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The Story of Flyergirl

by Marcia Kardatzke


I would start my story by saying I never had any intentions of learning to fly, but that's not really correct. Somewhere deep inside, there must have been a yearning to become a bird, or to at least acquire their flight abilities.

I know this because I spent much of my hyperactive youth at playgrounds, trying to swing as high as I could, then jump, flying for a short distance before becoming earth bound.

No one on the playground could swing higher and jump further than I...and if they did...I tried harder...

Oh, those glorious few moments of being airborne before evil gravity took over and literally brought me down to earth.

I have to say jumping out of trees and swings and trying to become air born from the top of barn roofs as a child in no way put a single idea in my head that I might one day take flight and pilot an actual aircraft.

As a teenager in the 60's , I drove stock cars and the need for speed and adventure was in my blood.

But then in the 70's as marriage and a family came on the scene, the "Let's not take a chance and leave these children orphans" mentality took over and I settled down to an ordinary life with a move to Alaska in 1972.

Well, as ordinary as one can call a life in Alaska, working, fishing, moose hunting, etc.

So, in 1993 my life at 43 years of age was consumed as a single parent with raising a teenager, showing golden retrievers, going to hockey games and walking on the beach with my Champion Golden Retriever Robbie and Bitsy the Boston Terrier whom we called the Holy Terror.

Robbie was really responsible for my start in flying at age 44.

Robbie, the wonderful champion show dog, winner of multi ribbons, was a baaaaadddd dog... His favorite thing, being a boundless energetic dog was to run off at the beach and see if I could catch him before he got into mischief. That included stealing steaks off barbeques and generally playing keep away from me.

One Saturday, I was walking the wild boy aka Robbie and we met a man on the beach... His name was Mike. Robbie showed Mike his skills at running off and getting into mischief and Mike saw a woman with a wayward dog and thought, "hmmmm...I think they both need a nice guy".

It did not take long for a romance to blossom and one night as I was closing up the veterinary office where I worked, Mike showed up and wanted to know if I wanted to go "across the inlet".

I was not sure what exactly that meant..."across the inlet" and he explained he had access to something called a PA-12 and we could go eat "Chinese Food across the inlet"...

I have to say as much as I disliked Chinese food, he looked so cute with those pilot sunglasses and the call of the wild beckoned again and off we went....

Me, terrified in this little bitty plane but trying to look cool and calm and not throw up on my second date with this obviously nice guy.

After a whirlwind romance of 6 weeks I found myself engaged to a guy who not only broker's aircraft insurance but loves to fly. He was a passionate about flying as I was about my dogs.

So, I suppose the next logical step for him was to bring me into his world of flying. "Marcia", he says one night...."have you ever thought about flying?"..

Well.... the actually truth was ...I was TERRIFIED of these little planes. Give some big old DC-10 any ol' day but of course being in love, I said, "Oh but of course" (big lie) "who WOULDN'T want to learn to fly" (me me ME!!!! My insides are jumping up and down saying. I don't want to do this!!.) I figured it was a "SAFE" lie as I worked full time and my son was on two hockey teams so by the time he figured out I was lying....well..

"Great!" he beamed... "I signed you up for ground school. You start Tuesday."

"Great!! Ah......what's a ground school?" I asked.

"You'll find out Tuesday." Mike said.

I have to say that ground school was not what I expected. First I was told that they would tell you about different aspects of flying and I pictured some kindly old gentleman, oh say...around 65 years of age, nice Alaskan beard, telling little flying stories to us "newbie's".

When I walked into class there was this kid....I mean a real kid, not sure if he was even SHAVING YET at the front of the class. The ONLY THING, and I mean the ONLY thing, I remember from my first 3 hours class is that the boy said, "Hello, my name is XXX and I will be your instructor."

Great, I thought, I do not understand a single word this boy says, he does NOT look like Jay Hammond and he definitely does not have a beard. And what does all this stuff mean, compasses, maps, victor airways, cloud formations, etc, etc...

He might have been speaking a foreign language as far as I could tell. Very few words sounded like any English I'd ever come into contact with. And....he seems to think it IMPORTANT that I UNDERSTAND THIS STUFF..

I have to give the child credit. He calmly instructed me with examples of why I needed to know these things.

I think he was amazed that not only did I not know how to read a compass but I navigated land vehicles not by maps but by 7-11's...

Lost? No problemo. Stop into the friendly local 7-11 or Wal-Mart and they will not only tell you how to get to Dallas or Scottsdale BUT they know all the good places to eat too.

I have an awful sense of direction. Someone has put my gyros in backwards. If I come out of a store I will most likely turn the WRONG way as turn the right way.

Only when I started seeing the same towns that I had passed earlier, would I get a clue that perhaps, just perhaps I had turned the wrong way traveling.

Backwards gyro. It is genetic. I know it is because my mother was the same way.

My mom and I once drove from Yuma Arizona to New Deal, Texas, round trip. Two women with backwards gyros in a car. We navigated by ONLY stopping at gas stations and eateries on the RIGHT SIDE of the highway to and from Texas.

It actually worked fairly well. Since we tended to vote Republican anyway, heading to the right seemed an easy thing to remember.

So my ground instructor already had his work cut out for him with me in the class.

"Now Marcia" he would say, patient child that he was.... "What would you do if your plane had a problem and you needed to fix it.. ?"

BIG HINT: "call Triple A" is not the answer he was looking for.

Well, I have to say, I made it through ground school and just to please my now husband, continued training with a flight instructor.

Once I was actually IN the plane and flying, I started to think, "hey, this could actually be fun."

Nothing prepares you for the first solo.

My instructor says I am ready. I am not sure, but he is (he's at least 5 months older now and might be shaving next year, so I know he knows what he is talking about) so I go for it.

Oh GLORY BE!!!! What an amazing experience!

There I am, all by myself like a big girl. Wow.

Adreline was flowing to be sure and when I landed and taxied over to the flight school, there was my instructor with a smile as big as Texas to welcome me back.

"Well," he says, as his little student deplanes, "how WAS it?"

"Geez, it was AMAZING. Simply AMAZING!!!! And you know....I think this plane flies better without that extra 150 pounds of dead weight in the other seat."

I went on to get my pilots license after a 6 month side track for knee surgery and then decided float flying might be a kick and got a seaplane rating. I have to say that is the most fun flying I have ever done. It was like a giant speed boat that could fly. I loved it!

This time I had a different instructor and it went fairly smoothly except for one engine failure simulation. We had just passed some nice sized lakes when the instructor said, "Opsy, you've just lost your engine." I was not thinking about those HUGE lakes we just passed, only that I needed to land safely NOW so I set the PA-12 down on this itty bitty, (I mean itty bitty) lake.

The instructor looked a wee bit nervous and said, "Can you get us OUT of here?"

"Not my problem" I said, (mother always said don't borrow problems, I would always have enough of my own). "I got us down safely, you can get us back."

We did a few of those circling curly-cues in the water, (you know the kind, where you look like a dog circling to find just the right spot) and lifted off with a few feet to spare. Piece of cake.

Mike had created a monster when he bought me flying lessons and of course, then I wanted a plane. I could not fly his big pressurized twin so I wanted something for me.

You can imagine his heart attack when I am, a new pilot, looking at M 7 Maules and such. He wanted me to get a C-120 or some such thing.

I finally settled on a lovely Citabria and named her ETHEL. We had a few discussions on why I could not name a plane ETHEL but in the end, it was settled and ETHEL it was. She is a lovely plane, with Seahawk colors of white, blue and green. Ethel has given me no grief and much pleasure.

ETHEL has opened up the Alaska I want to see. Beautiful glaciers, pristine lakes, wildlife galore.

A few years ago I also went to Phoenix and got a glider rating.

Fun to do but I really like flying around Alaska in ETHEL. I love to picnic on remote beaches, beach comb in a plane, go bear watching from the air, etc. Now that's my kind of flying and why I love Alaska.

All of this happened in my 40's. I was 44 years old when I got my private license. Then a Seaplane rating and then a glider rating, then learning to fly a tail wheel after coming from a C-152.

Now that I am over fifty, I will think about my next goal. I wish that I had learned to fly when I was in my teens. I am sure things would have been much easier to me.

But I am grateful that I was given the opportunity in my forty's to get my license and advance my training.

I talk to men and women in their 30's and 40's that think they are too old to start learning to fly. Their mouths drop open when I tell them that I did not learn until I was in my mid-forties. I always think, how old will I be in 5 years if I DIDN'T try this.

I've had a few disappointments in flying. For instance, I thought when my husband said the N numbers of the aircraft, "three nine Mike"...that was very cool. I could not wait to have a plane and talk to the tower and say "three nine Marcia"... I thought, "now that's nice, that's real nice." That way you're not just a number, the mystery people on the radio can get to know you on a first named basis.

And I found that while some controllers were forgiving of student pilots, forgetting that Q stands for Quebec not Q tip is not the way to get in the good graces of the tower.

Flying opens up a completely different Alaska than one can see from the ground. I hope everyone that even have the slightest thought of flying will give it a shot. You will love it.

Just remember to carry a cell phone and a gun. That way when your instructor messes up and you crash, you can shoot him and order a pizza.

Respectfully Submitted by,

Marcia Kardatzke
Proud Member Alaska 99s

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