Local senior earns her pilot license

Submitted photo Jeanne Castellini, 70, of Green Bank, earned her private pilot license last month. From left are Phillip Doolittle, flight instructor; Jeanne Castellini; Dan Castellini, her husband and a private pilot; and Don Judy, Federal Aviation Administration flight examiner.

ELKINS — The sky’s the limit for an area woman who recently earned her private pilot license.

Jeanne Castellini, 70, of Green Bank, explained she began the process of obtaining her license early this year in Florida.

“I started diligently working toward my private license last February in Stuart, Florida,” she said. “I flew at least three days a week for two hours with an instructor.”

She said one of the more difficult parts of earning a pilot license, something her husband Dan also accomplished, is learning to land the aircraft.

“The first step is to be able fly an airplane and (learning) what all the instruments are for. The next step is to land the airplane, which is not an easy task. I flew in a 172 Cessna. My husband is also a private pilot and I enjoy flying with him in our A36 Beechcraft Bonanza,” Castellini said. “He would let me fly once in a while and I enjoyed it.”

She noted a medical emergency with a friend who is a pilot inspired her to get her license so she would be able to operate an aircraft safely.

“We have a pilot friend we met in Florida. He was flying back to his home with his wife and had a heart attack. He was able to land the plane, but ended up getting three stints in his heart. After I heard about him, I thought maybe I should learn to get our plane on the ground and walk away alive,” she said. “We have four grown children, 14 grandchildren and one great grandson. They were all part of the reason I got serious with flying.”

In April, Jeanne continued her lessons at the Elkins-Randolph County Regional Airport.

“We returned to West Virginia in April and signed up with Phillip Doolittle to continue my lessons at the Elkins airport. My husband and I live in Pocahontas County. I drove one hour, three days a week for my flying lessons,” Castellini said. “Again, the first thing we continued to work on was me being able to land the plane without Phillip’s assistance. I had to complete 80 take-offs and landings before I was able to fly solo.

“I was almost ready to quit, but my husband kept encouraging me that I could do it. Yes, I finally did Aug. 14. My instructor said, ‘Are you ready to land without me?’ she continued. “I felt confident that I could do it. So he got out of the plane and he and my husband watched me do three takeoffs and landings by myself! I was very nervous, but was so excited I did it on my own!”

Throughout the process of earning her license and taking flight lessons, Castellini also studied for her Federal Aviation Administration testing and took an online course called MZeroA which helped her to understand the airplane.

“The whole time I was learning to fly, I was also studying for my FAA written test, with the MZeroA course. I devoted at least three hours a day studying for this test. There are 700 questions in the data bank, but you only get 60 questions on the exam,” Castellini explained. “You have no idea which questions will be on the test. Once you get 90 percent or higher on three practice tests, you get an endorsement to be able to go take your written test.

“I was ready and Sept. 26 my husband and I drove to Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport to take my written test. I was so nervous. You need a 70 percent to pass. I didn’t want to fail, that would mean more studying! I didn’t have to worry about failing because I got an 85 percent and I passed.”

After successfully completing her testing, Castellini was required to complete two flights by herself, as well as obtaining night-flying experience.

“Now everything would progress rather quickly. I needed to do two cross-country flights, by myself. I had to map out the route, how long it would take and how much fuel I would burn. The first cross-country was 65 nautical miles, Elkins airport to Lewisburg airport, back to Elkins. My second one was 150 miles. I flew from Elkins, Wheeling, Parkersburg, back to Elkins,” she said.

“I also had to do three hours of night flying with 10 takeoffs and landings. Everything is so different at night, you don’t have any of your ground references. I didn’t have to do this by myself, my instructor was with me, thank goodness!”

After accumulating 40 hours, she had to take her final test with a Federal Aviation Administration examiner.

“I also had to practice short-field landings, that’s if you land at some airport and you don’t have a long runway. I had to do soft field takeoff and landing. I had the opportunity to actually practice these on grass runways. My instructor, Phillip, lives in Green Bank at Deer Creek Farm with a grass runway. I got plenty of practice,” Castellini said. “After accumulating a minimum of 40 hours, I was ready to take my last and final test. A check ride with a FAA flight examiner, Don Judy. It is a privilege to have Don Judy based at Elkins Airport.”

In November, Castellini was rewarded for all her hard work when she discovered she had earned her license. She added she could not have accomplished this feat without the support of her husband.

“On Nov. 12, I was scheduled to take my check ride. You have an oral test first given by Don Judy, then you and the FAA flight examiner, Don, go out to the 172 Cessna. There are several things you do, one being an emergency landing, in case you lose an engine. Plus several other maneuvers you are required to do in the air. It lasts about 1 1/2 hours,” she said.

“After my last landing, Don Judy, asked me to taxi back to the ramp. You still don’t know if you failed or passed. When you shut down the airplane, that’s when you know,” she said. “I was so excited to hear ‘Congratulations, you passed!’ I am now a private pilot. I just want to give credit to my husband, Dan, for all the encouragement and help. Without his help, I don’t know if I would have stuck with it.”

Castellini said earning her private pilot’s license proves that it is never too late to learn something new.

“I turned 70 years old in October. This is a major accomplishment and I’m so excited,” she said. “So, it’s never too late to learn new things.”