Teen and mom learn to fly together


Parents of teenagers, take note: Here is a mother/daughter bonding experience that doesn’t involve shopping for shoes. It all started a year and a half ago, when then-14-year-old Amy White took her first airplane ride ever. It was a Young Eagles flight at Edenton Northeastern Regional Airport (EDE) in North Carolina, and Amy got to ride shotgun with an EAA member from Suffolk, Va. Amy was enthralled, totally sold.

The home-schooled teenager began to do some research. She also invested in a flight simulator for her computer. She took a few rides over the next year at a very quiet airport near her parents’ farm, flew her computer, and studied for the written test.

Amy&ViFast-forward some months. Amy’s mother, Viola White, stopped by a farm equipment auction at EDE one spring day to check out the wares. While Vi admired combines and tractors lined up on a long-closed runway, Amy stayed behind to chat with the airport bums. Those gentlemen many decades her senior spend their weekends and afternoons polishing their pretty old airplanes, flying them, and spinning yarns.

Amy recalled, “They showed me all around the airport, gave me a tour of the Spirit of Freedom, the C54 Berlin Airlift flying museum, and one of the men gave me a ride in his Champ. Edenton was such a lively, friendly airport, I had to come back.”

The airport manager put her in touch with CFI Bob Clarke, and soon Amy was in a pretty red and white Cessna 150, with air under the wheels. While Amy and her new instructor were out burning avgas, the airport guys turned their charm on Vi, saying things like, “Now you’re not going to let her get ahead of you, are you?” But Vi White wasn’t hearing of it — yet.

withCFIAmy didn’t have a driver’s license, so her mother brought her to Edenton at least once a week. Between Amy’s bouncy excitement at what fun she was having, her high praise for Clarke — “He’s the most patient person I know!” — and those supportive guys by the coffee pot cheering her on and offering rides in bright-colored taildraggers, Vi began to weaken.

“I would like to learn how to land,” she eventually admitted, “just in case something happened to Amy.”

Clarke, of course, was ready for that one. “Let’s go!”

Amy soloed on June 10, a date etched in her memory. She passed her driver’s test not long afterwards. Her mother soloed the following New Year’s Eve.

Amy1Now, with 75-some hours in her logbook, Amy feels confident of her abilities, and has been “having a ball,” while she marks time until her 17th birthday on May 10, and her private pilot checkride.

That day will be a special one for Bob Clarke, too. Amy is the former airline pilot’s first primary student in more than 30 years. Both Amy and her mother found Clarke’s quiet demeanor encouraging.

Clarke says, “I like to find out what a student is thinking, to let the students tell me what they need, so I can get across things that will keep them alive. I told Amy that I was asking questions not to put her on the spot, but to see what her thought processes were. They were almost always right on target.”

DSC_5727When she isn’t planning and flying cross-country flights in the Cessna trainer, she’s gleefully accepting every Cub, Champ, and TriPacer ride she’s offered. The airport guys see to it that she doesn’t let her rudder skills atrophy. The appreciative teenager said, “Flying a lot of different airplanes helps keep your skills flexible, so the opportunity to fly all those different airplanes is wonderful!”

Running a 250-acre farm almost single-handedly, keeping up with household chores alongside her disabled husband, and overseeing Amy’s homeschooling, keep Vi’s days busy. Now that Amy is driving herself to the airport, Vi hasn’t had as much time to fly, but she admitted that getting her own private ticket is high on her bucket list. It makes perfect sense, as she now owns half of the Cessna 150 she and Amy are training in.

DSC_5706Despite Amy’s encouragement, and the thumbs-up support from the Coffee Pot Crew, Vi had her doubts about learning to fly at first. “I saw how hard Amy had to study, and I didn’t know if I could learn that much, but we’ve done it together, and it really has brought us even closer.”

While the two collaborated with Clarke recently to put the cowling back on their bird after chasing down a pesky oil leak, Vi said wistfully, “Now THIS is what I wish I had done with my life. I would love to have been an aircraft mechanic!” By necessity, she has spent most of her life repairing her own farm machinery, but working on airplanes, she said, is both interesting and fun. “Actually, being around airplanes in any way is just great. I just love to fly!”

On a typical day, Amy spends the first few hours of each day on her lessons, where her favorite subjects are science and math. Then she turns her attention to her art. She also edits and publishes her own flying videos. (search 77PlaneNuts77 on YouTube to ride along on her first solo, the “most amazing experience” of her young life, and remember your own joy.)

A talented self-taught graphic artist, she has several logo jobs in the works (she recently cashed her first paycheck) and hopes to combine those interests when she goes to college. When and where will that be? That is yet to be decided, but for now, the important thing is to get that private pilot’s license, and start down her list of special people who want rides.

First in line is the White’s next-door neighbor, who has followed Amy’s progress with almost as much interest as her own family. Then her dad wants a ride to a fondly-remembered restaurant over in Boone, N.C., and even her two older siblings are slowly coming around.

But her friends? Not so much, she said, with an uncomprehending shake of her coppery hair.

“When I mention what a fabulous day it was to go flying yesterday, they’re like, ‘oh,’ and change the subject. How can anybody not find flying exciting? It’s like getting in a time-machine. I wonder, how did I get here? Every time I start taking it for granted, I climb in the airplane, and that feeling comes back again.”


  1. Viola White says

    UPDATE: Friday, May 10 – Amy’s 17th birthday, she took her check ride today; she is now a licensed private pilot! – Proud of you, Amy!!! – Mom

    • Amelia says

      Wooohooo!!! Nice job, Amy! And SUPER nice job, Vi, of encouraging and supporting Amy every step of the way. With a mom like you, along with her own intelligence and motivation, the sky is quite literally the limit.

  2. says

    Wonderful inspiring story ladies! Stop and see us at C77, Poplar Grove Airport if you ever go to Oshkosh or are in northern Illinois. We have lots of fun airplanes and gals flying them up this way!

    • Vi White says

      Thanks, Tina- Amy’s first planned trip after getting her ticket (next weekend, hopefully!) is the “Cessna 150-152” club’s 2013 Fly-In in Clinton, Iowa in late July. Oshkosh is on her future bucket list, but she says she wants to gain more flying experience before tackling the traffic at Oshkosh!

  3. Dan Bierwirth says

    Vi: You just keep punching along. It took me 5 years to get my ticket due to life’s little interuptions. Just don’t lose the dream and you will make it. That was back in 1975, I haven’t looked back since.
    Amy: It’s funny that you refered to your flying as jumping in a time machine. Many years ago I told my friends those exact same words when I refered to my flying. They didn’t get it either. No matter how much the world changes it’s always the same. Good luck on your check ride, you’ve got it nailed.

  4. John Worsley says

    If Amy does get to take her dad to Boone, I hope she’ll stop and say “hi” to the hangar bums here. Contrary to some opinions, Boone isn’t a hard airport to fly into if you know its quirks. If she will email me, I’ll be glad to fill her in.

    • Vi White says

      Hey, John- I’m sure Amy would love to stop in & say hi. She has a friend, Ed Copeland, who flies into Boone sometimes. He took her up in his Grumman Tiger a few times and let her fly the plane around. That was her first experience with actually handling the controls of a real airplane (although she had LOTS of simulator practice before that)!

  5. Vi White says

    Hi Gerald; yes I’m busy, (wish I weren’t so much!) but I hope to prove you wrong. I was at the airport at daybreak this morning to get some solo practice in before I had to go to work. At the moment, I have 24.5 hrs dual and 5.2 hrs solo. I’ve got a little more ground school to finish up before I’m ready to take the written. I’m closer to realizing my dream than I ever thought possible; I’m not about to give up on it now. Amy is getting ready to take her checkride in 14 days- right now my focus is on her; but I’m still moving toward my own ticket. Hopefully, my checkride won’t be too far in the future! As the airport manager once told me: “The only difference between the possible and the impossible is a man’s (or woman’s) will!”- V.W.

  6. Mark Ohlau says

    As one who worked his way into the left seat of a heavy jet by starting off sweeping hangar floors, washing planes, and being the “shop go-fer”, it is very pleasing to see Amy have such passion for aviation! I really wish her well in her endeavors!
    Glad to hear that she is flying a Tri-Pacer! That would be a great next plane for Amy and Vi. With her acquired skills in taildraggers, maybe there is a Pacer in her future!

    • Vi White says

      Thanks, Mark- I love the Tri-Pacer! A friend just arranged for Amy & me to catch a flight on the C-54 “Spirit of Freedom” as it flew to a nearby airshow. (Awesome experience!!!)He flew us up there on his Tri-Pacer; after our C-54 flight landed, he let me fly the Tri-Pacer on the way back to our home airport. And, although I’m not as talented or experienced with flying the taildraggers as Amy is, the few times I’ve flown in one, it was a LOT of fun!

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