Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Uncharted Territory

The following is an excerpt from the October Aviatrix Aerogram, a monthly e-zine for women. To get involved with this magazine for woman pilots and produced by woman pilots email laurasmith at aviatrixaerogram.net. This article was a part of a serious highlighting various pilots around different regions of the world.

Uncharted Territory

Content in italics is from Victoria's blogs


Confidence to Fly (go to this tab on the Pixie Pilot site)

Victoria Neuville works as an aviation insurance agent. For a time, Victoria aspired to become a professional pilot, but due to a variety of circumstances she found that working as an insurance agent suited her well: "I decided I didn’t want to fly for a living in fear I’d lose passion for it working my way up the ladder and being told when and where to fly. Now I get to fly for fun and still work in the aviation industry and talk to pilots each day."

The job and a boyfriend brought Victoria to Frederick, Maryland, in the summer of 2010 and she has found much delight in living in this locale: "I love the mountains and how there is so much to do everywhere. Frederick is an adorable historic town with lots of fun, free activities, great shops, food and parks." In time, the boyfriend became a husband, but this year has seen a momentous change in Victoria's life as a result of divorce.

For eight years I shared my life with another pilot, half of those years we shared a last name. Together, we took advantage of all general aviation had to offer: $100 hamburgers, headset selfies, traveling on a whim, meeting new people in interesting places.... To date, the decision to leave the life we had built together was the hardest of my life. I found myself once again in uncharted territory, searching the sky for an answer. (July 2016)

What brought Victoria to aviation in the first place? "My father. I come from a background of pilots. My dad and mother’s father were both pilots. My great uncle was a WWII Ace. My paternal grandfather was in flight training but stopped when he traded that for space and was in charge of guidance and control for all the Apollo missions. It was never a question of if I’d become a pilot, but when."

Victoria grew up in Michigan just north of Detroit. She has two younger brothers, one is a firefighter in the Air Force and the other is an engineer. While in college, Victoria hit a crossroad: "I wasn’t enjoying college and changing majors didn't seem like the right solution. That’s when it hit me — it was an opportune time to become a pilot! I started studying all the flying books I could, then I moved back in with my parents so I could afford flight lessons. I was 21 at the time. I completed all my flight training (up through Commercial) at KPTK (Oakland County International Airport, Michigan) and completed a certificate in aviation management at Surry Community College."

 Although I always wanted to be a pilot, the dream seemed out of reach. I have my father to thank for seeing that it was possible. Before I even had my driver’s license, he signed me up for ground school and we took it together. I always looked forward to those weeknights; I was a young teenager, in a room full of grown men learning about airplanes with my father. Upon completion of the ground school course, my father hopped in the back seat as I took the controls for my discovery flight. He recalls my steep ascent; all I recall is the exhilaration of flying an aircraft on my own and how I kept accidentally bumping the very attractive instructor’s knee. (December 2010)
 
Even living with her parents, Victoria found that flying was very costly: "I eventually took out loans to pay for my Private and Instrument. I also had some medical issues that grounded me, including a detached retina. I was on a special issuance for a few years and was originally told (by a non-pilot eye surgeon) that I wouldn’t fly again. Luckily I proved him wrong!"

 Victoria — who started flying in 2003 — experienced some turbulence in her flight training: "It was bad at first. I did not have a mentor or a CFI who was particularly interested in my goals. My dad got me in touch with a female pilot at a friend's flight school. He thought it would be better for me that way and I always encourage women to find a female instructor. However, I didn’t know much about flight training and she was not reliable. I later switched to a different instructor at another school. I went through three instructors at that school because they kept going to the airlines. By the time I was ready to start my Commercial certificate the school had closed. So it was off to a new school yet again. I began training but moved to Maryland before I could finish. In Maryland I tried to complete it but was in new airspace and a different aircraft. So I flew back to Michigan for an extensive week of training and finished up my Commercial certificate in May 2011! Aviation has really taught me what I will do to get what I want."

 It's impossible to know everything right now. If it all came easily, we'd miss some very important lessons along the way. As a student pilot I couldn't land a plane smoothly on the first try, let alone the second or the tenth. Eventually, I learned the proper time to flare and what my sight picture should be out the window. Then my certified flight instructor (CFI) turned it up a notch... time to battle those crosswinds! We were now flying in just less than perfect weather where I'd have to quickly adapt to changing conditions. And while the world may not have a CFI who slowly turns up the difficulty dial, each life lesson is there for you to build upon. It's important to remember that we won't be handed all the answers immediately. We are (sometimes slowly) learning all the skills we need to survive the game of life. We're preparing for our next checkride. (August 2016)

 "The toughest part of my training was probably consistency," explains Victoria. "Consistently making the choice (or having the money) to go flying on a regular basis to keep the rust off. The more I fly, the more my confidence grows. If I have a lapse in currency I become timid. It took me about two years to finish my Private and the consistency of training was certainly an issue. Yet that same year (2005), I was able to push right through to complete my Instrument rating; there was a remarkable difference in both my progress and confidence as a result of flying more regularly." Despite the rough spots, there have been plenty of rewarding moments as a pilot for Victoria: "I love learning new things and gauging my progress. As enjoyable as cross-countries and traveling are, I find great satisfaction in a good flight lesson. Everyone has been so supportive! My family never doubted me in my decision to pursue a career in aviation. All of my friends and most people I meet think it’s the coolest thing. I’m usually so modest about it that others bring it up in conversation and suddenly I become the center of attention. I’ve been really lucky to have this type of support."

 When I started flying I did it in pursuit of a career, but now it has become much more meaningful to me. It is a lifestyle and a mission. I do it because I enjoy the sky and I love sharing it with others. It's no longer for the pursuit of a career and money, it's about the connections made and the lives touched along the way. Flying a plane gives the pilot a sense of freedom, confidence and empowerment; all things essential to becoming a successful female in society. Through aviation I have gained all these and believe I am a better person because of it. (May 2011)

 Outside of her work, Victoria is thoroughly immersed in the aviation community. In addition to blogging since 2010, she is a co-host on the Stuck Mic AvCast podcast. She is the co-author of the Turbo the Flying Dog children's book series, inspired by the adoption of her dog Turbo. A true animal lover, pet hedgehogs Quillson (now sadly deceased) and Poka have also taken to the skies with their flying mistress. Victoria has been an enthusiastic volunteer and coordinator for events to introduce women to aviation at the Frederick Airport, notably the Women Fly It Forward event. She also does outreach at libraries and schools. Victoria is truly an ambassador for women in aviation!

 Last Thursday was Career Day at Greenbelt Elementary where my friend, Allison, teaches. I volunteered to talk to the students about being a pilot... I started each discussion telling the children that I fly airplanes and can make it to Ocean City (a popular vacation spot around here) in under an hour in a small plane. They could not believe it! I then told the children how there are different types of pilots. Private pilots who can fly their friends and family around in good weather, instrument pilots who can fly in rain and clouds, and commercial pilots who can fly for a job. They seemed to get a decent grasp at these simple definitions. Later, when passing around sectional charts, I asked one first grade class if they could remember what kind of pilot could fly in clouds. One girl in a pink shirt at the back of the room raised her hand, so excited and confident, so I called on her. "A musical pilot!" she replied. Both the teacher and I had to hold in a lot of laughter as to not embarrass her. I hadn't thought to explain that when I mention using instruments in the airplane, I did not mean we were strumming a guitar or playing a flute! (May 2013)

 With eleven years of flying, Victoria has close to 500 hours logged. Always eager for a new challenge, she is currently working on her tailwheel endorsement. While her personal life has recently put her into uncharted territory, undoubtedly she'll find a way to navigate a path forward, one that will continue with aviation as an integral part.

 When I divorced and moved into the city I felt like life could spin away from me at any moment. I was completely out of my comfort zone and had no idea if I would ever recover. But then something happened: I became excited. This was a fresh start and while it was new and frightening, I felt a bolt of energy flow through me at the thought that there was a clean slate and a new life ahead of me. (August 2016)

 As I depart onto this new journey, the visibility is unrestricted, although the air may have a few bumps along the way. But there is one thing I know for sure: that I am the pilot in command. It is my hand on the throttle and I will be the one picking the destination. I'll see you at the airport! (July 2016)

4 comments:

  1. That was a terrific article and I particularly liked how they wove in pieces of your own writing. First AOPA Pilot and now this - clearly, 2016 is the year of the Pixie Pilot!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Chris! I guess it is the year of the Pixie Pilot! It needs to stop going by so fast, haha!

      Delete
    2. You are such a positive influence for girls. This page should be shared with schools.
      Keep up the great work.

      Delete
  2. Thank you! I appreciate your kind words!

    ReplyDelete

What are you pondering?