Vonda Benson celebrated her 52nd birthday last year by earning her private pilot’s license the next day. She is not shy to say it took 177 hours of flight training to get there. Besides a pilot, Vonda is a retired Wisconsin state employee, an ordained minister, a mother of five grown children and a grandmother of thirteen.
Vonda looked into aviation when her husband got the bug to fly.
“I discovered the pilot shortage, the CFI shortage,” explained Vonda. “With my job, I had been doing a lot of training and project management. So, I said to myself, ‘I can learn to fly and I can train.’”
She learned that many CFIs built time and left for commercial airlines after reaching 1500 hours, causing struggles for flight students. Through her own flight training she learned the importance of communication between a student and instructor. Her motivational interviewing skills would be invaluable.
“What really got me going was the whole idea of going on and doing the hard work of being a CFI, and to really partner with people on whatever their goals are, and be a resource to students and other CFIs,” Vonda said.
To get through the demands of flight training Vonda learned to say no to her family and explain her new found passion. She also persevered through challenges with instruction.
Vonda admitted, the day she soloed was not the moment of elation you typically see. Instead, it was her commitment day.
I thought to myself, “No one is going to make me quit. No matter what, I’m not going to quit.”
She kept on despite a version of imposter syndrome.
“I feel in some ways, when I hear people talk about their love of aviation ever since they were kids, like I don’t really belong, or I am sneaking in or something, suddenly having this new found love late in life,” Vonda confided.
Ultimately, she found the aviation community welcoming. Someone who learns from being involved, Vonda is the President of the Experimental Airplane Association’s Chapter 1365, President of Wisconsin Fun Flyers Flying Club, and Vice-Chair of the Wisconsin 99s Chapter. And she and her husband own a 1975 Piper Cherokee Warrior, which they enjoy flying cross-country as often as they can.
Vonda has been determined and creative in her training, combining her instrument training with her complex rating, and getting checked out for commercial and CFI ratings on the same day.
A freshly minted CFI, Vonda already has students! Their milestones are celebrated on Take Flight Aviation, LLC’s Facebook page, @takeflighthigher. She also hopes to weave together her call to ministry and her passion for flying by becoming involved with flying missions.
“If we don’t quit,” Vonda says, “we win.” Words to live by.
Flight training and a career in aviation -- pandemic or no pandemic -- is not for the faint of heart. It is for the creative and adaptable, and those willing to face fears and also think out of the box. Aviation is a tough and worthy love.
Katherine S. Stafford is a freelance writer, aviation enthusiast, aspiring pilot, and nurse. She has been published in General Aviation News and Aviation for Women magazine and is a Women in Aviation International member. She is an avid follower of Hera Aviation Group, Podcasting on a Plane, Pilot to Pilot, and Lady Aviators amongst other aviation digital media. You can find her somewhere in California with her family. You can follow her aviation adventures at: https://plane-and-pen.wixsite.com/aviationblog.