In the late 1950s, Pat Bryson dared to do what no other female in her small southern Missouri town of West Plains had ever done. She dreamed of learning to fly. When she was 15, she begged her father to allow her to take a ride in an airplane, a Cessna 170 that a man kept on a grass strip. Despite the protests of her mother, she paid the man a penny per pound and climbed aboard. That short flight, low and slow over the countryside, sealed the deal. Somehow, she resolved, she would learn to fly.
After graduating from high school – valedictorian no less – Pat secured a job at a local bank as a loan clerk and secretly began saving her money for flying lessons. She told no one at work of her plans, as they would have thought she was crazy. Only one person was in on the scheme: her father who had his own secret love affair with airplanes. Finally, the 19-year-old girl gathered her nerve and drove to the airport to ask for a flying lesson.
Before she knew it, Pat was standing on the brakes of an Aeronca Champ while her new flight instructor propped the plane. Eight flight hours later, she soloed, and six months later, she was sitting in the FAA office in Springfield, Missouri, waiting to take her check ride. As she nervously taxied in after her exam, the examiner leaned forward and said,
“How does it feel to be a private pilot?”
When Pat returned to her home field, she spotted her father standing at the edge of the turf runway, waiting for her. She proudly notes in her logbook that he was her first passenger.
That day started a lifelong romance with aviation that would last 47 accident-free years. Pat later married and had a daughter. She also kept flying, owning a 1964 Cessna 172, and a new 1967 Cessna 172, which she picked up from the Cessna Pawnee factory in Wichita. In 1975, she would buy her third Cessna 172, a new Skyhawk II with bright orange-and-brown paint, and a “premium” avionics package that included dual ARC radios, a transponder and an ADF. This airplane, beloved and babied by its owner, would serve to teach her daughter Dianne to fly.
In 2010, after failing to regain her medical after heart surgery, the girl with a big dream was forced to hang up her wings. But the story isn’t over — it’s just getting started. Pat has a 15-year-old granddaughter with a big dream. Abby not only envisions herself a pilot like her mom and grandmother, she dreams of one day flying for the U.S. military and maybe even in space. So that pretty little Cessna, so cherished by its first and only owner, is now being loved by a new generation of women pilots. In 2011, Dianne purchased the airplane from her mother, and Abby is now taking flying lessons with plans to solo on her 16th birthday.
And you can bet when Abby taxis the orange-and-brown Cessna 172 in from her check ride, her grandmother will be waiting at the fence, ready to be her first passenger.