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"At 66, woman finally becomes a pilot"

Monday, March 4, 2002

Dream Takes Off
At 66, woman finally becomes a pilot
By Sylvia Adcock
Newsday (NY)

Joane Failey was 5 years old when she realized she wanted to fly.

Growing up in Flushing, she would turn her eyes skyward when the AT-6
military trainers buzzed overhead. As a schoolteacher in Northport, she
held paper-airplane design contests for her students. But between her
job and her family, there was no time to leave the ground.

Until now. Joane Failey received her private pilot's license in January,
just one month after she turned 66.

"I knew when I got to be 106, I didn't want to be some little old lady
in a nursing home saying, 'I should have,'" Failey said.

Failey, grandmother to six, is by no means the oldest woman to get a
pilot's license. The Federal Aviation Administration even has a case of
a woman in her 90s who passed the exams but failed the medical
requirements. "We gave her a balloon rating," said an FAA spokesman.

Failey had no problem with the medicals and now, she's going after her
instrument rating -- a much more coveted category that allows pilots to
fly in almost any kind of weather, because they rely not on visual cues
but on complex navigational equipment.

After retiring from teaching in 1996, Failey began making cloth dolls
with hand-painted faces. She joined a doll-making club. Watching TV at
night, she'd be stuffing rag dolls. But it wasn't enough. So, fueled by
some wise stock-market investments, she decided to realize her dream of
flight and signed up for ground school at a BOCES program based at
Republic Airport.

Her two children, two stepchildren and husband weren't surprised. "But
my doll club was floored," Failey said.

She spent months poring over books, studying weather, aerodynamics and
communications. When she finished ground school in June 1998, she still
had never been in the cockpit of an airplane.

That summer she began taking flying lessons and took off in a Cessna 152
with a flight instructor from Mid-Island Air Services at Long Island
MacArthur Airport. Before long she was known around the flight school as
"jet mamma." For months, she flew once a week, weather permitting, and
when she couldn't she'd sit on her living-room floor and go over
maneuvers and procedures in a make-believe simulator.

Along the way Failey had to get over "mike fright" -- a stage
fright-like affliction among new pilots who must learn to speak clearly
and quickly to air traffic controllers in the tower. But the hardest
part about reaching for the sky was "getting myself to understand that
it takes me longer to learn things than it used to," she said.

When Failey climbs into a Cessna 172, she wears a leather jacket with
Army Air Forces patches from the uniform of her husband, who was a radio
operator and navigator on B-24 bombers in World War II.

In some ways, she's a natural. She's pretty much fearless, the kid who
always wanted to go higher on the swing. She's mechanically inclined.
And she believes that "we are all given a brain, and we need to use it
to the fullest extent we can."

Once she gets her instrument rating, Failey said she'll learn to fly
twin-engines. And then? "Commercial," she said.


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