Some things are just meant to be — just ask Nancy Ginesi-Hill.
This was proven to the Sacramento pilot when she bought her 1940 PT-17 Stearman two years ago. While doing some research into the military history of her new plane, she discovered its last assignment was in 1944 at Eagle Field in Dos Palos, Calif., a field where Ginesi-Hill had volunteered for more than three years.
“I knew this plane was meant for me,” she said with absolute conviction.
It also was with absolute conviction that Ginesi-Hill pursued her passion for flight, facing challenges ranging from lack of support at home to a lack of funds.
“Before I started flying I restored classic cars and motorcycles,” she recounted. “I was a tomboy growing up, working on engines in garages since I was 16. I was living in Grass Valley in 1988 when I read a story on the front page of the Grass Valley Union about the 99s at the airport flying airplanes. I thought how cool would it be to ride my 1940 Harley Davidson, that I restored, to the airport and jump in my old 1940 biplane and fly?”
She was married to her first husband at the time and his knee-jerk response to her dream was, “You can’t fly an airplane! Girls can’t fly!”
“A few months later I divorced him, went to the local airport in Sacramento and said ‘teach me how to fly,'” she said.
She started her flight training in 1989, moved to Santa Rosa and earned her license in January 1990.
“After I received my license I could not afford to continue my training,” she recalled. “I was a single mom of two with no support, struggling just to pay the bills. No one in my family flew but me, so of course they all thought I was crazy to even want to fly.”
She tried to join the military to continue her flight training, but at 29, she was too old — having missed the cut-off age of 28-1/2 by just a few months.
“I also tried applying for scholarships, which were scarce at that time, with no luck,” she said. “To be able to hang around the airport and airplanes, I started working at the local FBO for $6 an hour.”
While she couldn’t get a loan for training, she was able to obtain some grants to continue her ground school. She was the first person to receive a government grant to go through the Aeronautics Program at Santa Rosa Junior College.
But bad news followed that good news. The flight school where she had been working closed down. “My dreams of aviation went on the back burner for a while,” she said, noting she took on jobs as a bartender and chauffeur to take care of her two children.
It was several year later when she moved to Sacramento that she was able to get back into aviation. She started working at flight schools in the area, flew for the Civil Air Patrol and the Yolo County Sherriff’s Department to log hours and get back into flying.
In 2003, she became chairman of the local 99s chapter — she had joined the international organization when she was a student pilot. That was the year she also received the Amelia Earhart Memorial Scholarship to continue her training.
Meanwhile, she soon discovered another passion. “A friend took me up in his Stearman and I was hooked,” she said. “I was able to get my tailwheel endorsement in the Stearman and logged over 200 hours. Still, it wasn’t my airplane and I said ‘someday I will own my own airplane.'”
It was while flying in the Stearman with her friend that Ginesi-Hill discovered Eagle Field (CL01) in Dos Palos. During her first visit, the airport was having its annual dinner dance reunion. “Everyone was dressed in 1940s uniforms and clothing, the band filled the air with sounds of Glenn Miller, while pilots were telling stories inside the hangar, and B-25s, Stearmans and PT-22s were parked outside. I was in warbird heaven!
“I fell in love with Eagle Field and would do anything to go back, so I started to volunteer to help restore the airfield,” she continued. “I went every weekend and holiday until finally I ended up moving there with my son and worked there for three years.”
When she returned home to Sacramento, she married her husband, Bill Hill, who owns Wild Bill’s Tattoos. The couple had known each other for more than 30 years, but hadn’t seen each other for 28 of those years. After the wedding, the couple bought the Stearman from Jacques Gandolfo, a pilot in France who had owned it for 30 years.
“It was a little rough and need some work so I started working on it, flying it two to three times a week, taking it to air shows and fly-ins to honor the men and women who trained and flew in them during World War II,” she said.
One of those trips was this summer to the annual reunion at Eagle Field.
“It felt like coming home for me and for the airplane,” she said. “I think I did my best landing ever! It was like the airplane knew she was coming home. I was the only plane there that could say it flew there during the war.”
Several months later, the Stearman remains an ongoing project for Ginesi-Hill. “It’s always needing attention, so it keeps me busy,” she said.
The plane is based at Lincoln Regional Airport (LHM) in her hangar, which is filled with aviation art, memorabilia, and newspaper articles she’s collected over the years. “The big movie screen on the hangar wall projects old-time aviation movies or you might hear the sounds of Glenn Miller on the radio if you’re passing by,” she said.
While she’s still the only one in her family who flies, she hopes to teach her son Maxx, 16, to fly. He’s thinking about joining the Air Force in two years, she said, noting “Then it’s my time to fly! I plan to take my plane with my husband as navigator to all the places around the country I ever wanted to go — all the museums and fly-ins I have never been to. At this point in my life I want flying to be fun! Not a job…”
And while she remains busy with her son, her Stearman and the laundry list of aviation organizations she’s involved in — the Sacramento Valley 99s, EAA Chapter 52 Sacramento, EAA Chapter 526 Auburn, the Gray Eagles, the Lincoln Regional Aviation Association, and the P-38 Forktail Devils — she’s also working to bring more young people into aviation. “I give presentations to various organizations and schools to promote Women in Aviation,” she said. “I’m hoping to educate women on the options for careers in aviation I never had during my training.”
But it’s not just females she hopes to share her love of flight with. “I have a daughter and three grandsons,” she said. “I am hoping the boys will want to fly like grandma someday!”