Friday, October 04, 2013

Kimberly's First Post as the Girls With Wings Dreams Take Flight Scholarship Winner!

Kimberly's First Post as the Girls With Wings Dreams Take Flight Scholarship Winner! Kimberly's lessons have been funded in part by the generous donations that people have made to Girls With Wings. The Dreams Take Flight Dreams Take Flight Scholarship is designed to introduce the world of aviation to someone who would benefit from experiencing the joy of flight. The award of this scholarship is intended to fund introductory flight training to encourage achievement of a stated goal, whether in aviation or in another field of study. There is no prerequisite flight training required for this scholarship, just enthusiasm and the desire to learn. The Dreams Take Flight Scholarship is an award in the amount of $500.00. Read more about our scholarship program.


Girls With Wings – Dreams Take Flight Scholarship Update #1 

Kimberly L. Kanapeckas 

In August, Girls with Wings Inc named me a mentor and awarded an aviation flight training scholarship! This has been an incredible way to enter the aviation community and encourage others.

I’m fortunate to have some unique approaches to addressing the “So what do you do?” question. As a 28-year old PhD Candidate who teaches at Clemson University, I’m also a student in flight school. An aviator for the Clemson University Flying Club, I fly a Cessna 172N Skyhawk for a fixed-wing single engine land rating out of KCEU (Clemson-Oconee Regional) airport. Flying keeps my heart for adventure strong and provides a tangible, achievable goal with reliable landmarks: my PPL through to my CPL. My goal is to combine natural resource aviation with population ecology and genetic surveys.

One warm afternoon in late August I was picking a good field past Seneca to execute a soft field emergency landing and did a low pass and forward slip. My CFI looked over at me from the first officer seat and giggled. "We're making a fine bush pilot out of ya!" All smiles in the cockpit. Really blessed with my instructors. Fine mentors.

My fancy new David Clark H10-13.4 headset arrived in late August, and I scheduled a flight lesson to try it out.


On Thursday, 22 August, I soloed, flying a Cessna 172N, tail number N733VS (733 Victor Sierra). My CFI, Harrison, timed it so the first time I used my new headset would be the first time I flew alone. He rode with me for 2 passes in the pattern and then asked me to taxi to Bravo. I cleared the active and cleaned up my airplane--carb heat off, flaps up, trim set for takeoff--knowing exactly what was coming next. My heart started beating furiously, but I focused on following the checklists and keeping my cool (it’s either that or endanger your life). Harrison reached behind me into the backseat and pulled out my logbook. He signed his endorsement, coached me to execute a go-around on the first pass, and finally complete three full-stop taxi-back landings. He saluted me, said “Have fun, Captain!,” shut his door and walked away. I reached over and pulled the latch shut. At that moment, a calm, business-like demeanour came over me and was on my game, announcing confidently my intention to taxi to Runway 2-5. Pilot-in-Command alone in my aircraft! The First Solo is one of the most monumental days for a pilot – the day we enter the aviation community and are endorsed to fly alone per FAA regulations.

It was all joy. I completed 1 go-around, 1 touch-and-go, and 8(!!) full stop taxi-back crosswind landings a full hour PIC (pilot-in-command) time! (Yes, there was a crosswind – that wasn’t there when we were flying dual earlier but I nailed it perfectly!) When I executed my landing check and got to “Seatbelts Secure,” I looked over to confirm my passenger…Exactly. I was alone.

Pilots on approach into my home airport listening in on our CTAF congratulated me while I was flying, and apparently those at the FBO teased my CFI that he was going to have to go up in his Citabria to get me to come back out of the sky. The most special moment was when I entered the terminal after tying up my plane and a couple older pilots, one a CFI and the other an ATP, both reminisced about their own first solos with huge smiles and a single tear. They had been flying longer than I’ve been on this earth, and both of them remembered the exact day they soloed, what the weather was like, and how the plane smelled, felt, sounded. After signing and dating my shirttail, my CFI took me out to a local pub for lunch and a beverage before returning to work. We chatted about bush pilot techniques, mountain flying and landing with floats on rivers, negotiating currents etc, and strategised how I will eventually put all my training into practise.

When practising landings during training—as I applied for the GWW scholarship—I underwent a very steep and potentially discouraging learning curve complete with tears of frustration until a different CFI and Navy pilot technique made it click in mere minutes (after many hours logged). Now I land quite smoothly and always safely. Nothing has made me feel more thankful, successful, or accomplished in my life than knowing I can fly very well. In Neil Armstrong’s words, “Pilots take no special joy in walking. Pilots like flying.”

Flying alone from planning and preflight to shut-down 

No better way to begin the day than an early morning solo flight in the Cessna over Memorial Stadium/Death Valley (our football stadium) and Lake Hartwell before work. Following my plane’s silhouette along the treetops on final approach into the airport, the freedom granted to me is exhilarating. All our Creator’s glory in general revelation is below me, breath-taking.

By now I’ve flown solo down south of my airport practising ground reference maneuvers, steep turns, S-turns, pilotage, etc., as well as cross-countries to Georgia. Sometimes I sing in the cockpit to make my solo flights even more fun. Flying affords me the adventure and challenge I need to stay sharp in my PhD research. A poem by Alan Lerner speaks to my soul about why I love to fly airplanes:

I could see it wasn't worth 
Spending time with them on earth. 
There were fewer in the sky. 
I decided I would fly. 
I need air... 
Where only stars get in my hair: 
And only eagles stop and stare. 
I need air. 
Oh, the work is mad 
And I've had my share. 
I need air. 
I need air. 
I need air... 
There's not a sign of life down there. 
Just hats and grown-ups everywhere. 
I need air. 
Lots of cozy sky 
That God and I can share. 
I need air. 
I need air. 

Everything moves so quickly after soloing! I’m endorsed to take my FAA written knowledge exam, cross-country solo and then the final checkride. I absolutely cannot wait to earn my ticket so that I can share the amazing experience of flying in a light plane with my family and friends who support me throughout this journey. Seeing some of my friends look up at the sky when they hear a plane or become aware of being in a traffic pattern when flying from city to city on their favourite airline makes my heart smile. Giving others, especially those I love, a taste of the wonder of flight is one of the aspects of training I most anticipate.

What’s on the horizon for me? Climbing the ranks and ratings – certificate to carry passengers, instrument rating to fly in clouds, commercial to fly for money, multiengine to fly jets, Certified Flight Instructor (I want to give other people wings!), float and ski rating (to land on water or ice), and heli rating (to fly helicopters). Eventually, I hope to build hours and fly for the US Fish and Wildlife Service or a state Department of Natural Resources as a pilot/wildlife researcher – I intend to fly in bush/mountains, remote places in Africa, Alaska wilderness areas – which are some of the most difficult, dangerous type of flying.

Colleagues ask if I’m going to leave science and fly for Delta. Possibly. “Can we get free tickets?” I smirk. Certainly, aviation fits my personality - love the community and camaraderie that pilots share, and both the freedom and challenge flying affords us. Some arenas of biological sciences I’ve worked in are that way – particularly wildlife professions. So flying wildlife censuses, game capture, and migratory fowl research projects are perfectly aligned with my personality, passions, and goals in life. There are even some research stations that are airborne observatories which may combine my interests. The excellent part about a pilot certificate is that we can fly anywhere on earth with correct documentation – perhaps one of the very few truly transferable qualifications! As is often the case with my life, I’ll have to find an infrequent, brave soul or two equally inspired by adventure and exploration to come along!

My parents are perhaps my greatest supporters, which is such a huge blessing and motivation to pursuing my dreams. But sometimes you find that even those who know you and love you most may not always be able to relate to your decisions and sacrifices. That’s ok – go for it anyway. Be your kind of awesome. When it comes down to it, I’ve found that there’s this intrinsic, God-gifted drive that gives one the courage to take on those risks, challenges, and promising dreams. Being a pilot is not something I do, it’s someone I am. Bring on the passengers!

Blue skies to you all!
Please note that the scholarships are funded by donations - so we need contributions from people like YOU to keep our program running. We always have way more deserving applicants than funds. Visit our donation page to help.  

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