Nana Jean faces a challenge

After reading a letter to the editor in the June Flight Training about a lack of women and minorities represented in aviation, Jean Moule sent this previously published blog to Editor Ian Twombly. We post it here with her permission.—Ed.

Jean Moule and her flight instructor, Steve Larsen.

Jean Moule and her flight instructor, Steve Larsen.

“75765, is there an instructor on board?” My erratic taxiing had been noted by the control tower. The basics seemed so difficult. Maybe it was a good thing that the threatening weather kept my instructor and me on the ground in our plane.

I stared through the raindrops on the aircraft windshield. Would I ever learn to fly? I have seen my grandchildren and my students begin a difficult task, become frustrated and put the material or task down with a sigh, lacking the will to continue. I have learned how to help them move past the barriers to try again. Could I do that for myself?

Rarely in my adult life have I faced tasks I found challenging beyond learning a new skill on the computer or how to work a new appliance or gadget. And rarely do these tasks have high emotional impact or the kinds of pressure one may experience when the task is complex, cognitively difficult and watched over intently by a teacher.

Perhaps I needed a reminder of such experiences. Five years ago in “Ask Nana Jean” I wrote about my climb up Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and concluded with my desire to reach more heights. Climb another mountain? Learn to fly? And that is how I found myself behind the controls of an airplane, I in the pilot seat and the instructor on controls on the right. Could I reach high places in a plane?

This was my 3rd lesson; this time with a substitute instructor. The checklist with 120 items and a cockpit with a lot more dials than a car seemed bewildering. Afterwards, as I paid for my half hour on the ground my head filled over and over with “Why am I doing this?” I reminded myself: I want to learn to fly…

  •  Because I like heights.
  • Because I want additional perspectives.
  • Because I need exhilaration and a new challenge.

I drove home feeling dejected, the rain and gray clouds matching my mood. I knew that at some point I would have to find the reserves to try again. I tried to encourage myself by thinking about other challenging things I have accomplished:

  •  Remember learning to drive a car?
  • Remember handling an excavator that one time?
  • Remember learning to ski or pull a sled while on ski patrol?
  • Remember learning to teach!

I made a list of resolutions and requests that I believed would help me continue on:

  •  Get a copy of the preflight checklist and go over it at home
  • Get a life-sized poster of the cockpit and practice touching the right switches
  • Ask my instructor to taxi next time to at least get us off the ground

And finally, I remembered the pleasure I receive when my own students begin to grasp a concept that is hard for them. So my final reason for continuing with my lessons? My instructors may feel blessed when their challenging and challenged student finally makes progress. They, too, will have a student whose success they will remember fondly…when she finally leans to fly solo.

Ten days later:

I flew today. My instructor watched as I turned the plane over our house, circled the small town of Lyons where we used to live, flew over the road I take to work. Up and down. Level flight, smooth turns and a deep satisfaction. Now I need to learn to take off and land!

What a contrast to just a few days ago when I almost put down my pilot log-book for good.

My words for myself and others: when the journey gets tough, be strong and continue on. No matter how long it takes.—Jean Moule 

Jean Moule is an emerita faculty member of Oregon State University, and a published writer and artist. Visit her website.—Ed.

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  • Rex

    Jean I sincerely hope u keep going getting your Pilots lic..wud be the ultimate..mission accomplished!! Lic to fly n keep learning!!…Rex

  • June Whitney


  • Jim Freeberg

    Jean stay with it and you will get it. I am doing the same thing. For my sixty birthday present to myself was flying lessons, as this has been on my bucket list for over 45 years. Still working on getting to solo but having the time of my life. Jim

  • Jean Moule

    Nice to share my challenge with others. FYI I take a lesson every other week and plan to solo around my 70th birthday! I am 67 now. I share my age as “Flight Training” also had an article on “Dreams never die,” about a 67 year old pilot! That third connection: minorities, women, age just made me laugh…And send in this story.

  • Othman

    Jean your article is very encouraging. I am 73 years old and a minority in the field. I have wanted to fly since I was about the age of six. I and my wife have been on flights from the U.S. to many different countries on the African continent and to Italy however, to be in the cockpit has been my dream. I am just starting to study. Keep it up!!!

  • Samantha

    I SO needed to read this! Started my flying journey with online coupons to 2 different flight schools. Didn’t really think either fit my needs. Took the recommendations of a lot of people in my area and signed up last week with a well-known and loved flight school in my area. The flight was great to start, and plane that seemed a little too close distracted me for the rest of my lesson – pulled on things that should have been pushed, forgot about the carb. heat…my brain turned to mush. I was beginning to wonder if maybe I was making excuses for myself and maybe this wasn’t the right thing. But you’re right, we all need to start somewhere. Thanks so much for sharing, and thank goodness for patient CFIs! :)