- Aero Club, off duty, flight, pilot license
FORT CARSON, Colo. -- Susan Mitchell took the controls of the T-41B, a military version of a Cessna 172, focusing on the horizon as she increased speed on a runway at Peterson Air Force Base. At 5 feet 3 inches tall, Mitchell sat on “wedge” and used a folded cushion so she could reach the pedals and see over the airplane’s dashboard. Increasing her speed to 70 mph, she pulled back on the throttle, taking the plane up.
Sitting behind his wife, Lt. Col. Scott Mitchell smiled as he watched the buildings grow smaller. Scott Mitchell, commander of 7th Squadron, 10th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, returned from a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan in July. Three weeks after his return, he joined his wife, also a lieutenant colonel in the Army, for their first flight together.
“When your number’s up, your number’s up,” Scott Mitchell said, laughing.
Scott Mitchell said his wife has always been a thrill seeker.
“She always has something going on. She’s always improving herself and bettering herself,” he said.
“I think it’s great that she’s found the time and opportunity to do this.”
“I’d been interested (in flying) for quite a while,” said Susan Mitchell, Deputy Command Council, Space and Operations for the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command.
A mother of three, Susan Mitchell said her interest in flying first sparked after attending the Colorado Balloon Classic in Memorial Park last fall. But when learning to fly a balloon proved too expensive, she decided to earn her private pilot’s license through the Rocky Mountain Flight Training Center, a United States Air Force Aero Club that offers discounted flight lessons to active and retired servicemembers as well as family members and Department of Defense contractors.
“The ease of (the flight training center) being here and the price, you can’t learn to fly for cheaper than this,” she said.
“It’s one of those well-kept secrets,” said Greg Cortum, manager at the flight training center.
Stationed at Peterson Air Force Base and open year-round, the flight training center offers several courses including private and commercial pilot’s courses and ground school at significantly reduced rates.
“We’re open 24/7,” Cortum said. “Once you’re a member, you can come in and get with an instructor. You can fly in the evenings after work, on the weekends. We do everything we can for people to make their dreams come true.”
Flying east over farmlands, horse ranches and dried river beds, Susan Mitchell battled thermals -- columns of rising air created by the earth’s heat -- and took the small plane to 8,500 feet. Chatter from flight towers approving departures and landings crackled over the radio, breaking through the white noise of the plane’s engine.
“Aim for that cloud over there,” said Tom Murphy, a flight instructor for the Rocky Mountain Flight Training Center.
More than 2,000 feet above the ground, Susan Mitchell practiced right turns, left turns and “stalls” -- cutting the engine midflight then starting it again.
After two stomach-dropping stalls, Scott Mitchell leaned forward and squeezed his wife’s shoulder.
“Good job, darling,” he said.
With the mountains to her right, Susan Mitchell steered the aircraft south, back toward Peterson.
“She did outstanding,” Murphy said. “Holding altitude is the hardest thing and she didn’t get more than 30 or 40 feet off the whole flight up.”
On the ground, Scott Mitchell praised his wife.
“It was great,” he said. “It was fun to see the culmination of her training. I really enjoyed it. I hope this is something we can continue. It’s a lifetime skill.”
Susan Mitchell said she hopes to continue flying. The Mitchells and their children will move to the Washington, D.C., area where Susan Mitchell will attend Georgetown Law School for her master’s in tax law.
“(Learning to fly) has been a lot harder than I ever thought it would be,” Susan Mitchell said. “Colorado Springs is challenging with the mountains and the heat, but I thought if I can do it here, I can do it anywhere.”