Flying Solo

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Flying Solo

Cheyanne Montano

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The summer before junior year of high school, my family and I went to Colorado for summer vacation. With college and career plans on the horizon, we decided that in between our hiking and biking, atv-ing and white water rafting, we would squeeze in some college visits.  We first went to the University of Colorado at Boulder and then to University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. But it was our last stop on the college tour that really made an impact on me. We decided that since we were near Colorado Springs and I was in AFJROTC, we might as well visit the Air Force Academy.  We made a quick online inquiry to find out tour dates and times and arrived there on a sunny Saturday morning with not much knowledge. We watched a video and took a tour of the facility and grounds which are so impressive, and surrounded by majestic mountains. It was there that I caught a glimpse of a group of cadets wearing flight suits and walking purposefully towards an open field of small airplanes lined up in perfect rows.  I thought “Wow, how cool is that, they get to fly airplanes!?” I didn’t think about it too much more at that time, and then it hit me as I was boarding our airplane to go home a few days later. As I walked past the cockpit and peeked in at the captain, I wondered if maybe that could be me someday. And, If so, how?

During junior year my JROTC responsibilities increased; I was a cadre during Summer Drill Camp because the previous summer I had been selected to attend OVLS, a week long camp in Ohio where I was selected to be a bay chief. In the fall they made an announcement that the U.S. Air Force was implementing its 2nd year of a flight school scholarship program for JROTC and ROTC cadets around the nation to attend an 8 week program to study aviation, learn how to fly airplanes, and earn college credit. I was so excited but also very skeptical as to my chances as there were over 2000 applicants nationwide competing for 150 spots. The application process included submitting a competitive and lengthy application, scoring well on a written aptitude test, and having a  faculty recommendation letter. I really didn’t know what to think and hoped for the best. Everything changed when my mom came to my room on a Saturday morning and nudged me as I slept, I turned over and she had this huge grin on her face. She said, “You got it!” “OMG! OMG! I got it?!” Yes, I got it, and I was going to fly airplanes in beautiful Southern California. It was surreal. I had so much to get done before flight school. I had to take my finals a week early, get fitted for a flight suit, and complete online pilot classes. In less than six weeks after the phone call, I was at the gate at the airport on my way to flight school for two months. It was my first time flying alone, and I had to change planes. It was a little nerve-wracking, and I was exhausted as I was up past 2:00 a.m. the night before packing my suitcases. When the landing gear came down for my descent into Riverside, California, my life changed forever.  

On day three of flight school, my instructor turned to me and said, “Okay, you take over the controls now.”  “Alrighty then,” I replied, while hoping that my voice wasn’t reflective of the inner panic I was feeling. I grabbed the controls, adjusted my headset and said to myself, “This is it.”  Those first few days of flying were both scary and awesome. By my fifth time flying, I felt much more at ease. I was feeling relaxed, yet I could feel the adrenaline rush as I taxied up to the runway.  I knew then that flying was definitely the niche for me, up there, feeling so free and independent.

When it came to my first solo flight, I was psyched beyond belief, I let all my worries dissipate and when the tower gave me my clearance to go, I was so ready to spread my wings and fly. The entire experience in California was amazing. I met lifelong friends and fell in love with flying. Flight School felt like living an unbelievable lifetime in only two months. 

On the flight back home to Illinois after graduation from flight school, the airline pilots invited me into the cockpit (with a little prompting from my mom).  I spoke to the pilot and co-pilot for a few minutes as they performed their pre-flight check, and after I left, I smiled as I walked back to my seat, now knowing that someday that will be me. There is no turning back–I will continue to soar.

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