little too long at the entry door, trying to peek into the cockpit. It was overwhelming to see all the buttons, flashing lights, and things to push in there! How could I ever know what all of that did?! As I sat down and buckled in, my hands grasped the armrest in eager anticipation. I will always remember the first time I got thrown back into the seat of my airplane as full thrust was applied for takeoff. Talk about exhilaration!
When I was about eleven, I attended a health clinic at the local hospital with my family. Most people attend this for the free popcorn (I did mention it was a health clinic, right?), but I was there because the LifeFlight Helicopter and crew had been invited. This was my first experience sitting in the cockpit of anything that flew, and the memory is forever burned in my head. I think the guy caught on that I was pretty interested, so he took the one-on-one time with me to let me touch the controls and explain what rudder pedals do. Luckily, there wasn't a line behind me, so I had lots of neat time sitting in the right seat of that Agusta A109 K2 helicopter. It was simply magical for me.
Just a few years later, I received one of the most precious gifts ever for my fourteenth birthday. My mom bought my registration for an aviation day camp hosted by Utah Valley State College, which had a thriving flight program. I got to spend an entire day on their campus at Provo Airport, learning about weather, aircraft systems, preflighting an airplane, and emergency procedures. I was so excited and nervous all at once, and it was at this day camp that I realized how outnumbered I would be for the rest of my life. I was the only girl in attendance! Rather than being intimidated, I was thrilled with my odds. I felt like I was more enthralled with everything, and I kind of ignored those dumb boys, anyway. I was too busy watching takeoffs and landings to be bothered by their childish games!
The best part of the camp was that I got to schedule a half-hour flight in their training airplane, the Diamond Katana. My mom even drove me all the way back up to Provo again for this adventure. It was incredible! In fact, I got to do my flight with the Director of Flight Operations, and he had a great time explaining everything he could to me in the shortest half hour of my life. Words can't describe the incredible feeling as the wheels left the ground. It just solidified my decision to fly.
I will be the first to admit that my attention turned elsewhere for some years of middle school and high school. I thought it would be pretty neat to become a spy. I still loved airplanes, but something else stole my thoughts for a while. You can imagine my killer social life at this point! I soon realized that I could be a spy and fly, so I soon went back to being obsessed with aviation full-time.
And then I enrolled in a college flight program after high school. That story deserves a second installment of How It All Began.
P.S. On a cross country flight while in college, I flew over a town just south of where I grew up. One of my readers lives there now. Hello, Karen in Salina! I'm so tickled that you read my blog. I thought just my mommy knew it existed...