83-year-old student pilot solos

December 8, 2009

Anne Osmer Eighty-three-year-old Anne Osmer soloed Dec. 1 in a Diamond DA20.

Anne Osmer had never thought of learning to fly until just a few years ago. A friend took her up in his ultralight and later in a Cessna. With time on her hands and a desire not to go meekly into her twilight years, the retired videographer began taking lessons at Hendersonville Airport in North Carolina.

On Dec. 1, at age 83, Osmer soloed a Diamond DA20 at Rutherford County-Marchman Field in Rutherfordton. A photo taken just after she landed shows the student pilot with a huge grin, arms thrown up in triumph. A local television news crew was at the airport to capture her big moment. “I’m glad I didn’t know,” she laughs.

Osmer’s odyssey began when she met Philip Correll, AOPA 1021121. Discovering that they had a common interest in video production, Correll told Osmer that he wanted to use his ultralight for aerial videography. She loaned him some lipstick cameras to attach to the wings. He eventually took her up in the homebuilt trike. “He kept asking me, ‘Are you nervous?’” Osmer recalled. “I kept saying, ‘Am I supposed to be?’” Viewing the landscape from the ultralight was “like looking down at toytown,” she says. “It was heavenly. I wish [everyone] could see it from the air.”

For her seventy-ninth birthday, Correll flew her in a Cessna for a $100 hamburger to an airport in South Carolina. She felt like a jet-setter. After a few more flights, Osmer found herself looking at the instrument panel, wondering what all the “buttons, dials, and knobs were for.” Correll said she needed to take lessons, and he went one step further—he found Osmer a flight instructor. She has been training with Cindy Carter with Aerolina Inc.—an instructor whom Osmer calls “my psychiatrist, my cheerleader, and ego booster. … But the nicest thing of all, she has become a dear, wonderful friend.”

Anne Osmer Anne Osmer calls flight instructor Cindy Carter (in right seat) “a dear, wonderful friend.”

They started out in a Cessna 152, but Osmer didn’t like the trainer because she couldn’t see over the panel. After about eight lessons, she convinced Carter to let her switch to the DA20.

Osmer admits that it takes her a little longer to get the knack of some things, and for that reason she sets small, achievable goals. For example, “At first it was, all I wanted to do is taxi this airplane down the runway,” she says.

She took ground school twice to be sure that she understood key concepts. Landings proved elusive for a long time. She sits on three cushions to get the correct sight picture in the DA20. One day, while working with another instructor to get a different perspective, they discovered that her cushions had slipped and were preventing her from pulling back the stick enough to flare. Once that was fixed, she was able to land more consistently.

Osmer is quick to credit her flight instructor as well as her mentor for her successes. “She [Carter] pushed me when I was ready and held off when I had a ‘dunce’ day,” she says. Correll “has been there all along the way, spending countless hours on the phone, computer, e-mails, and at the house poring over textbooks with me, cheering each progress, picking up my spirits when I was discouraged, and even loaning his shoulder for me to cry on when I got frustrated.”

Osmer doesn’t look beyond her next goal, which is to fly a cross-country to Moore-Murrell Airport in Morristown, Tenn.—the home airport of Evelyn Bryan Johnson. She doesn’t count the hours she’s logged, although Carter tracks them. But she intends to keep flying. Living in a retirement community, where many of the residents are caught up in the small daily dramas of their health issues, Osmer says, “I want to push and see how far I can extend my mind. You have to keep going.”