Q&A with social studies teacher Katie Kelly on aviation hobby

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Submitted Photo: Katie Kelly

Social studies teacher Katie Kelly poses in front of a plane after passing her Private Pilot License Exam and FAA check ride on October 31, 2008. She completed the tests at Mt. Comfort Airport (now Indianapolis Regional Airport).

Maddie Misterka

What prompted you to want to learn piloting?

As a kid, I was always interested in aviation. When we went to airshows, I was always more interested in the planes than my brother was, and I was always interested in history too, so when I was in high school I went to a fighter pilot camp in the summer that I loved. When I went to college I knew I wanted to be a pilot or a teacher and kinda got started and did a cadet teaching class at Carmel High School and decided I wanted to be a teacher. When I got to grad school I decided to study women in aviation. I was reading about the “women in service” air pilots of WWII, Amelia Earhart and primary sources about these women, and I was so inspired by their stories that I was like, “I want to learn how to fly.” I had taken a couple flying lessons in high school here and there and I loved it. I applied for a scholarship through Women in Aviation International, and I got it, to get my private pilot’s license. So I studied the summer after I finished graduate school; I took all of my courses to get my pilot’s license.

When did you get your pilot’s license?

I got my pilot’s license after graduate school, so I got it in the fall of 2007.

What was the process to get your license like? What did you do?

I had ground-school and flying hours. In ground-school I was learning the basics of communications: how does the airplane work, how does it fly, what are safety protocols, and through the practical flights I learned how to do preflight checks, basic maneuvers, take-offs [and] landings. I had to do some night flights with an instructor, some cross country flights where you go from your home airport to another airport to another airport before coming home, and the whole process was a lot of learning how airplanes work and how communication works in the air so at the end of that I took both a practical test in terms of flying and a ground school test to prove I had the knowledge to be a safe pilot.

What is your favorite part about flying?

I love the precision involved that you can focus on one thing and that it’s important that you focus on one thing because it can be dangerous but once you get in the sky it’s just you and you can look down at the ground and use that for navigation. I think it’s a cool sense of freedom.

Kelly smiles with Marty Wyall, a member of the WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots) from World War II. Kelly interviewed Marty for her U.S. History Master’s Thesis on women’s aviation organizations, and her story of becoming a pilot inspired Kelly to get her Private Pilot’s license.
(Submitted Photo: Katie Kelly)

Do you have any distinct memories from flying? 

There definitely is a sense of exhilaration when you touch down and have the most perfect landing and everything is super smooth; it’s one of those moments like “Okay, I can do this.” I will say one of the coolest things I was able to do was that I was able to meet the wife of the pilot of the Memphis Belle, a famous plane during WWII, and that was a cool connection because she was a pilot as well, and also in getting my pilot’s license I met a lot of women who had incredible stories as pilots who were part of Women in Aviation International.

Could you describe a typical time you would fly?

I always rented my aircraft from the airport so I would plan when I wanted to go–usually the morning is better because the air is not quite as turbulent as it would get by the afternoon–and show up at the airport, do a preflight check. It takes about 10 to 15 minutes, you check all of the indicators, the gauges, the fuel to make sure everything is working. For me, I would plan out my route with a pencil to see where I was going and I would calculate fuel to see if I would have enough fuel to get where I was going or if I needed to refuel someplace. A lot of times I would just go and practice takeoffs and landings, practice going somewhere else then going back into the landing pattern. I did a lot of flying by myself but my dad liked to go up as my copilot and I took some friends up flying a couple of times, but then I’d land the plane and do a post-flight check and go on my way.

How could someone go about getting their pilot’s license?

I would find a local flight school and plan a discovery flight and they aren’t very expensive, it’s less than $100 usually, and the opportunity is to go up with a pilot or an instructor who will show you how to do basic maneuvers, preflight and postflight checks; I think this gives you a real sense of if you like it, and I think it’s a great place to start.

Prior to this interview, you said you haven’t flown in about 7 years–why did you stop?

Kelly takes her friend and fellow CHS teacher Stephanie Stacy and her daughter, Maddie Stacy for a flight in her Cessna 172 Skyhawk airplane. The Cessna Skyhawk was the most popular single-engine aircraft ever built and the ultimate flight training aircraft for student pilots. (Submitted Photo: Katie Kelly)

I had a couple of abrupt landing where I felt like it was a little bit scarier than I wanted it to be, and part of the reason was that I wasn’t able to invest as much time and energy, and money into it as I felt I needed to, to stay safe in flying. Also, I met my now husband, and through him and our dating, I didn’t have as much time to invest in continuing my skills. It’s a very expensive hobby and I picked up another hobby that took a lot of my time and energy- that was a triathlon.

Is there anything else you would like to add that readers should know?

I love flying, it’s so much fun and it’s such a cool experience and I would encourage anyone to go on a discovery flight to see what it feels like to be in control of the plane and have the yoke in your hands because I think it’s a special way of traveling.

Would you be interested in training as a pilot someday?

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