April 11, 2011
By Alton K. Marsh
Kalebra Kelby has lots of titles. She’s lead singer in the band Big Electric Cat, she’s a co-founder and managing partner of Kelby Media Group, which includes the National Association of Photoshop Professionals (NAPP) and Kelby Training, and she’s a mom. But her newest title—the one she had dreamed of since she was little—is pilot.
“I guess, as I got older, I put things like that aside while I got on with the business of life,” the Tampa, Fla.,-area resident said. That “business of life” included a singing career while simultaneously launching what was to become Kelby Media Group. “I started singing at around the age of six at the missions where my grandmother preached, but it became a full-time occupation at the age of 18.” You can hear her sing here ( click on the “Memo” button).
Then, a little over a year ago, Kalebra and her family were playing a road trip game, and the question was asked, “If money wasn’t an object, what would you buy?” “I said, 'A 747.' My son and husband then joined in on the fun and started talking about how they’d fly their NFL football team—if money wasn’t an object—around in my plane! We started laughing and building on this scenario, and then I said, ‘You know what would be really cool is if I could fly that plane.’ The car went silent as they could tell I was serious—I think my husband thought if he just kept looking straight ahead I might let this go.”
But Kalebra wouldn't let it go. She kept talking about flying, researched and found a school, Avstar Aviation Flight School, at nearby St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport. “My husband could see how excited I was at the prospect of living out this childhood dream, so he decided to get me lessons for Christmas. And the rest, as they say, is history. Of course, the 747 may have to remain a dream.”
Over the course of a year, Kalebra mastered a Cessna 172 with a Garmin G1000 avionics suite, and then it was time for the checkride. “The checkride was one of the most terrifying and thrilling things I've ever done in my life! I completely expected the examiner to have fangs and glowing yellow eyes. Luckily, he did not. He was, however, very professional and tried to put me at ease before we started. I say ‘tried’ because I was so nervous that I don't remember much about the oral portion until he said I passed. I think that is also when I exhaled for the first time since he introduced himself.
“I don't know if I was more nervous than your average bear, but he didn't seem too surprised by my jitters. Oh, and this isn't going to make me sound very pilot-like, but after I shut down the plane and he told me I passed the exam, I actually screamed! Yep, screamed—right in his ear. Thank goodness he had already told me I passed.”
Mom may manage a $20 million-plus corporation with her author, keyboard- and guitar-player husband, Scott, but that doesn’t impress the youngsters as much as her flying.
“My kids love it! They both handle being in a light aircraft really well, and I'll never forget the first time I took them flying. They didn't say much at first, but as we departed the airport over the water heading toward the beach, I remember hearing my 14-year-old son Jordan saying to himself (but through the mic on the headset), 'This is so cool!' I'll never forget that. My five-year-old daughter Kira says she wants to be a pilot too, only just one day a week because she's going to be something different on the other days.”
To help her be the safest pilot she can be, Kalebra intends to get an instrument rating and is interested in a high-performance endorsement and a multiengine rating. If she can’t have a Boeing 747 (and she can’t), she’d settle for a turboprop. “ Piaggio’s P.180 Avanti comes in and out of the airport where I train (they have a hangar there), and those things make me drool! I've been online and looked at specs and interior views, and WOW!”
Like the Boeing 747 (heck, let’s just make it the new 747-8) she’s not so sure the Piaggio is a realistic goal, but at one time, neither was getting a pilot certificate.
Editor’s note: The titles of Scott’s photography, Photoshop, iPhone, and other books are available online.
By Kalebra Kelby
While Kalebra Kelby was learning to fly, she came across several students who quit.
As a new student, it kind of freaks you out a little bit to hear that others didn’t finish. The answers of why ranged from having an experience in the air that scared them to the expense of training. But, I think the No. 1 reason I heard, and one that I can totally understand and agree with, is time!
It’s not just the time in the air. You need to study—a lot! When you’re just doing it for fun, and your job (that pays for your fun) needs you to be there, or your kids need a reminder of what their mom looks like, or you have to take a break from training for whatever else life throws at you, when you get back to it, you can't just start from where you left off—you have to get back up to speed again.
So, I can see where you might be sitting there one day and think, “I’m never going to be able to accomplish this with the time that I have,” and decide to cut your losses and run. Believe me, there were times when I pointed to something in a book I was studying or had a long day of landings “to the left,” and I’d say to my husband, “This is why people quit!” Luckily, for me, that would just make us laugh and I could get back on track.
New students should make sure it's something you really want. If you have a family, make sure they are willing to support your efforts. Once you start, find like-minded, seasoned people so that you have a few that can talk you through the rough days. Mine were my instructor Fred Breier (a man with an unbelievable willingness to repeat himself), Carl Weisse at Avstar Aviation, Newton Silva at Silva Aire, and Barb Cochran. Barb is an airline pilot that I met along the way whose willingness to share her experience and expertise helped me on many a frustrating day. I am truly grateful to all these people.
The bottom line for success? Support. Make sure you have some, and then make sure you get some more.
AOPA Pilot Senior Editor Alton Marsh has been a pilot since 1970 and has an airline transport pilot certificate and instrument and multiengine flight instructor certificates, aerobatic training, and a commercial seaplane certificate.
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