I sent off another scholarship essay this past weekend. I wish I’d realized in high school how true it was when everyone told me that there were lots of scholarships out there that no one ever applied for, and that if I would just take the time to do it, my odds would be pretty good because so few others are bothering to. But no. I was one of the masses who made it easier for all those go getters. Well, no more, baby. I’m becoming a lean mean application machine.
Plus, it’s a great incentive to write, and on one of my favorite subjects, too: aviation. This particular application asked for three responses, 500 words apiece, the first two variations on the standards “What do you love about aviation?” and “What are your aviation goals?” but the third was a little more exciting. The third wanted to know what my favorite General Aviation memory was and how it had impacted my views on General Aviation.
For those of you not in the know, General Aviation, or GA, basically refers to aircraft operations by anyone other than the airlines, major cargo operations, or the military. It encompasses everything from single seat, homebuilt aircraft to warbirds to business jets. And it is a tight knit community I am proud to count myself a member of.
I had little trouble choosing a memory, and quite a bit of trouble keeping it under 500 words. But here it is, in its entirety, with some details redacted to protect the innocent. I’ve been meaning to write more here about flying anyway, so…hope you enjoy.
My favorite GA memory comes from an EAA airshow two years ago in the Pacific Northwest. I had only recently begun working with a local warbird group, doing whatever they would allow/tell me to, and doing it enthusiastically. I was there crewing our B-25, and fielding innumerable questions about whether or not I was there because I was married to one of the pilots. At first, it was a bit exasperating, but then I learned it was much more fun to watch people’s jaws drop when I smiled and cheerfully informed them that I was a full-fledged, wrench-turning member of the crew.
We took up several sightseeing flights at that show, beautiful, winding flights through the Cascade Mountains. As a Texas girl, the mountains were impressive enough, but it had been over 110° back home, and the frozen waterfalls hidden in the mountain ranges were particularly enchanting. On sightseeing flights, my job was generally to hand passengers sick-sacks when necessary and make sure they were back in their seats before the aircraft was on final. But mostly, I got to sit in the jumpseat and enjoy the view.
On the very last flight of the second to last day, the flight was particularly enjoyable. The air was crisp and calm, the flight was full, and nobody was feeling ill. I was at my usual post, delighting in the usual sights, when some movement to my left caught my eye. The owner of the aircraft and co-pilot for this particular flight was removing his headphones. He was getting up. And then he pointed at me, and jerked his thumb towards the right seat.
I barely remembered to remove my own headset before vaulting into my new seat, and figured I’d worry about stuffing my heart back down my throat later.
“Welcome,” said the other pilot, and I think I barely managed to squeak out a greeting in return. He gave me a heading, noted our altitude, and said the three most magical words I’d heard in a long, long time: “Ok. Your airplane.”
Yep. Me. A broke, out of work, desperate young pilot with maybe 47 flight hours to her name. I was flying a B-25. And I think, in that moment, I understood what general aviation was all about. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life, and I had done nothing that I could think of to earn it. It was a gift, pure and simple. A gift given to me by people who themselves had received gifts from others in the aviation community for years. I can’t think of a single friend I’ve made in this unique population who doesn’t have stories to tell of the people who gave to them knowing they had nothing comparable to give in return. With all of the challenges general aviators face, I believe that we are a group who survives best by paying it forward, and I’m very much looking forward to being able to do the same some day.
The scholarship committee, while choosing someone else for the advertised scholarship, liked my essays so much they decided to make up a whole new one and give it to me! Huzzah!