To invent a plane is nothing.
To build one is something.
To fly is everything.
— Otto Lilienthal
Have you ever been outside on a absolutely gorgeous day and watched the birds soared and wished you could. I am here to tell you that you can – no matter how young or old you are.
I learned to fly 3 weeks before my 30th birthday. Everyone remembers their solo. My solo was on December 8, 1985 in my 1946 Luscombe 8A. My instructor, Dave Blanton, had been working with me since the end of October. He knew it was time for the young bird to leave its nest. I wasn’t so sure.
Dave had me fly to a small airport near Maize, Kansas. The airport would have been typical in the early days of flying – grass runway, small hangars lining the west edge, trees lining the east edge of the runway, classic and antique aircraft sitting waiting to launch into the blue sky. Upon arrival at the airport Dave instructed me to land the Luscombe. After landing, I taxied back to the take off end of the runway. Dave started to get out and I asked what was he doing. He informed me that it was now my turn to take off and land by myself.
I will be honest – I was scared. I was about to SOLO! I talked myself through the procedures that Dave had been teaching me and through the silliness about what my obituary would say! However, upon leaving the ground behind me all I could think of was what a rush! I was flying the airplane all by myself. I completed the pattern to return for my first solo landing. I just remembered that landing was simply slowing the airplane down just prior to the wheels making contact with the ground. It was beautiful. I taxied back to pick up Dave, but he insisted on my doing again. The second time was great, but I will never forget the first time I took command of the airplane and flew it myself.
I could not have asked for better conditions for my first flight. It was a beautiful day for Kansas – light winds and blue skies with the warm winter sun shining. The Luscombe, a high wing, two seat, taildragger aircraft was about to celebrate its 40th birthday. The airport had a grass runway with other antique and classic aircrafts playing witness to my first Solo. It will be a day I will always remember.
Otto Lilienthal said it all – to fly is everything.
Now I share the joy of flying with my 16 year old daughter, Julia. She enjoys the view of Kansas from 1000 feet above ground level. She finds it fascinating to see her school, her friends home, and her running routes from a bird’s eye view.
Julia & I along with Janet Yoder & Vicki Hunt are about to have another adventure. We are participating in the Women’s Transcontinental Air Race from El Paso, TX to Cleveland, OH. This Airrace can trace its beginning to the First Women’s Transcontinental Air Race in 1929 with pilots such as Pancho Barnes, Louise Thadden and Amelia Earhart.
Bonnie L. Johnson
Aerodynamic Laboratories Director, National Institute for Aviation Research,
Wichita State Univeristy
President, Board of Trustees, Kansas Aviation Museum
Member, AOPA, EAA, SWE, KS 99s, AIAA
Last Updated: June 1, 1999