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Like so many other nine year-olds, I played on a softball team. Our sponsor was sheriff Ross. I’ll never forget his name as it was printed on the back of the maroon colored shirts the whole team wore. It was the end of the season and our sponsor had a little surprise for all of us girls. He was going to take us flying after our game. I can still remember all the excitement of us girls running out to see his airplane. We couldn’t all fit, so he was going to have to do several small trips with a few of us at a time. When it was my turn, I got in the middle of the backseat and had to strain to see out the windows.
That was it for me. I fell in love with flying. It changed my view of the world. I felt safe and calm flying through the air and looking over all God’s creation seeing the light shine on everything below. After that, I knew I wanted to be a pilot.
Becoming a pilot was not a straight forward path for me. In the days before the internet, I looked for others to advise me on how to make my dream a reality, but all I heard was, “It’s too dangerous, you don’t want to do that, it’s too expensive, you would need to go to the military to get enough hours, women aren’t pilots, and you would never get hired at an airline.” So, I started to believe that maybe flying wasn’t for me. I went to college and worked really hard. The day came when I graduated with honors and started my first job working as a lab assistant. I saw an ad for a free ground school class in aviation. I loved flying and free sounded good, so I signed up. If I couldn’t afford to fly, I could at least learn about it.
I was late for my first class. The drive was long and I couldn’t leave work early to get there on time. The class was full of around thirty men and I moved to the only empty seat in the back of the class. I listened to our instructor tell us about aerodynamics and the four forces that act on an airplane. Week after week went by and we would take a test on each chapter. I was doing well. Being fresh out of college, studying was easy, but understanding the gauges was difficult. He would explain what an altimeter was, but I needed to see it. He suggested to the class that we fly at least once and that would help all of the instrumentation make sense. So, I signed up for a flight.
I was paired with a seasoned instructor and he started showing me how to preflight and check all the paperwork, and how to inspect the plane. He seemed as bored as I was excited. We began to taxi and I kept trying to steer with the yoke instead of my feet nearly running into the grass. We finally made it to the runway and he told me I would be taking off. I could barely move in a straight line, so I wasn’t sure this was a good idea, but who was I to question his experience. So, I pushed the throttle forward and we started down the runway. He told me to pull back at 60, so I did, and we were flying. Now, he must have thought I was the craziest person because I started screaming, “I’m flying, I’m flying!”. That was it, I had to find a way to keep flying. I scraped together every penny and bought ten lessons.
Life is full of twists and turns, and a short time later, I met my future husband and made a big move from Michigan to Nashville. I took some time off from flying, but he quickly encouraged me to get back in the airplane and finish my rating. I worked through my Private certificate and after that I decided I needed to buy a plane to work on my instrument rating. I was working as a teacher by this time, and used my earnings to buy my own Cessna 172. I loved that little airplane. We did a lot of flying together.
My first baby was due in April of 2004 and that changed my life. I would have to sell my airplane, but the joy of being a mother overshadowed the pain of selling my plane. I went on to have two more boys, and with two of them having special needs we decided to homeschool. That kept me away from flying for fifteen years. But that changed when I was taken on flight with Jennifer Murray. I loved every minute of that flight, and I had forgotten how much I loved to be in the air, the calm beauty that just can’t be experienced any other way. She didn’t get her license until she was 50, but it didn’t stop there. She was the first person to fly around the world in a helicopter without autopilot and the first to the North and South poles breaking all kinds of records. Here was a woman making history and she started later in life. Maybe it wasn’t too late for me.
When I got home, I asked my husband to get my logbook down from the attic. I knew I needed 250 hours to be a commercial pilot, but I really had no idea if I was close enough to those hours to make this goal reachable. As I was turning the pages of my logbook I saw 100 hours… not bad… turning the page 120, ok… 150…175…and finally 232 hours! It was enough. I was an educator and I loved to fly, why not try to become a CFI in my autumn years. My boys couldn’t have been more encouraging. They went out and bought me a flight simulator, and I practiced everyday while they did their school work. It was time for a lesson and I remembered so much, but so much was lost and everything was new. Foreflight was amazing!! And GPS was a useful tool and not just a toy.
I went on to get my Commercial certificate with an amazing female CFI, Michele Garner. She encouraged me that I could not only do this but excel at it. Since then, I have gone on to get my CFI, CFI-I, multiengine add on, CE525 type rating, Seaplane, and Tailwheel. I love flying everything. I love sharing this love of flying with my students and I have met some of the most amazing people. But someone I met years ago, and was about to resurface in my life, Jared Miller. He was only 16 when we met, but I was so impressed with him. He was just one of those young people you knew was going to go out there and save the world. Now, 10 years later, he was flying and working on his Private.
I reached out and we found ourselves talking on the phone. He was trying to learn about aviation because over the last 10 years he had been working in the counter human trafficking movement and he thought general aviation could be a tool used to safely move people during rescue operations. All I knew was that if all a woman needed to get out of this situation was a flight, then that’s what she was going to get. I’ve been there, I know what it’s like to need someone to help you, and if I could be that person I would.
I thought we could use an existing organization that had volunteer pilots who help to transport people for medical care. I began to reach out to friends and found Joe Creecy who was doing these types of flights. We met with an organization hoping they would help Jared when he needed it. They could not have been more helpful to us, but it was too much for them to add on top of what they were already doing. That was discouraging, but Joe and I decided that we could sign on to work as volunteer pilots for Rescue 1 Global the organization that Jared was running, and when they had a person in need of rescue we would be there to help get them where they needed to go.
Over the course of two years we only flew a couple of times. When I asked the advocate about the need for transportation I was surprised to find out that they had needed us many times, but were afraid to call. They thought if they called for one case we wouldn’t be able to show up and fly another case, so they were being very careful with this new resource. Once I found that out I made it very clear that if a person needed me, I would be there. I would find a way.
This is when I began turning to my students for help. Although, I would love to fly every person to safety, I quickly realized that on my CFI salary and no plane of my own, that was not a reality. My students started to step up and take on the cost. A training flight would turn into a rescue. And the mission grew. Jared and I knew that we needed to do this for every shelter and every group that were working to help trafficked survivors, and Freedom Aviation Network was born. We officially became a non-profit in October of 2022 and projected to do five flights for the remainder of the year. Instead we did twenty-five. The need is great. We have found out that by helping to take this difficult and timely task away from the shelters that they are able to help more survivors out of their situations. Currently we are striving to get more pilots in more areas, so we can be a resource to more groups. One step at a time, and one life at a time, we are making a difference.
My first mission was risky. The woman was being held at a hospital until we could transport her to a safe location. Her trafficker had shown up to the hospital with the intention of taking her back. Unsure of her safety, the team began to plan her journey from the hospital to the airport. She would be escorted by an armed guard and followed by a private investigator to make sure they weren’t being followed. Once on the plane and in the air, everyone could relax. She was safe! And just like me all those years ago, she seemed to find her freedom. She was so excited and asking us if we could fly through the clouds. You better believe we diverted for buildups right into a cloud!
Every survivor I have helped has their own story to tell. It is overwhelming to think that I can’t save everyone, but God reminded me that He is the shepherd that watches over the ninety-nine, and He will leave them all to get the one. So the saying at Freedom Aviation Network is, For The One.
Since writing this, Freedom Aviation Network has now completed 43 flights and counting, and this young lady at the age of 48, was hired by GoJet airlines. I successfully passed the ATP and the CRJ 700 type rating. It is never too late to fulfill a dream. My dream has grown to not just fly, but fly for a purpose. For The One.
- From my love of aviation comes the Freedom Aviation Network - July 17, 2023