Editor's Note: This post is part of a series produced by HuffPost's Girls In STEM Mentorship Program. Join the community as we discuss issues affecting women in science, technology, engineering and math.
As I tumble quickly towards the earth with my hand on the stick of Foxy Lady, my core tightens and I see the earth spin in front of my eyes. One ... two ... half ... I count off as I spin the Super Decathlon toward the ground, then suddenly pull her back toward the horizon, defying gravity and the gods. There are no other thoughts in my head in this moment, only feedback and reaction. This moment of unadulterated clarity is why I love aerobatic flight.
As the anniversary of Amelia Earhart's historic trans-Pacific flight approaches, I am drawn to contemplate my own history with aviation and the freedoms I enjoy thanks to the tenacity and courage of my female predecessors. Amelia wasn't only embracing her own wanderlust. She was setting a precedent for women nationally, where the less publicized Bessie Coleman had already set in motion the wheels of progress for women aviators internationally. Bessie Coleman, Amelia Earhart, Sally Ride and the Women Air Service Pilots (WASPs) of World War II, these women have changed the course of my life in every way.
Amelia in particular has given me a gift that can never be repaid: the founding of an international organization of women pilots called the Ninety Nines. I am grateful to be a part of this diverse and vital group. The women I have met through the Ninety Nines are some of the most phenomenal people I have ever encountered, and I am truly fortunate to call them friends. As a younger member, I have benefited from the mentorship of more experienced women pilots, who are always willing to give advice and support. Having the perspective of these women, all of whom have had to overcome stereotypes in male-dominated industry, is invaluable.
My own story with aviation could be described as a teenage romance that grew into a lifelong love affair. I was sixteen the first time I took flight. From the moment my wheels left the ground I knew I had found my home in the sky. I was obsessed, I was consumed, and I was in love. Whenever I ponder the beginnings of my career in aviation, I always return to this moment. I remember the sweat on my hands as I gripped the yoke, the heat in the cabin of the aircraft on a hot Texas Saturday afternoon in August. I remember the smell, the texture of the cloth of the seat of N48581, and I remember the feel of metal under my fingers as I preflighted the aircraft looking for damage. It was and is the essence of freedom for me.
My first solo flight took me over the flat south Texas terrain, headed to George West for a three-legged cross country. There is a certain type of peace that descends on you in this time, I imagine it to be similar to one you would feel if you were floating in a vast ocean. But even more visceral feeling was an underlying since of mild terror. The fact that at one point I had not seen a city or township for miles and could see none on the horizon. The fact that if anything went wrong there was no one to bail me out. I had to pull myself back from the imaginary negative conclusions that my mind had come up with on the fly. I checked my instruments, I radioed out on the common frequency for the area and listened to the white noise of a nothingness in response. Eventually on the horizon I saw my destination and exhaled a heavy sigh of relief. I negotiated the wind and landed the airplane. Only after landing did I realize I was going to break curfew.
Flying changed my soul. It gave me the confidence to hold my head high through every experience. It gave me an identity. Any time I meet someone that is interested in flying I tell them to dive head first into it, love it, and let it change you.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post to commemorate the 79th anniversary of Amelia Earhart's 1935 record-breaking solo flight, when she became the first person ever to fly from the mainland United States to Hawaii. To see all the posts in the series, click here.