“Let’s go to Space Camp,” Wally said.
Wally Funk was my flight instructor. I met her at Women in Aviation (WAI) in early March 1991. We were both speaking at the conference.
“You should get Wally to teach you to fly,” said my friend and mentor Joan Hrubec.
Joan, a walking encyclopedia on the subject of women’s aviation history, taught me everything I knew on the subject. I was there to do a talk and slide presentation on the History of Women Pilots.
My first lesson with Wally was April 1, 1991 — no foolin’ — an hour of ground school instruction. On April 2, I learned to pre-flight, execute the checklist, and taxi the two-seat Cessna 152 training airplane. I made two takeoffs and landings. On April 5, I earned a “star” for performing a flawless pre-flight. Then we flew for an hour. I did some 360 degree turns, learned to trim the airplane, did pattern flying, and made two takeoffs and landings.
A month into my flying, Wally brought up Space Camp.
I knew Space Camp was part of the Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. I thought it was for kids.
Well it WAS for kids, but it also was for adults who, now grownup kids and thoroughly engrossed in the Space Program, wanted to go to Space Camp.
I watched all the launches in the ’60s. On July 20, 1969, our family sat glued to the 17-inch black and white screen in our living room. We watched Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk on the Moon.
Seven months earlier, on Christmas Eve 1968, we listened as Apollo 8 orbited the Moon ten times before returning to Earth.
So Wally and I went to Space Camp. My husband thought I was nuts. My college-age kids thought it was cool!
Space Camp was full of adventures and Wally and I both ate it up. We bought the blue coveralls the astronauts wore. I later donated mine to the International Women’s Air & Space Museum where it is remains, today, proudly on display.
Our team — five women and four men — went through simulated “space-flight” exercises in a “space vehicle.” We were treated to movies in 3-D. Meals in the mess hall. We slept on bunks in dorms. I remember Wally claimed the upper bunk before I could. It reminded me of being at camp when I was a teenager. In fact for three days, we were teenagers again!
What a trip!!!
Between April 1 and September 1, 1991, I logged a total of 18.5 hours with Wally, but I never soloed. Consistently making good landings continued to elude me. I quit flying. Too costly! Finally, I soloed a little two-seat Aeronca Champ taildragger (the little wheel is in the back) on Friday the 13th, 2009. I earned my sport pilot’s license in 2011.
Wally and I still meet yearly at WAI and at Ninety-Nines Women Pilots events. It’s old home week!!! Fond memories for both of us.
This post was published first, in another format, on Sarah's blog at https://sarahbyrnrickman.com/sarah-and-wally-at-space-camp-1991/.