Editor’s Note: As part of Sporty’s Learn to Fly Month, Air Facts is pleased to share contributor Stacy Wiegman’s account of overcoming her fears and sharing the joy flying with her son.
I earned my private pilot’s license when I was 29 at Wings Field (N67, now LOM). I then flew for fun and talked a few friends into coming along sometimes. A favorite destination was lunch at the airport diner in Ocean City, NJ (26N), and my friend Carmen was a willing passenger more than once. My reputation at my home field was that I was a good, careful, responsible pilot. I was proud of that—I was one of the few women flying there at the time.
I went ahead to earn my instrument and ultimately my commercial ratings. I flew on vacation in Kansas, Florida, and Montana, meeting flight instructors in each location who taught me some fun nuggets like mountain search and rescue techniques. I flew over PHL more times than I can count, looking down on the city buildings and watching the big planes descend below me to the runway. I loved my time in the air.
But after having my son, I found I feared flying. I was afraid to leave him without a mother. I would think about flying once in a while as I focused on working and raising him. I was busy, for sure, but I was also afraid. I accepted that bad things might happen when I flew before he was born. I was fatalistic that even the best pilots sometimes experience circumstances beyond their control. In the years after he was born, though, things changed. We moved to South Carolina, I didn’t have a known home field anymore, and it just seemed so hard to get back into flying. Most of all, I had some serious self doubts.
When he was 10, I said I wanted to fly again. I had actually kept up my third class medical the whole time. Even though I said to myself I wanted to fly, I still didn’t do anything about it. When he was 12, I got more serious and looked up nearby airports and flight schools. The one closest to me had a flying club, but I didn’t know if I wanted to sign up for that commitment. While I was once again at the ME’s office, he mentioned that the next closest airport was popular with his pilot patients because they had a lot of rental planes, so I decided that was the place to go. I signed up for Rod Machado’s online course as a refresher and did that in between work meetings, so I felt pretty good about regulations, airspace, and general ground information.
I called the flight school at Monroe Executive (EQY) and talked to the manager. She was a reassuring woman with a lot of flight experience herself, and she connected me with a flight instructor she felt would be a good fit. In March 2021, I finally got out to the airport. We did some ground school, and my knowledge was acceptable. In early April, I climbed back into a 172. I took two flight lessons that month, and then weather and life grounded me until November.
If I am being honest, I’ll admit that I had some second thoughts. I was so rusty, and that was disappointing to me. Landings were harder than I remembered—I did not remember having this much trouble landing in the past! GPS had emerged just as I stopped flying, so that was a new tool to me. It all seemed so overwhelming, and my confidence took a big hit.
In November, I found time again to go flying. On my second lesson in November, we did the skyline tour of Charlotte. It reminded me why I liked to fly—the amazing view you can’t get any other way. My ability to set up a stabilized approach came back quickly, and my manipulation of the controls was good. It started to feel a little better.
But then we did a night lesson. I always loved night flight because it was smoother, clearer, and there was typically less traffic to worry about. I was looking forward to it. We took off and flew into the nearby practice area to get more familiar with using the GPS to navigate. I was able to find the airport and entered the pattern. After turning final, I was lined up on approach when my instructor said, “Are you lined up with the runway or the taxiway?” With horror, I realized I was lined up to land on the taxiway, so perfectly lit with the blue lights. I quickly shifted to the left, now lined up with the runway. I had forgotten that the blue lights are the taxiway, not the runway!
While everything else started to fall into place, my landings were still a struggle. I searched for advice on how to improve and welcomed criticism from my instructor on my performance. I didn’t want to be an okay pilot—I wanted to be a good pilot. I wanted to grab center line and touch down softly again.
Then a series of planes being down for service impacted my flying time. My flight instructor told me he got a job with the airlines and would be leaving in mid-June. I second-guessed myself again. Maybe this was a sign that it was not to be. I wondered if I had to say “I used to be a pilot” rather than “I am a pilot.”
It was now almost 15 months since I sat down with my instructor for ground school. My instructor said he would sign me off when I said I was ready. My landings were safe even if not ideal. I decided I was going to finish this long flight review. I focused on landing and navigation with GPS, my two struggles. I discovered some helpful sites for improving my landings and used their tips.
Finally, things came together. We did a night flight over Charlotte, with my son in the back taking pictures. It was a perfect night, and the pictures he took are incredible. The fun part of flying was back.
In June, my flight instructor signed me off and a few days later, he left for his new job. I decided to try out all the planes at the school so that I’d have some options, and so I have flown with a new instructor for that. She is an impressive pilot and teacher, and she reminds me of another thing I love about flying—the camaraderie with other pilots.
I have also flown alone. The first time alone was like my first solo all over again. I was very careful on preflight, taking it slow. In my first circuit in the pattern, I talked out loud with every action, set up a stabilized approach, and landed smoothly. It was the culmination of a year and a half of work, delays, frustrations, and doubts. I felt the clouds lifting from me.
My son announced that he wants to learn to fly. In a couple years, I’ll let him do so. For now, he can sit beside me, and we’ll have some adventures like I used to before fear grounded me. We’ll go for lunch 50 miles away once in a while, fly along the coast, and do the skyline tour of the city again. He’ll get to see his mom as a competent pilot—how many kids can say their mom can fly a plane? Everything it took to get back in that left seat was worth it.