Friends! (Christy here)
One year, three months, and nine days after my accident, I got back in the sky!
Back on 29 June, the Air Force determined that I was medically cleared to fly. I’ve been working in simulators and practicing egress, rudder pedals, brake pedals (ugh), and other stuff in the actual plane on the ground since last year, but actually flying is a totally new step. So finally, on Friday, I got to fly the real plane!
I’m not going to lie to you – the week leading up to that flight was absolutely exhausting and trying. I am in an official “re-qualification syllabus” which means instructors have to fly and sim with me and they grade me on everything I accomplish. All my instructors are super supportive and are rooting for me but, as I would expect them to, they are holding me to the standard! I don’t get any leeway when it comes to flying because of course I have to be safe out there – my crew is relying on me. With that said, my 3 engine work (one engine out on my prosthetic side) requires 150lbs of force on the rudder pedal -and I only have 1/3 of a leg to do that with! In the sim Tuesday and Wednesday I didn’t quite get full deflection or force like they wanted me to. To make matters worse on Wednesday, we went out to the actual aircraft and for an hour I tried to set the stupid parking brake (it was hard even with two legs) with no success. That night I admit I had a meltdown. My leg was sore and all the long hours and restless sleep had me fighting off a cold. I honestly thought I was going to have to switch aircraft because the rudder requirements in the C-130 are so difficult. I didn’t really have any hope of doing any better on Thursday because I had already been doing everything I could. Thankfully, Tim and my roommate Dustin had more faith in me than I had in myself – they calmed me down and convinced me not to give up yet. My family stayed up all night praying for me. Thursday went better! I was able to set the parking brake and my instructor was confident enough in my engine-out work in the sim that afternoon to clear me to fly the next day. Yay! I was very relieved to be allowed to fly Friday. I was still exhausted from the week but enjoyed the flight itself and was humbled by the people who showed up at the squadron to watch me land (and drink with me out of my prosthetic leg as is “amputee pilot tradition” since WWII).
I flew the flight with a pilot, Phil, that I did one of my first flights with 4 years ago when I first got to Moody and was flying the P model. Last week he was visiting from a staff job at 9th AF so I was very happy to have him on the flight with me. While I was in the hospital last year – he sent me a nice card – but inside it had a Boldface sheet (procedures that pilots fill out every month) and said – “Christy, as your favorite evaluator- please send me your overdue Boldface.” That was so impactful to me because everyone kept assuming that I wouldn’t fly anymore – while he never thought that. The other instructor that joined us on the flight just moved here from Kirtland and I flew with him in my J model training just before my accident. I also work with him every day in the office so it was great to have him on the flight as well.
Although I’m super excited to get back in the plane after over a year, just because I’ve had my first flight doesn’t mean all the hard work is over. I’m still proving myself on the engine out work and parking brake – then I will have two checkrides to complete and a bunch of ground testing. Whew, so much to do. (Not to mention that we leave for Haiti in a few days which BTW, we planned when they estimated I wouldn’t be back to flying until August, haha – so I thought we could knock one more trip out no problem in the meantime.. such is life).
If you have time, check out a cool article that Chris Murry from Reno wrote or the AF facebook article about my return to flight status. He’s a better writer than I am so he tells the story a little better haha (hey, he gets paid to do this).
I want to end this post with one more thing. My instructor from Friday, Phil – gave me something I will cherish: A bottle of “Aviation American Gin” with this inscription:
“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease forever to be able to do it.” Congrats on your maiden flight.
What great advice, Phil! Thanks- and I will try to remind myself of that.
Thank everyone for the support you have given me over the last year-plus; I couldn’t have done it without your help.
US Air Force Photos by Senior Airman Ryan Callaghan and Airman Daniel Snider.