By: Natalie Kelley
The following article highlights an incredible journey and mission from a member of our family by choice and client partner, Natalie Kelley, founder of flyGIRL.
Flying is in my blood. My father was a Navy pilot and retired as a commercial pilot from FedEx. My love of flying actually came from my Uncle Robert. He was a general aviation pilot. He would take me flying in his Chipmunk at our local municipal airport when I was young. He is an aerobatic pilot who has always enjoyed demonstrating rolls and loops with me in the backseat as his "copilot," while I squealed with delight! I learned early on that piloting a plane is a unique experience that few get to experience. Earning my own pilot's license was on my bucket list for over 30 years.
Several years later, at age 42, the time had finally arrived for me to take the leap to begin my training for my private pilot's license. Personal problems and growing children led me to the conclusion that my dreams should not wait any longer. On the day of my first lesson at Sporty's Academy, a flight school near Cincinnati, I was extremely nervous and intimidated. There were many doubts and I almost turned around to get back in my car before entering the building. My instructor was a handsome man who had a friendly smile. Thank goodness! He put me at ease very quickly. As we launched into the sky during my first introductory flight, I couldn't keep myself from smiling. My instructor let me take the controls and fly the airplane as we were climbing away from the runway. The feeling of freedom and control he gave me was unlike anything I'd ever experienced before.
As we were soaring in the sky, the gray clouds surrounding us were rising rapidly. My new instructor announced we would be landing expeditiously at a nearby airport to wait out the approaching thunderstorms. Deciphering the dangers of weather for a little plane was completely foreign to me at this point. There was nothing to fear at all, based on the calmness of my instructor's face. I was completely relaxed and undeterred. Looking back, if faced with the same weather conditions today, there is no doubt that I would be a little panicked. We were stranded at a deserted airport for at least half an hour, seeking shelter in a dirty, bug-ridden office. Our temporary detour was soon over and we would return to the flight school shortly thereafter, unscathed. Did the frightening weather scare me away? Not at all! I walked away, after setting my next lesson, with a smile on my face and the confidence of a champion.
There are many times I realize that first lesson set the tone for the rest of my training. The encouragement, personality and attitude of that instructor set me up for success from the beginning.
Because of my life-changing experience of becoming a pilot, my mission is to encourage other women to pursue aviation. The boost in confidence is immeasurable and the satisfaction of joining such an elite group of individuals is extraordinary. Aviation can be intimidating for women because they are the minority in the industry.
Soon after my training began, I knew my mission was to find ways to motivate other women to follow their dreams and pursue aviation. flyGIRL does this in three ways. First, the flyGIRL brand was developed and it is now used on clothing and other items, for women who enjoy aviation either as a pilot, co-pilot, or spectator. The world can see any woman display their love and respect for aviation. You can purchase items at www.Sportys.com or
www.flygirlllc.com. Secondly, flyGIRL offers scholarship money for women interested in pursuing aviation, as either a career or hobby. The flyGIRL sale proceeds directly fund the scholarships. The scholarship is used to provide that extra nudge to women interested in flying and to help eliminate some of the financial burden of training. Since beginning two years ago, flyGIRL has awarded $7,500 worth of scholarship money! Lastly, building a community of supporters through social media has been key. Inspiring others with my story and journey means the world to me. I'm encouraged by others with whom I've been connected through social media avenues. We all need one another to get through the challenges we face, either on the ground or in the air.
The lessons I learned during my training cannot be overstated. My hope is that more and more women will allow themselves the challenge and joy of navigating the skies too!