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Flight training scholarship recipient logs first soloFlight training scholarship recipient logs first solo

Kristen Dwiggins knew that this might be the day as she practiced takeoffs and landings with her instructor at Sanford, North Carolina’s Raleigh Executive Jetport on an October morning following a short flight from Raleigh-Durham International Airport.

AOPA Foundation Flight Training scholarship recipient Kristen Dwiggins recently soloed in a Liberty XL2 and now trains in the Piper Archer pictured here. Photo courtesy of Dwiggins.

Piloting a 125-horsepower, two-place Liberty XL2 trainer under her instructor’s supervision, Dwiggins’ landings were looking good, so she taxied to the apron, feeling “excited but nervous,” to let her CFI, Stephanie Wrenn of FlightGest, deplane.

Taxiing back out to the runway, “I knew this time it was all up to me,” she said.

Takeoff felt a bit unusual with no other occupant aboard. But once airborne, the much-practiced sensations felt familiar. It was when turning from the base leg of the traffic pattern to final that it really sank in: She was flying the airplane alone, unaided.

The experience had a dreamlike quality that would be preserved for posterity by a video that came out a bit “fuzzy.”

But it wasn’t a dream, and afterward, in the manner of so many pilots, Dwiggins was ready with a real-world critique of her first solo landing, which she characterized as “safe,” but perhaps not as smooth as a dream landing might have been.

That's something to focus on next time—which she said she expected to do after completing the transition from the Liberty, which is no longer available for her training, to the heavier, more powerful, four-place Piper Archer, a 180-hp member of the PA-28 line of single-engine airplanes.

Accounts of a new pilot’s first solo are always uplifting. For AOPA, the first solo by Dwiggins, a 36-year-old airport project manager for the North Carolina Department of Transportation, marked one giant leap forward for a recipient of a 2016 Erral Lea Plymate Memorial Scholarship, one of several scholarships awarded by the AOPA Foundation in September through the AOPA Flight Training Scholarship program.

Dwiggins was already strongly bonded to aviation through family tradition and her own intense desire to fly.  She hopes to pursue advanced pilot training some day, sees an active role for herself in the local aviation community, and hopes, by encouragement and example, to inspire other women to become pilots.

The scholarship award helped her launch her pursuit of the dream, just as the passion for aviation has shaped her professional life, drawing her from road, park, and sidewalk projects to assignments at airports, where she enjoys the company of like-minded individuals in an aviation environment.

“It’s nice to be surrounded by people who love what you do as much as you do,” she said, adding that many of her co-workers are cheering her on as she marks her pilot training milestones.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: AOPA Foundation, Flight Training, Scholarship

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