One of the more frustrating aspects of being a flight instructor is that you get stood up sometimes. People don’t show because they oversleep, they forget, or they would really rather not be there. I remarked to a coworker that I was getting stood up so much I ought to start coming to work in a prom dress. This comment morphed into “I need a prom dress” as CFI slang for “my student didn’t show up.”
I started thinking about how long it had been since I wore a formal dress. When you are a woman and you go to work in BDUs, a flight jacket and boots everyday, you really want an excuse to wear one. I decided that to mark my 1,000th hour of dual instruction given I would wear a formal gown. I shared the idea with friends and coworkers who were enthusiastic about it. I wanted to do this right, I said, which meant taffeta, pearls, gloves, maybe even a tiara.
There were challenges. I hadn’t worn a formal since the Clinton administration and had no idea of my size. The next challenge is that I am a catalog shopper and had no knowledge of where to acquire such clothes. Friends suggested a bridal shop. It took me 10 minutes to get up the nerve to go in.
Should I really be doing this? I wondered. I found a dress right off the bat in one of my favorite colors. And it was the right size. And it was on sale. Any woman will tell you that this is a sign.
Julie Filucci of Cessna appointed herself my fairy godmother and announced she would supply the tiara. She did. It has the Cessna logo and little propellers on it.
My students all wanted to be the 1,000th hour. They asked for updates on my total and guessed among themselves who would be the one.
At 10 a.m. on March 17, I hit the mark. That flight was with Dan Lewis, one of my pre-solo students.
The two post-solo students I had flown with earlier in the day, Matt “Pegasus” Tudhope and Chris “Bulldog” Caywood, were excited that I was about to hit hour 1,000. When we landed at 9:45 a.m. they urged me to get ready, saying that they would put the airplane away. I thanked them, and was reminded of the talking mice from Cinderella.
Women’s formal wear should require advanced training and a sign off. I was glad I had practiced getting in and out of the dress, but I had a problem: The dress no longer fit. I’d had the dress for two weeks and during that time I had dropped some weight. Concerned about an unauthorized Janet Jackson-like wardrobe malfunction, I kept my flight jacket on.
My mother would be proud to know that I remembered her advice: “Get completely dressed for the party, then take off one piece of jewelry.” I took off my class ring. I still wore my boots for better purchase on the rudder pedals. I made sure to take off my giant pilot watch. I put on the elbow-length satin gloves and pearls and was ready to go.
It was great fun watching the reactions of the students as I walked through the operations room to get my headset. Two froze in astonishment. One went to check the hangar for the seed pod. The women cheered, waved and gave me the thumbs up. A coworker actually chased me out on to the ramp, his camera in hand. As I was climbing up on the wing to check the fuel he was snapping away. Really? You’ve never seen a woman in a gown checking fuel before?
By the way, have you ever tried to climb up on the wing of a Cessna in a formal gown? THAT separates the women from the girls.
Dan did well on his flight. I am pleased to report that I can teach crosswind takeoffs and landings in a formal gown. After the flight there were more photos with students and I attended to the paperwork required of a CFI. I was back in my BDUs by noon.
Now the question begs…what should I do for hour 1,500?
Meg Godlewski is GAN’s staff reporter and a Master CFI. She can be reached at Meg@GeneralAviationNews.com.