Kelli Gant - My Year of Flight
By Kelli Gant
Bay Cities Chapter
International Women Pilots/99NEWS Magazine
I sat next to my, plane in its hangar late in May 1998 listening to a DC3 taxi down to the Executive Terminal and watching the fog drift over the San Francisco bay. I had just arrived home from my second solo IFR trip that had required a full instrument approach into Oakland International Airport. I was bathing in a feeling of power and accomplishment. And, I was thinking about all the women before me who flew into and out of this historic airfield. I am sure they must have had a similar sense of joy as they returned home from trips, finished record setting flights, or set out to conquer a world record.
My own flying accomplishments in the last year were not record-setting by aviation standards, but for me, this was truly a year I will remember. Prior to this year, my record logbook year was the one in which I earned my private pilot license: 1977. I was just out of high school and had landed a job at Sierra Flyers flying school in Auburn, California. I logged 75 hours of flying that first year.
This year, I logged 130 hours of which 111 hours were cross-country time. I stuffed my flying in between working full-time as a contract technical writer for software companies, incorporating my business, building web sites for small businesses, and spending as much time as possible at our house in Trinity Center.
Like 1977, I completed a pilot rating this year. I passed my Instrument check ride two days after Christmas. Unlike my private pilot license, the Instrument rating was very hard work. I must confess that I needed several people supporting, encouraging, and gently pushing me to complete the rating. In the end, not only has the rating made me a safer and more confident pilot, but the rating has really taught me how to fly the V35B Bonanza that I purchased half ownership of in the spring of 1996.
The speed and complexity of the Bonanza is a long way from the two-seater Grumman Trainer, in which I learned to fly. Or from the Grumman Tigers and Pipers that I flew over the years. In addition to the complex aircraft system, I had been out of aviation for 10 years and just started flying again. So by June 1997, the twentieth anniversary of my private license, my head was again swimming with numbers, frequencies, rules and procedures.
My hit-and-miss flying lessons were just not helping to clear up the confusion very fast. Somehow I needed to immerse myself in the plane and the rating to let the pieces fall together. But how could I do this while working around my schedule and that of a corporate pilot instructor?
The solution was simple. As my instructor and I were walking back to the flying club after a lesson, Bob told me about an article he had just read on how much instrument students can learn when their instructor takes them on a "real" cross country trip. Not just a trip of one or two hundred miles, but a multiple day trip of over a thousand miles. Bob said he agreed with the article and hoped that one day he could do that type of instruction. Hmm... Many flying destinations came to mind as he spoke. Maybe Washington or Texas or Wyoming. Then, without much thought, I casually mentioned that Portland, Maine would be a good cross-country because I had a Ninety-Nines convention there anyway. Bob's eyes lighted up and I knew I was in for an adventure.
The week and a half trip to Portland was truly a lifetime learning experience. I returned to Oakland with 42 more hours in my log book, 12 hours of actual instrument time, multiple approaches to 18 airports, heavy weather experience, an alternator failure in a rain storm at night, and a renewed love for visiting new airports and meeting airport people. I also now have a professional understanding about how to work the Air Traffic Control system and plan flights in ever-changing weather conditions. And I was finally comfortable in my plane.
So what was the downside of this trip? I saw little of the United States during my hours under the hood. What was my personal triumph? Bob and I were still friends despite those long hours in close quarters, barked instructions during an approach, and sharing every breakfast, lunch and dinner together.
I wonder if my fellow Bay Cities Ninety-Nines got tired of my Portland trip stories. If they did, they never said anything. Could it have been because I was Chapter Chairman and they wanted me to be Chairman another year? I hope not. Did I inspire them? I hope so. We now have two women in instrument training and two other members on the edge of starting.
And that brings me to The Ninety-Nines. My work with the Bay Cities Chapter and the Southwest Section is my source of spiritual energy. I love to fly, but belonging to The Ninety-Nines, performing community service, and helping women work toward their goals is where my spark comes from. I started with The Ninety-Nines when I was learning to fly in Auburn, California. Several other pilots at the airport and I started the Placer Gold Chapter after attending Sacramento Valley Chapter meetings. Even during my 10-year aviation hiatus, The Ninety-Nines' meetings, newsletters and 99S NEWS kept my pilot light burning.
That pilot light kept burning until three years ago when I moved to the San Francisco Bay Cities area during a job change. Despite the new job, new area, and a new life, I immediately felt at home after my first Bay Cities Chapter meeting. Instantly, I had a group of friends, advisors, supporters - and was on my way back into the aviation world.
And the return was at full speed. Being someone who has a hard time saying no to the call for a volunteer, 1997 was my first year as Bay Cities Chapter Chairman. I have truly fallen in love with this Chapter - its members, its history and its personality. Bay Cities is fortunate to have a major flight academy on the field, two major airline maintenance facilities, several strong flight schools, a wonderful aerospace museum, terrific members, a supportive FBO, and a 66-year history.
This year, our Chapter focused on marketing itself to young and new pilots in the area, expanding our fly-out calendar, and planning our "A Day at the Airport" for young girls. We had a very successful New Members Night, maintained our Women Pilots exhibit at the Western Aerospace Museum, and continued to build recognition in the area.
In addition, I couldn't say no when Pam O'Brien asked me to be the Section Public Relations Chairman for a second year. I had been trying to figure out a way to help promote The Ninety-Nines with little capital expenditure. The decision was to create a web site.
Pam and I had started the International Ninety-Nines web site together so it seemed natural for me to create a site for the Southwest Section. The Southwest Section site went live on the Internet as www.sws99s.org on the 1998 New Year's weekend and has been growing ever since. The 47-page site gets an average of 70 visitors a day and has generated many e-mail requests for more information about The Ninety-Nines, flying, aviation research and articles.
An unexpected result of this web site work has been a deeper attachment to The Ninety-Nines. I am constantly amazed with how much Ninety-Nines do, what we can do, and all the marvelous women who created and have kept the spirit of The Ninety-Nines intact. I feel proud each time I add more information to the site and read about another Ninety-Nine's achievement.
The history of the Bay Cities Chapter and Southwest Section has become addictive. I plan to spend a great deal of time over the next year expanding the history sections of the web site and updating our own chapter albums.
My thoughts then drifted from Section history, to the fun airports I had landed at, to my next flying trip. A slow moving Federal Express jet interrupted the silence and my thoughts. The fog had rolled in over the airport and I could only hear an occasional plane taking off. Airports have always been my special place. They are where my soul can run free and where dreams stay alive. Yes, this has been a terrific and hectic year-personally, professionally and spiritually.
Now, what can I do in 1999?