Three summers ago, I had the chance to go up in a lightweight airplane with acrobatic capability. The pilot demonstrated barrel rolls and loops, and I got to feel the effects of a “G” for the first time. It was one of the most unique feelings, knowing that I was upside down in the middle of the sky. The amount of adrenaline running through my veins told me that I was not scared but thrilled. I did not want the flight to ever stop! After we landed, I realized I had fallen in love with flying.
Shortly after that day, I enrolled in a flight school based out of Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport in Broomfield, Colorado. My dad was my instructor for most of my training, he is a pilot for United Airlines.
The first part of private pilot training is learning how to take off and introducing in-air maneuvers. Taking off is fairly straightforward, in-air maneuvers are more technical. You also learn how to make radio calls to the air traffic control tower. For me, it felt overwhelming knowing I had to coordinate radio calls, memorizing runways and taxiways, and knowing what each button in the cockpit controlled. It felt like there were a million buttons staring at me.
With time and practice, these tasks became second nature, and did not feel as intimidating. I completed each required test for the first phase, and it was time to move on. The second phase of training is learning how to land the plane. This phase takes the longest to master. To learn how to land, you practice “touch and go’s” at an airport. For touch and go’s, you basically fly around the runway in a rectangular pattern, landing each time, then going around and doing it again. My first couple of landings were rough, and honestly terrifying, but with countless hours of practice, I felt comfortable landing the plane. It was now time for my first solo.
I had my first solo at an uncontrolled airport in Erie, Colorado. I was so nervous, but I knew I was ready. I lined up on the runway and pushed the throttle forward. Before I knew it, I was up in the air, all by myself. It was one of the most powerful feelings knowing I was in full control of an aircraft with no help. It felt weird without my dad sitting in the passenger seat helping me, but it was a huge step in the process.
After this step, I moved on to cross-country flying. These flights require extensive planning and attention to detail. You have to double, and triple check the weather, account for winds, and memorize a new airport’s runways. I enjoyed the actual flights but despised the preplanning. For my first cross-country solo, I flew to Wyoming and back.
Once I completed my cross-country solo, it was time to prepare for my check ride. The check ride is the final examination for the private pilot course. You are extensively interviewed by an examiner, both on the ground and in-air. My examiner asked me questions on the ground for two and a half hours. At this point I was exhausted, and we still needed to complete the flying part of the exam. This particular instructor was strict, and wouldn’t allow for one mistake, so the pressure was on. There were a series of tasks he asked me to complete in the air. I had to perform each different type of take-off and landing, prove I could perform all the maneuvers, and much more. He did not give me any feedback the entire flight, so I was not sure if I had passed or not. My examiner did not let me pass, he said I needed a little more practice.
Two weeks later, I attempted the check ride again. This time, we were just flying because I had already passed the ground examination. I was not going to let myself fail again. I performed all the maneuvers he asked me to, and I knew I nailed them. The instructor did not give me any feedback until we landed back at the airport. He gave me a big high five and said, “Congratulations Rachel, you’re a private pilot!”
This was one of the best moments of my life, knowing I had just accomplished something huge, and I am now a licensed pilot. The whole process taught me a lot about discipline and to not give up. I wouldn’t change my experience for the world.