It don’t come easy: A coveted ticket is hard earned

I did it. I finally obtained my Multiengine Commercial rating. If it is true that “getting there is half the fun,” then I had a whole lot of fun.

My multiengine odyssey began just over two years ago, when I saved up $4,000 for the rating. The first challenge was finding an ME instructor. You know how it goes. Someone gets an MEI ticket, builds hours and heads off to the airlines. They don’t stay around for long.

I considered a quick ticket program, but decided it was not right for me.

In June 2005 I started training in the Travel Air at Crest Airpark in Kent, Wash. Approximately 2.1 hours into it the engine on my car blew up. Guess where the money I saved went? Good guess.

I started saving again.

I applied for the Amelia Earhart Memorial Scholarship from the Ninety-Nines, the international organization of women pilots. The application involved a lot of paperwork and collecting letters of recommendation. Anne Lovett, scholarship chairman from my chapter, the Mt. Tahoma Ninety-Nines, and I spent a lot of time at Kinko’s in December of 2005 going over my application.

During the 2006 Northwest Aviation Conference in Puyallup I spoke with Doug O’Donnell, chief pilot of Avian Flight Center in Bremerton, Wash. The school had a Seneca that I could earn the ticket in for approximately $2,600. He introduced me to Peter Merrill, who became my instructor. My plan was to begin training in May.

The week before I was slated to begin I learned that I was a finalist for the Earhart scholarship. The way the rules work is that you must get the award, THEN begin the flight training. If I started early I could jeopardize the scholarship. I arranged a meeting with Doug. I showed him the letter that indicated that I was a finalist and told him that I was going to delay until I knew whether I had the award. Either way I’d be there.

A week later we learned that I won the award.

A coworker told me about a $500 scholarship that was available from the Western Washington Ninety-Nines. I applied for that one too, intending to use the money for my MEI ticket. If I had learned one thing in this adventure, it was that there is a shortage of MEIs in the Pacific Northwest. In the process I met scholarship chairperson Jennifer Doering-Jones. She was very helpful and seemed almost more excited than I was when she called to tell me I won that one, too, and that this year the amount had grown to $600.

All the ducks were lining up. In June I took a week off from GANews to do the training. We got as far as the VFR maneuvers. There were a few canceled flights due to density altitude and once because of a bad fuel pressure gauge. Then during the VMC demo Peter noticed that the Horizontal Situation Indicator was spinning wildly. The airplane went into the shop.

A week later I broke my left arm and my left hand, effectively knocking myself out of the air for the rest of the summer.

Weeks passed. I taught ground schools. I studied systems and aerodynamics. I “Zen flew” with the checklist. I drew systems diagrams on the whiteboard and perfected my explanations to get a jump on the MEI ticket.

Doug kept me updated on the status of the Seneca.

When the cast came off I got my single-engine currency back and practiced instrument approaches in a Flight Training Device set up to fly like a Seneca.

The Seneca and I were reunited in December — just in time for winter weather.

My bosses at GANews allowed me to take advantage of breaks in the weather. Winter in the northwest is pretty much one long string of low clouds, fog and low freezing levels. VFR days are a rarity.

Then there was the challenge of finding a Designated Examiner who could do the check ride in a Seneca. Peter made contact with Rick Luke, a DE in Bellingham, Wash., which is about as far north as you can go without going into Canada. We made plans to fly north to meet him.

I was anxious to finish. I compared my experience to that of a half-pound salmon that was trying to get up a fish ladder (it’s a northwest thing). Peter understood perfectly. He told me I was ready for the check ride by saying, quite seriously, “I think it’s time for you to get upstream and live out the rest of your existence.”

The check ride was scheduled…weathered out…scheduled and weathered out… you get the idea. There were two weeks of this.

Finally the big day came. The oral portion of the ride went quickly. The flying portion went quickly as well. I’m sure it was not the best flying I have done, but it was good enough and on Feb. 10, I earned the coveted ticket.

I shared the good news with one of my best friends from childhood who writes musicals. In a musical, everyone has a theme song. When I told her about the challenges I had getting my multiengine commercial rating, she announced that my theme song should be Ringo Starr’s “It don’t come easy.”

She always was the dramatic one of our group.

Meg Godlewski is GAN’s staff writer and a Master CFI.

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