Jessica Stuckey has accomplished in seven weeks what takes most people a year and a half to complete.
This summer, the 18-year-old earned her private pilot’s licence — for any single-engine aircraft — in an intensive training program she attended through an Air Cadet League of Canada scholarship valued at $25,000.
Stuckey was one of 12 cadets to attend the training at Greenwood Flight Centre, at Waterville Airport in Cambridge, N.S. Cadets have their training condensed into seven weeks, while civilians seeking the same licence study and fly for a year and a half or more.
Having studied aviation courses in the past, and having already earned her glider pilot licence in 2008, Stuckey knew there was a challenge awaiting her.
“I was kind of ready for what was going to be involved in getting my private pilot’s licence, but I was in shock as to the amount of workload there is — it is post-secondary,” she said.
“My officer used to say it’s like putting a fire hose in your mouth and turning it on — that’s how fast you are getting your information, which is true.”
With such intensive training, Stuckey had some stressful moments when, she thought, Why am I even here anymore?
“But then I’d go for a flight and I’d realize, OK, I know why now,” she said.
One day they’d fly in the morning and then go to ground school in the afternoon. The next day the schedule would reverse.
Stuckey was in the air every day training in a Cessna 172 Skyhawk. The only time she didn’t fly was when there were downpours. Each student had to get 50 hours of flying time in during the seven weeks.
Before this summer, Stuckey had been in control of glider planes, but had taken the controls of a Cessna only once before.
“A glider and a plane are so much different — the feeling of it,” she explained. “It was definitely a new experience.”
The first flight this summer was a familiarization flight. While Stuckey did the takeoff, she then handed over the controls. Every now and then during the flight the controls would be passed to her to try different things.
“Everything was really quick,” said Stuckey. “By my seventh flight, that was my solo. For other people, by their seventh flight, they are nowhere near a solo flight if they are doing this outside of cadets.”
The training also included a two-hour cross-country flight and a longer cross-country flight with three stops.
“It involved a lot of map work and navigation,” she said. “You definitely had to listen in class because no one is there to show you when you’re in a plane by yourself.”
Where Stuckey trained is not far from the Greenwood Air Force Base where large aircraft like Auroras and Hercules occupied the airspace. One of the highlights for her was flying parallel with an Aurora.
When she wasn’t in the air, Stuckey was in ground school or studying in her room. Instruction included subjects like meteorology, navigation, principles of flights and instruments and control movements.
“It was hard not to get distracted,” she said. “On base we had a pass to a huge fitness centre, two pools, canteen and tennis court and a mall up the road. It was really hard to focus on studying in my room — people would joke around and call me a loser because I was always in my room — but I passed. I did well.
“If you are not sure you want to be a pilot and you go on that course, you will not pass — that’s just how it is.”
Stuckey passed her final flight test.
“It was stressful, but it was good,” she recalled.
“There were a few tears shed when I landed. I said, ‘When do I do this again,’ because I figured it was the worst flight I had ever done.
“But he said, ‘Good job, Jessica, you passed.’ I figured if that was my worst flight I’ve ever had and I still passed, then it can’t be that bad.”
One of the instructors told Stuckey that when she was nervous she had some difficulty, but when she was confident she was one of the top three pilots in the course.
“Confidence is key to flying,” she said. “If you don’t have confidence in yourself, how are your passengers going to have confidence in you?
“It definitely changed me as a person to allow myself to be good at something and allow myself to realize this is something I love to do and something I’d like to share.”
She shared her newly earned flight skills with her mother Linda Stuckey, grandmother Linda Brenton and brother Jeffrey when they visited her in Waterville.
“I wouldn’t be able to take my mom, nan or brother up if I was afraid,” she said. “I made my radio calls and I heard Nan in the back saying, ‘My, she really seems like she knows what she’s doing, doesn’t she?”
Stuckey joined the 617 Dambusters Air Cadet Squadron at the age of 12.
“I joined cadets because I like discipline — I’m kind of a nerd like that,” she joked.
“After a little while, within my first year, I knew what courses I needed to take and what I needed to do to progress to my private licence.”
Stuckey said cadets helped her in terms of discipline and having responsibility to know when work has to be done. In her private licence training, she knew she was responsible for studying and reading ahead to stay on top of her work. She said this was something she learned in cadets. If she had a lesson plan to teach, she knew she had to be prepared.
She recommends Air Cadets for any young person interested in learning how to fly. Stuckey said it was a great starting point for her to move through the basics of aviation, to her glider licence and then her latest accomplishment. And it all came at little to no cost through sponsorship and scholarships she earned in Air Cadets.
Stuckey’s father, Leon Stuckey, extended appreciation to the Dambusters Air Cadets for their efforts through which his daughter and other area youth are afforded such great opportunities to work towards the realization of their potential and their dreams.
To a young person wanting to learn how to fly or working towards any goal they might have in mind, Stuckey shared the following advice.
“Don’t care about what other people think,” she said. “If you want to do this, go for it. There’s absolutely zero stopping you. Don’t hesitate — if you hesitate or you second guess yourself, you’re more than likely not going to do it.”
When asked how she feels about having earned her private pilot licence, Stuckey said she was proud.
“You always hear about the cocky pilot and things like that,” she said. “It’s not that we’re cocky — it’s just that all the work we’ve put into it, it’s just such a satisfying thing to have it done.
“To look back and know how much stress I went through this summer and having shed a few tears — through all that, no matter what, I still got through it. I fell asleep face down almost every night in my books, but it was worth it.”
Stuckey’s family is also proud of her.
“Proud is an understatement,” Leon Stuckey said. “I just can’t find the right words to explain how I feel.”
He is excited for whatever accomplishments both his children have in life, great and small.
“I believe in my children and have always encouraged them to be the best they can be at whatever they pursue,” he said. “Jessica had a big dream, she chased after it, caught up with it and ultimately is now living it.”
No greater feeling
Stuckey’s passion for flying comes from knowing that what she is doing is a great feat.
“When I’m up there and when I’m alone, there’s no greater feeling than to know you’re up here because you earned it, you’re up here because it’s something you knew you wanted and know you’re here and you’re doing it,” she said. “You’re up in a plane or in a glider, looking down at everything below — it’s almost like you can leave all your problems behind for a little while, just go up and be by yourself and reflect on things.”
While Stuckey hopes to eventually earn her commercial licence, right now she has her sights set on going to the College for Officer Training next September to become a missionary with the Salvation Army. She noted there is a need for “pastors as pilots.” That is something she is interested in doing — combining her flight skills with missionary work to remote communities and areas that are primarily accessible by plane.
So for now Stuckey, a Lewisporte Collegiate graduate of the class of 2010, is taking some time to gather her thoughts and ensure everything is in order to pursue this next chapter in her life.