Reborn Wings

Flying's newest editor returns to the sky.

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Connie and FlightSafety CFI, Seth Zeigler.FlightSafety

Connie Sue White recently joined Flying's editorial team as managing editor. Connie Sue, a University of Florida journalism grad, brings 20 years of magazine publishing experience to Flying, as well as a strong flying heritage (thanks to her father's passion for aviation). Her first memory of "taking" the controls was during a family trip in her father's Bonanza when she was 7 (yes, there's a bit of a story behind that!). Not too long after that, her dad, a young 42, quit a well-paying white-collar job and started a new career: rebuilding Waco biplanes (and yes, there's a story behind that, too!). Then, he purchased a grass strip in Zellwood, Florida. With airplanes all around her, mostly antique biplanes and high-wing taildraggers, and plenty of time hanging out at the airport (her dad lived on the airport), it was only natural that she learned how to fly. Her first "lessons" began with her father in a Piper Cub when she was 12. She later transitioned to an Aeronca 7EC Champ, in which she soloed on the morning of her 16th birthday (much to hermother's dismay, but that's yet another story). Connie Sue flew casually around the patch for the next couple of years, before heading off to college. When she returned home, it was always her intention to learn how to fly her dad's Waco, Big Red.

“Flying in that open cockpit seemed to be about the purest kind of flying there is, so peaceful and gentle, ” she recalls. “When we’d go up, I would regularly glance back at my dad and we’d always flash big, wide grins at each other.”

But, tragically, her father died in an airplane crash when she was 26. Her drive to fly died, too, and she never looked back — until now. Twenty-eight years after her first solo, she’s not only working at a venerated aviation magazine, but she is also back in the air, working toward a private pilot’s certificate at FlightSafety Academy in Vero Beach, Florida — two turns of events she never would have dreamed of happening. Join her on what will be a candid account of the continuation of an emotionally rich journey that was interrupted by a heartbreaking personal tragedy. Beginning with an account of her first day back in the air….

BLOGBOOK ENTRY 1

** On Saturday, an entry** was made into my pilot logbook for the first time since 1981 (yes, I did keep my original logbook). My instructor, FlightSafety CFI Seth Zeigler, and I flew for 1.1 hours in N9213D, a Piper Cadet, out of KRVB (Vero Beach). My last logged flight was Oct. 4, 1981, in N16JV, an Aeronca 7EC Champ, out of Bob White Field, Zellwood, Fla (X61). I had my student pilot's license then, so I was taking the Champ around the patch a few times that day, doing touch-and-gos on 09/27 (the only runway). But, now it's a little bit different, to say the least. This time I'm starting from scratch and working toward my private's license through FlightSafety Academy. We knocked out the first two lessons: Lesson 1 was a three-hour briefing going over the POH (more on that later) and Lesson 2, the Discovery Flight. Prior to the flight, I couldn't help but wonder how it was going to feel...would I remember how to control the airplane or would it be like starting over? After the preflight, Seth let me taxi to our run-up area. Once we went through the run-up, he took over and we took off on 11R with a 9 kt crosswind. He turned the controls over to me once we got to our desired cruise altitude (1,500). It was a bit choppy, but I was able to maintain straight and level, and do the 30-degree banks w/out losing or gaining much altitude. This was a big part of my lessons as a kid. My dad and I worked on it a lot at the beginning because I had trouble with it. "Keep an eye on the altimeter," he'd yell in regular intervals from the back seat (I say "yell" because we didn't have headsets and it was a bit noisy in the front/back seat-configured Piper Cub in which I began my first lessons). This time was different. It came right back to me and I was able to maintain altitude without much problem, both by feel and instruments. It felt natural. It surprised me that nearly three decades later I still had a feel for it. Seth was surprised, too. He commented during our post-flight briefing that on their first few times up most students can't maintain altitude through turns, or even when straight and level. He said things went "really well." That made me feel good and filled up my confidence meter for the next time, which means my "fear" meter will be on the way down. Ok, maybe I can do this ...

BLOGBOOK ENTRY 2

It was only two months ago that I decided to get back into flying. It was too hard to resist once I started working on the magazine and reading it word for word. It brought back so many memories and a familiarity from which I had become estranged after my dad's death. And a frank realization: Aviation is a significant part of my personal heritage and has a wee bit to do with who I am today. Funny, how a tragedy can make one block out an important segment of one's life. But I digress. When the opportunity to go to flight school at FlightSafety arose, I couldn't pass it up. Admittedly, my feelings were a mixed bag of excitement, fear and curiosity.

Excitement because of the adventure — and it was flying after all!

Fear because I couldn’t help but wonder if it would be tempting fate since my dad died in a plane crash, as did his brother 26 years before. Irrational? Probably. But too many things have happened in my life against the odds. I countered my fear by telling myself that doing this would “break the chain” and, of course, that it was silly to think that way.

Curiosity because also I wondered if I could really do it — overcome my above-mentioned fear and accomplish the mental challenge.

The only way to find out was to jump right back in andcontinue the journey.

BLOGBOOK ENTRY 3

The first thing I did in preparation for flight school was to pull out a dusty storage bin from my closet. It hasn't been touched for more than 11 years (when I moved into my house). Inside, was my logbook with the earliest entry from 31 years ago and the last, 28. I wanted to log my "new" training in this book. The pages are yellowed and crinkled, but the writing is still legible. Including that of my dad's. His scrawled entries hit me with a breath-taking force of familiarity: PA-12: climbs, shallow turns, pilotage; Waco UKC: discovery flight; Stinson 108-3: turns, stalls, climb, approach to landing; Stampe: straight and level, turns; Bonanza: short cross-country. Needless to say, along with the logbook, there were other bits of memorabilia in the bin that I had turned my back on years ago because of the pain they brought me... pictures of my parents during their second life together (of course, there's a story behind this as well), of my dad with his airplanes. I gazed upon these reminders with wistfulness and love. The heart-wrenching pain was finally gone — or at least temporarily out to lunch. Maybe it really is time for me to move forward with this journey, I thought as I placed the top back on the bin.

Stay tuned for the next BLOGBOOK ENTRIES, from getting my medical to beginning ground school my very first day at FlightSafety, where a I meet someone who turns out to be a familiar acquaintance ...