Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Centennial


By Marilyn Dash
Originally written: December 2003

On December 17, 2003 we will celebrate the Centennial of Powered Flight. Let's think about this for a moment. In 100 years we have gone from the seaside dunes of Kitty Hawk, NC and the 12 seconds that changed the world -- to the International Space Station hovering somewhere in space. We've landed on the moon, we've made the world a smaller place by providing the opportunity for travel, and more importantly, I learned how to fly. You can see a picture of me in my plane in on this website.

Forward fast 95 years

As a self-employed management consultant, there are times when business is slow. During one of these times, I made the awesome first step of my flying career. While volunteering at the newly opened Hiller Aviation Museum at my local airport (at, Mr. Stanley Hiller (of Hiller Helicopter fame) looked me in the eye and asked me, "Why aren't you a pilot?" and I responded with a phrase that many of you have probably used 100s of times, "I'll do it Some Day!" He then said, "Today is Some Day!" I left that night and the next day, signed up for my first lesson.


Learning something new is never easy. This is especially true when you aren't a spring chicken anymore and you need to work full time to pay for the learning. Additional things hampered learning -- such as weather, mechanics, scheduling, personality conflicts and the continuous need for additional money.

It didn't take long for me to realize my passion. I was hooked from the beginning. I couldn't get enough of the physical, emotional and psychological challenges that flying presented to me. However, there were times when I became discouraged. In the 10 months it took me to earn my private pilot license, I went through four instructors and three different types of airplane. With each change, came disillusionment, delay and a whole new set of issues. Not unlike life in general -- don't you think?

So, I endured and I earned that precious license and said to myself, "Now what?" Twenty-four hours after receiving a passing grade on my exams (written, oral and practical), I purchased my first airplane. Not only was the ink not dry on my certificate, the FAA probably hadn't heard the good news yet. I was psyched! I had purchased a used Piper Cherokee that was nearly as old as I was.


Her name is Daisy and the two of us went everywhere together. She continued to teach me about this new world of flying. We flew from the San Francisco Bay Area to as far north as Seattle, WA and as far east as Midland, TX and the Commemorative Air Museum (at I had planned a cross-country trip to return to my childhood home in NJ; however 120 mph over 6,000 miles of terrain sounded less and less like a good use of my non-working hours. I would love to do this trip...maybe in a faster airplane.

Next Steps

As any overachiever knows, once a goal is set and achieved, a new goal must be created. So, what would be my next goal? How about Aerobatics, you know -- Daredevil Stunt Flying? That should continue to inspire me, don't you think!?

The first loop for me was in a 1929 TRAVELAIR 4000. For those of you unfamiliar, that's an open cockpit biplane built before all of us were born. As soon as I got over the fear of falling out of the plane -- I really started to enjoy myself -- maybe too much.

Again, we forward fast about one year to my first Aerobatic Contest. I came in Second in the "Basic" category for newbies, people like me. I was addicted to the energy, the mixture of control and gravity, the fear and the exhilaration. And I really enjoyed winning a trophy.

By now, if you know me, you probably know that my next step was to purchase my Aerobatic plane. I bought a tiny Pitts Special single seat biplane. Her name is Ruby and she and I are learning how to fly all over again; this time, upside down.

Learning how to fly is nothing compared to learning how to fly Aerobatic Maneuvers and then Sequences of Maneuvers together. While learning this, I also started learning formation flying and ACM (dog fighting) techniques. I was constantly searching out difficult experiences to expand my knowledge and to test my mettle.

The process continues

The most recent test for me was to attend Pylon Racing School in preparation for the National Air Racing Championships in Reno every September (at If you haven't heard, we race airplanes 50 feet off the desert floor at top speeds. There are six different classes of airplanes, including biplanes and jets, and the only words that come to mind are "hard core." This is mettle testing time.

So, why am I telling you this story? See, flying changed my life. I was a pretty good consultant and a decent human being BF (before flying) -- however, I have changed enormously. I learned how to focus. I learned determination and diligence. I learned the meaning of Courage, with a capital C. I learned how to overcome fear, to rely on my wits and my skills to work through a dreadful situation (I've had a few). I learned respect -- for machines, people, and talent. I learned the meaning of the word "Honor" and I've met people worthy of that word. I've learned the importance of punctuality.
And I know that showing up isn't really half the battle. It's all about what you do after you show up, you know the results.

Most importantly, I learned that to live in the moment is the only way to live. Yesterday is filled with regrets and Tomorrow is filled with plans, but today is what I have to work with and that's what I'll do.

No one is an island.

While the Wright Brothers were an amazing duo, they were assisted by many through the ages. From the drawings of da Vinci in the 15th Century, to Otto Lilienthal and his gliding flights in the 1890s, to the multitudes who followed them, the Wrights brought it all together and made it work. I have many people to thank for inspiring me, and I never postpone thanking them.


I am including a few amusing anecdotes about being "the girl." I remember how hard I thought life was for me when I started in High Tech years ago. How many times did I hear "It's a man's world!" Well, you ain't seen nothing yet!

I remember flying Daisy to Las Vegas for "Girls' Weekend!" On our way there, someone in another plane actually said on the radio, after hearing my voice, "Oh no, another empty kitchen!" I loved it! Yep, somewhere in the world is yet another suburban kitchen devoid of the smell of chocolate chip cookies -- the horror.

We were still giggling when we landed and the fuel truck pulled up alongside ready to help us add fuel. My friend and I were gathering our suitcases out of the back and the fuel truck driver turned to us and said, "Where's the pilot?!" Actually, we were both pilots, just not boy pilots. I still chuckle when I think of his face when he saw these women exiting an airplane and he kept searching for the boy -- you know, the pilot.

Another good story, this one is about me and Ruby. Ruby is a single seat airplane. Many times when I fly, I wear a typical military style Nomex flight suit. I was standing next to Ruby wearing a flight suit and someone asked me, "Is this yours?" Yes. "Do you fly?" Yes. "By yourself?" Huh? Do I fly by myself? Is that what you said? I told the guy, "No, actually there is a nine year old boy on the ground with a Radio Control device that is actually doing the flying, I just sit in the plane and look cute, expletive, expletive!"

From that day on, I realized that the most frequently asked question I hear is, "Do you fly by yourself?" Yes, by myself. I did it -- by myself with the help of Wilbur and Orville and everyone that went before me and inspired me.

Happy Anniversary to all of us!