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Taking to the skies a family legacy for three generations of female pilots

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, April 28, 2013, at 8:16 p.m.
  • Updated Monday, April 29, 2013, at 5:59 a.m.

When Abby White, 17, took her check ride and earned her private pilot’s license April 7 at Stearman Field in Benton, the feat was more than a personal accomplishment.

It officially marked three generations of female pilots in her family.

The Andover High School junior took flying lessons in the white and orange Cessna 172 that once belonged to her grandmother, Pat Bales.

It was the same four-seat airplane that her mother, Dianne White, learned to fly in.

Bales, 70, learned to fly at age 19 on a grass strip in Missouri. She bought the airplane new in 1975 from a Cessna dealer.

“It’s a family legacy,” Abby White said. “I’ve been around airplanes my whole life.”

Bales, who lives in Rolla, Mo., had to quit flying for health reasons in 2009.

Abby’s parents, Dianne and Tim White, bought the plane in 2010.

“We didn’t want it to leave the family,” Dianne White said.

Abby White began taking lessons in it two years ago at age 15.

At the time, she made her grandmother a promise.

“I told her that she’d be my first passenger,” she said.

White made good on that promise.

“This little voice called and said, ‘Grandma, I passed my check ride,’ ” Bales said.

Two weeks ago, the two took off from Benton’s airport and flew over the Flint Hills.

It was an emotional day.

“It made me very proud,” Bales said. “That was very special, very special.”

Abby White said the most difficult part of earning her license was studying for the written exam.

“The flying was a lot easier,” she said.

This summer, she plans to start working on an instrument rating. She also will attend the Naval Academy’s summer session in June.

White wants to pursue flying as a career. Her goal is to major in aeronautical engineering and fly for the U.S. military. She plans to apply to both the Air Force and Naval academies.

When Bales learned to fly in 1962, few women were pilots.

“I did not know any other lady that flew,” Bales said. “I was just determined. It was just always a fascination.”

Her dad had been fascinated by aviation, although neither he nor anyone in the family flew. But when she was a teenager, her dad took her to a nearby grass strip and paid a pilot to take her for a ride.

At 19, Bales scraped up enough money to take flying lessons and rent an Aeronca Champ taildragger. Two years later, she bought a Piper Super Cruiser for about $2,000.

When she got married and moved to Rolla, she sold the plane but kept up her license.

She later bought the Cessna 172.

A few years after that, her husband learned to fly. Together, they used the airplane in the wholesale beauty and barber supply business they ran.

“Dianne grew up with us using it in a business,” Bales said of her daughter.

And Abby grew up flying with her mom and her grandmother.

“We’re very proud of our girl,” Dianne White said of Abby.

Reach Molly McMillin at 316-269-6708 or mmcmillin@wichitaeagle.com.

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