From air races to commuting for business, Joyce Wilson flies high
By AMELIA T. REIHELD, For General Aviation News
When it comes to sheer unadulterated joie de vivre, or perhaps more specifically, joie de voler (joy of flying), Joyce Wilson is in a class by herself.
She got an early start on her flying lessons. At age 12, she entered an essay contest in her hometown of Morgantown, W. Va. First prize was an hour’s introductory flight. The flight school was, no doubt, surprised by the winner’s age, but a deal was a deal. The little girl won fair and square, and claimed her prize. She logged her second hour of dual flight instruction nearly 40 years later.
In the intervening years, Wilson acquired a master’s degree and career in audiology, trophies from competitive shooting matches, and a husband who was a very enthusiastic hunter and gunsmith. In Arkansas, she became the executive director of the International Defensive Pistol Association, a rapidly growing marksmen’s organization. Down in Texas, she also had horses to tend, and guest hunters to welcome to the Circle WC Ranch, the couple’s 4,500-acre spread, which lies a good 300 miles from their home in Berryville, Ark. With such a busy life, time was a precious commodity.
“Just think,” the couple’s pilot friends pointed out, “how much quicker you could get back and forth if you flew.”
Bill Wilson didn’t take the bait, but Joyce remembered a 12-year-old’s wonderful ride, and headed for the nearest airport.
She attacked the challenge with zeal. “I fast-tracked it, taking three or four lessons a week,” she said. Even so, she recalls, it took a while to solo. “But then it sort of took off, and a lot of my pre-private time was cross-country. We are always on the lookout for an excuse to fly somewhere new.”
Before she even took her check ride, she bought a 2000 Cessna 182, and had begun to transition to the complex aircraft.
Shortly after receiving her private ticket, Wilson had to take time off for knee-replacement surgery, two of them. While enduring seemingly endless physical therapy, she counted the days until she could return to the air. Finally the freshly bionic woman was back at the airport, piling up cross-country hours between Texas and Arkansas. The Wilsons’ five-hour commute between town and country magically shrank to an hour and 45 minutes.
Predictably, there would be no dilly-dallying when Wilson decided to go for her instrument rating. She found an instructor in Long Beach, Calif., who agreed to meet her in Arkansas, and match he fast pace. Two weeks later, the ink was drying on her new rating.
The couple’s frequent business travels from their small town to various shooting venues became easier than ever. Although he’s satisfied to leave the flying to Joyce, Bill has “completely sworn off commercial aviation, what with the TSA stuff. If we can’t get there in the 182, we don’t go,” Wilson said.
Back and forth from home to ranch was Wilson’s routine…and then the 200-hour pilot happened to hear a presentation by a competitor in the women’s cross-country flying competition, the Air Race Classic. “That sounded like fun,” she said. “So many of my activities are male-dominated, I thought the whole ambience of being around so many women pilots would be great.”
Next thing she knew, she and Laura Berry, her 2010 race partner, were winging their way to Fort Myers, Fla. “What have I gotten myself into,” Wilson worried as she saw more than 50 competing aircraft on the ramp. “I started thinking about all the little details of the air race. The closer I got, the scareder I got.”
The women attended safety meetings, required social events, more briefings, and then they were off on a hot, bumpy 2,200 nm day-VFR-only adventure, complicated by low ceilings and even tornado warnings, during which the competitors were herded to a hotel basement. After zigging and zagging over 11 states, the women crossed the finish line at Frederick, Md.
“I wasn’t even thinking of being in the top 10,” Wilson said. “I just wanted to get there and get home in one piece, and to run a clean and safe race. We’d managed to beat our handicapped time by a bit, and two days into the race I began to hope we might actually finish in the top half.”
That night at Frederick, there came the phone call from the race officials. “They wanted me to be at the airport at 10 a.m. the next day to inspect my airplane. Here I thought we’d managed to survive without penalties, and now it seemed they must have found a way to disqualify us. I was heartbroken.”
“Congratulations!” exclaimed a new air-race friend in whom she confided her disappointment. “That means you’re in the top 10!”
Wilson and Berry snagged not only a place in the top 10, but a solid second-place. Not bad for a low-time pilot on her first race.
Not content to rest on her air-racing laurels, Wilson was already looking for the next fun thing to do with an airplane. How about a tailwheel endorsement? For that matter, how about some aerobatics and spin-training? A month later, she was off to Santa Paula, Calif., for some quality time upside-down in a Citabria. First thing she did when she got home from her Emergency Maneuvers Training course was to look around the ranch for a good place to put a sod airstrip. Seems there’s this Super Cub she’d like to add to her fleet.
What’s next? Why, another Air Race Classic, of course. This time she’s aiming for first place.