This 3 part story journals FMA student member Autumn Pepper Rhodes’ quest of flight.
I have been a member of my local Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter for five years. Volunteering at our monthly pancake breakfast, Young Eagle rallies, and aviation events have allowed me to meet many experienced pilots. For the past several years, I have been teaching the introduction to flight class for our new Young Eagles. It was on one of these Sunday Young Eagle rallies that I met Bob DiCello.
Mr. Bob flew down from a neighboring town for our pancake breakfast. I was helping out with our Young Eagle class. Once our new Young Eagles had taken their orientation flight, he asked if I wanted to take a flight. It had been a while since I had flown so I was like, sure! When I walked back out on the ramp, I noticed his plane. It was this stunning, bright yellow, light sport Aerotrek A240. If you are not familiar with lightweight aircraft, the Aerotrek maximum weight averages around 1,235 pounds, compared to a Cessna 172, with a max gross weight of 2,550 pounds. The A240 has these plexiglass transparent doors that allow for maximum visibility. It is such a beautiful plane. The cockpit was cozy and comfortable. We went for a flight and I absolutely loved his plane. Mr. Bob let me take the controls, observing how well I did. I learned very quickly how sensitive it was; a single sneeze and the plane would start turning. After the flight, we did a quick debrief. I remember him telling me that I did great and that I have some great potential. Yay me!
At the next Young Eagle rally, Mr. Bob was back, and we went flying after my volunteer duties were completed and he finished flying some Young Eagles. We took a longer flight and I just remember how happy I felt being in the air. Mr. Bob spoke with my parents and offered some occasional flights and ground school instruction. I realized I was going to actually learn to fly!!
And from that point Mr. Bob became intertwined in my quest to fly. He became my pilot buddy, my mentor, and friend. While our scheduling was sporadic, because of my activity schedule, our flights and lessons were productive. I became comfortable flying out of KPGD and KKMY. We would have ground lessons before my CAP meetings and sometimes fly. I learned how to call about the weather, talk to ground, and then the tower. We would fly to neighboring non-towered airports and I learned how to announce our positions. We did ground school lessons before flights sometimes and then we would practice those maneuvers in the air. Simple ones, like turns and ascents and descents. We worked well together, and I have been so thankful for his generosity in teaching me.
Some early weekend mornings, we would have a “cross-country” flight and go for breakfast. I always thought this was one of the coolest things about being a pilot and having your own plane. I think my favorite breakfast trip so far was to Everglades City. These flights were great practice in tracking the weather before and while at our breakfast destination. The most important lesson I have learned, so far, from Mr. Bob is aeronautical decision making. He stresses this with me all the time. Headaches, not feeling well, weather conditions; these are all huge factors when flying. Prior to Covid, we had planned a trip to Vero Beach to tour the Piper Facility. I was excited for this trip and we had been planning it for several weeks. That morning we were watching the weather, and everything looked good. By the time we made it to Okeechobee, we had to land. The bad weather was rolling in much faster than anticipated and it would not be safe to fly. This trip cemented the importance of aeronautical decision making. He has always emphasized that if the weather is questionable, it is better not to risk it.
Mr. Bob has become my biggest supporter when it comes to achieving my dreams of becoming a pilot. We sometimes go to lunch and bring my parents and we talk about my future and the steps I need to take to get there. He has introduced me to other pilots and examiners and guided my student pilot application process. Mr. Bob was even gracious enough to be interviewed by local media twice on unexpected media stories I was involved in. He knows my dreams including being a commercial pilot and eventually working in the space industry and piloting missions to Mars. The first person I will thank when I step foot on the red planet and say “Hi” will be Mr. Bob.
This past year, I have not been able to fly with Mr. Bob as much as I would have liked. Covid really put a damper on flying last spring but Mr. Bob’s guidance and recommendation gave me the edge I needed to be awarded an AOPA “So You Think You Can Fly” scholarship in March. At the end of August, I finally started my official flight training. As I do not turn 17 until November 2021, I am only flying once a week to save money. There have been some small bumps, snags, and periods of self-doubt on my part which delayed my solo. Mr. Bob continues to believe in me, and I hope in the next few weeks, I will be sharing my day of Soloing with him and my parents. Mr. Bob has been instrumental in my journey to flight and I would not be anywhere close to where I am today without him. He is the best mentor you could ever want and I am so lucky to have him in my life.
For those of you in middle or high school and seriously interested in flight, get involved in your aviation community. Find yourself a mentor and become a sponge. It might change your life the way I know it changed mine.