Welcome back, Jay!
When you think of flying you probably think of lousy service, high prices, crowded airplanes, and a lot of waiting in line. You will most likely stress about getting on your 6:00AM flight and then stress yet again about making your 45-minute connection in Atlanta. There’s another side to flying that many people never get to experience and even fewer diabetics get to experience. My name is Jay Haapala; some of you will remember me from my guest post here on Scott’s blog a little over a year ago. I am back today to share what is new with me and my quest of becoming a private pilot.
Long story short… when you’re addicted to aviation, you’re addicted. What starts the aviation addiction varies from person to person. I caught the “Aviation Bug” in June of 2007 when my mom and I flew to St. Louis for a Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) conference. On the way home we ended up stuck in the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport for nine hours. I have close to no recollection of what I saw in the airport but whatever it was it sure had a very profound impact on me. Aviation became my life and it was all I talked about. I spent 4th grade with my face glued up to a window in my classroom that sits directly under the approach path to Charleston’s Yeager Airport. I would go on to fly every chance I got and more recently started working as an intern at Yeager Airport.
In April of this year I decided enough was enough and decided it was time to start my journey of becoming a licensed private pilot. While this isn’t an impossible task for someone with T1D it has its added challenges. In May of 2014 I applied for a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Third Class Medical certificate. Currently people with T1D cannot hold a First Class Medical Certificate (the type required to fly for an airline). I’m happy to say that after close to 1.5 months of calling the FAA and getting a United States Senator’s office involved I now hold an FAA Third Class Medical Certificate. This certificate allows me to fly an aircraft solo and to eventually fly as a private pilot.
My instructor and I made a decision that I was ready to fly an aircraft while acting as pilot in command, my first solo! This is major milestone in any pilots’ training, the person that acted as your safety net steps out of the aircraft, knowing you are capable of flying that aircraft by yourself. The day was July 9, 2014. I flew two “patters” (or circuits around Yeager Airport consisting of a take off and landing) with my instructor, Brenda. We decided I was ready, I taxied back to Executive Air (the private terminal at Yeager Airport), Brenda stepped out and said “bring the plane back safely”, she signed my logbook and walked off. I’ll be honest; I was scared to death. However, I knew I could do it. I’ve waited for this moment since I knew the average person could become a pilot. My first solo went great. I was able to fly one pattern (loop) around Yeager Airport (CRW). While a first solo is special for any pilot in training it really meant a lot to me knowing I was doing it with T1D. I won, diabetes lost. The type of private flying I get to experience is much different from the airlines; if you ever get the chance to fly in a general aviation aircraft, do it.
I’ve come to the realization that when it comes to aviation I posses a ridiculous amount of serendipity. Serendipity is defined as: the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way. That one word pretty much sums up my aviation life. If I were to give anyone around my age advice it would be something like: your age doesn’t matter (you can do whatever you want at your age assuming it is legal), be interested in an industry, share your passion with others, use social media (if done correctly it will help you greatly), never take no for answer, if you have diabetes (or any other health related issue) don’t let it stop you, connection are key. Finally, as the slogan of AirTran Airways states: Go. There’s nothing stopping you. As I continue my quest of becoming a private pilot, follow my website and social media feeds. My website has some of my pictures and videos flying including an onboard video of my first solo! Thank you to Scott for the opportunity to share my story on here; it is always a pleasure.