Winged Victory

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"All those who see me, and all who believe in me, share in the freedom I feel when I fly."

First, we reviewed the book....

Nancy Welz Aldrich dreamed of learning to fly all her life, but it was not until she was 37 years old, divorced and with two teenaged children, that she finally decided to fulfill her dream. Over the years her dream had was no longer just enough to fly a plane, she wanted to make a living as a pilot. She wanted to fly as a captain for a commercial airline.

In Captain Gramma, Nancy tells her story.

See our review at Captain Gramma. The book is available from

Then, we interviewed the Captain:

Shortly after retirement, you took one of your grandsons on a photographic safari to Kenya and Tanzania. Could you share a few anecdotes about this trip? I had wanted to show my eldest grandson that hard work and achievement would bring good rewards, so I took him to Africa with me. While there, we camped in tents in the Serengeti for five days. We had a wonderful camp, real beds, hot showers, great meals prepared for us, and a roaring campfire in the evenings before dinner. We were waited on hand and foot. While at dinner in the evenings, our beds were turned down, a hot water bottle placed in the bed, and a chocolate placed on our pillows. I remarked to my grandson, Gavin, ?Now, this is my kind of camping!? He looked at me, shook his head, and said, ?Grandma, this is not camping!? Different strokes, I guess.

On afternoon, in the Ongorogoro Crater (I think that is how you spell it) we sat for a couple of hours watching lions stalk a buffalo. After a while, nature was calling and my bladder was demanding attention. I asked the driver if we could go to a remote place so I could relieve myself. He explained that in the Crater, you must find an actual restroom. We didn?t want to be gone that long in case the lions went in for the kill. So, I told the driver to cut the top off his empty 1 liter water bottle and hand it back to me. He refused. I asked if he would do it if I were a man, and he said, ?yes.? Then I ordered him to cut the top off the bottle and hand it back. He reluctantly did, then pulled his jacket up over his head and slouched down in his seat. I told my grandson to stand on the seat and look out at the lions and not at me. I then filled the bottle ? twice!!!!! There were several other trucks watching the lions, and pointing and laughing at us!!! Now, that was the pause that refreshes!!!!!

One afternoon, in the Serengeti, we stopped the truck and got out for a little picnic. We sat under a large tree. I looked up and pointed, there was a 20 foot long python on a branch just above our heads! We simply took pictures and enjoyed our lunch! I can only imagine what we would have done if we had seen such a sight while picnicking here in this country!

While in the Serengeti, we visited a school for the Park ranger?s children. What a sight. There were 7 classrooms. No paper, no books, no pictures, they had nothing. But the children were eager to learn. That touched my heart and after returning home, I sent several large boxes of school supplies to the school.

When we left the Serengeti and came back to Arusha, we flew. I?m sorry, I can?t remember the kind of plane, I think it was a turbo-prop Piper, with about 8 seats. I showed the pilot my license and asked if I could sit in the right front seat, which he allowed. I think he was a bit intimidated when he looked at my license, with 727; 737; 757; 767; DC10 ratings! He was a good pilot, and we enjoyed the trip.

Your first post-retirement trip to Asia took you to Nepal and India. You were a speaker at the World Aviation Education and Safety Conference in Kathmandu, Nepal, in the fall of 2000. The World Aviation Education and Safety conference in Nepal was organized by Chanda Budhabhatti. It was mostly 99s from America, however, I did meet several great ladies from Germany. I believe there were also some from New Zealand there. I moderated a panel of women airline pilots and we discussed some of the problems with international flying. There was a gentleman there who was an Air Traffic Controller, I think from India, and we got into a rather heated discussion on several topics. I doubt that any changes occurred because of our panel. The most important thing we discussed was the confusion that results when ATC uses the local language with local pilots. The problem being that the international pilots have no idea what instructions were given to those airplanes. We have to simply assume that there are airplanes flying around that we are not in communication with. The other important thing discussed was the stress put on the human body by changing so many time zones. I used to fly from NYC to London, then on to India. I changed 12 time zones on that trip. I would sleep about 12 hours when I finally got home.

While in Nepal, we took a 3 day side trip to Chitwan National Park. We did not see any tigers, but rode elephants into the back country and did see several black rhinos.

After that conference, I went with a small group on a tour of India. I had been to India many times, but never had the time on a layover to see the Taj Mahal. It was a great trip.

You toured China with the Aviator's VIP Tour in 2004.

I have no idea how I found out about the VIP Aviator?s Tour of China. It was a great trip. There were several members of the 528th Fighter Squadron, known as ?Flying Tigers? with us. They flew P51s against the Japanese in China during WWII. The Chinese government gave us the royal treatment. In several cities, all traffic was stopped while our buses went through. We did all the typical ?tourist? things, had a 6 day trip on the Yangtze River, walked on the Great Wall, toured the Forbidden City, took a day river trip on the Li River out of Guhlin, and saw the Terra Cotta soldiers in Zian.

In addition, we visited an old Flying Tiger? airfield outside of Guhlin, and walked through the cave that General Claire Chennault had used as his headquarters. We also toured General ?Vinegar Joe? Stillwell?s Museum in Chongqing. Then we visited a general aviation airplane manufacturing plant in Shihiazhuang. It was interesting, but I was not particularly impressed with the airplane they were making. We also toured the Aviation Museum in Beijing. It was a 3 week trip, and very interesting.

We did not meet any current Chinese women pilots on this trip. On a previous trip I had met a woman military pilot, but could not communicate with her due to language problems.

"In the Spring of 2002, a young woman pilot, Molly Peebles, had a grand idea to bring the aviation community together to help heal, and to commemorate 9/11. This event was called "The Flight Across America," and asked each state to choose a general aviation airplane and pilot to carry their flag to New York to be presented to the city. Nancy joined her friend Donna Miller, a furloughed American Airlines pilot, and they carried the Colorado flag in Nancy's Cessna 182." Donna Miller applied to fly the flight Across America. She was chosen, and asked me to fly with her. We used my Cessna 182 for the trip. The whole trip was an amazing experience.

We needed to raise money to help pay for the trip, and we were able to raise about $2000, I seem to recall. We received money from friends and strangers, alike. I remember discussing the trip in a restaurant, and a man from 2 tables away came over and gave me $20! On several occasions, waitresses would reach into their pockets and hand us their tip money for the day.

Before leaving here, the local school brought their kids out to see me off. Then in Denver, Donna had visited a couple of inner city schools, and about 30 kids came out to Centennial airport to see us off. Our first stop was in Atchison, Kansas, Amelia Earhart?s birthplace. We were met by high schools kids, many of whom had written poems and letters for us to take along. They had a nice ceremony for us, with speeches and martial music. It brought tears to my eyes.

Then we stopped at Dayton, Ohio, and spoke at several schools. We were there 2 days and when we left about 100 kids from local schools came out to see us off.

Our next stop was Shanksville. We were the first airplane to arrive. We spent the day watching the others arrive. It was beautiful to watch as all the airplanes came in and fixed their flags to their airplanes. The next afternoon, the whole group went to the crash site where we had a brief ceremony, and laid the wreath. It was very moving and we felt that we were standing on hallowed ground. From there we flew to Fredericksburg, MD, toured AOPA headquarters, and then were bussed to the Pentagon. One of the group had contacted a Congressman who made arrangements for us to have a tour. We conducted a ceremony outside near the crash site, then went inside for our tour. Again, we felt we were standing on hallowed ground, where so many had died or were injured. It was a very special privilege to get a chance to walk the halls of the Pentagon.

Once we arrived in the New York area we had a banquet. Then on the Sunday morning before 9/11 (I think it was the 8th) we left early and flew in a parade of airplanes down the Hudson, past the site, and back to the airport. We were then taken by busses to the ?Intrepid,? which is a museum ship, permanently docked in New York. There was an impressive ceremony, with music and speeches, and we each presented our state flag to the City of New York. It was a very emotional day of celebration and sadness.

Then in 2003, the 100th Anniversary of Wilbur and Orville's historic flight, Donna and you also participated in "50 Flags to Kitty Hawk," and carried the Colorado flag to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Again, my friend Donna Miller, applied for the privilege of flying the Colorado Flag to Kitty Hawk. She was selected and asked me to fly with her. I think she didn?t have access to any other plane. This trip was much less formal than the flight Across America. Each state took their flag when they could and presented it to a Park Ranger. We arrived there late one evening just before a storm hit. It took a while to find a hotel room, and the 2nd night we had to stay in a Hostel, there was no room in the Inn. Every hotel on the island was booked. We did a lot of sightseeing, and had a great time.

You continue to be active in general aviation. I am no longer the Chairman of the San Antonio 99s. I served for 2 terms. A typical 99s meeting starts with meeting and greeting, just visiting, then we have a brief business meeting and a program. We try to get someone from the local aviation community to present a program. The programs have a wide range of topics; tower tours, someone telling about their personal experiences, discussions of new procedures, etc. Then we have lunch and call it a day. It is a lot of fun. The women in our chapter range from student pilots to astronauts, so there is always a lot to talk about. We like to encourage one another to work toward an additional rating, and we share our experiences.

As a member of the 99s, she attended Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama Space Camp was a lot of fun, and I encourage everyone with any interest to take the time to go. We were only there for 48 hours, so our experience was quite limited. We did get a ride in the centrifuge ? what a kick that was! We also were put in a chair that floated on a cushion of air, and we had to maneuver it around using little jets.

We had to get up to a work station and attempt to do small chores, like turning a bolt with a wrench. As you apply pressure to turn the bolt, the chair scoots away, because there is no friction. It is difficult. You must hold on to something while trying to work. It sounds easy, but it isn?t, and as soon as you forget to hold on, you are drifting away. We also were put in a harness that carried most of our weight. This simulated walking, weightless, on the moon. The interesting thing to me was that you have no weight with which to push off. I thought I would be able to "leap tall buildings," but in fact, could only jump a little further than I can here on earth. There is simply no way to push off! We simulated a flight, each person with a different position. I found that very interesting. I was the ?CapCom? person, and had to keep everyone on their schedule and make sure that everything got done in the allotted time period. I can?t remember all the interesting things we did, but it was a wonderful experience.

Yes, I know about the Mercury 13. I know several of the gals, and think they are terrific. Their treatment was awful, and I put most of the blame for that on John Glenn. He was the one who came up with the idea that required an astronaut to have been a jet test pilot. He knew no woman had had the chance to fly a jet, and that would disqualify all of them.

Do you own your own plane at the moment, and do your sons or any of your grandchildren fly I sold my 182 about a year and a half ago. It simply became too expensive for the little use I got out of it. However, I am planning to fly the Air Race Classic this year with a friend, Sherry Walker.

Neither of my children, Chris & Dawn, fly. They enjoy going up with me, but they have no interest in becoming licensed. And, my grand sons do not fly. One loves flying, and the other is afraid.


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