By Rob Finfrock

Jan Carpenter had grown accustomed over the past six years to leaving the flying to her partner, Tom Garritano – first in Cessna Skylanes, and since December 2012 in their Citation Mustang. Although she was comfortable in the flying environment (and had even taken a few lessons some 30 years before) she initially didn’t really feel the urge to do it herself.

A Cessna 182T Skylane similar to the aircraft Jan trained in. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

A Cessna 182T Skylane similar to the aircraft Jan trained in. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

“I was always ‘queen bee’ in the back of the Mustang, which certainly wasn’t a bad place to be!” laughed Jan, 64. “I certainly wasn’t afraid of flying, but I didn’t want to be PIC. It was simply great fun to go flying with Tom around the upper Midwest, and Florida and Key West in the winter.”

So… what convinced Jan to wish to transition to the left seat? It was participating in the CJP Companion Training Course at the 2013 CJP Convention in Tucson, AZ.

“The Tucson convention was our first, and I decided to sign up for the Companion Training Course to learn how to assist Tom properly in case of an emergency,” Jan said. “It’s an excellent program that it goes through the emergency checklist in a manner that’s easy [for non-pilots] to understand.”

Following four hours of ground school, Carpenter spent two hours flying in the Mustang with instructor Travis Holland. Not only was that her first time in the jet’s right seat; it was also the first time that Tom had handed his Mustang keys over to a stranger.

“The Companion course emphasized the importance of truly being the pilot in command,” Jan added. “For example, we’re trained to tell ATC we need a 20-mile final, and if [ATC] tries to talk you out of it, you insist on it so you have plenty of time to go through the checklist and do what you need to do to properly configure the airplane to land.”

That experience also whetted her appetite to start her own flight training. Following the axiom, “learn on what you fly,” she and Tom purchased a 2011 C182T equipped with a similar Garmin G1000 panel as seen in their Mustang, and even air conditioning (“that was the best part!”)

She began her training in Wichita, KS in April 2014 under the expert tutelage of Kirby Ortega, who until May 2013 served as chief pilot for piston-engine operations at Cessna. “I was tickled pink to watch her go through her training,” Tom added. “To Kirby’s credit, he always made it fun, and he broke it down in such a way that it was never too stressful for her. If you approach flying in small steps, it’s never overwhelming – and I think that’s the key to getting to the end.” Kirby will be one of the Companion Course instructors this year at the Broodmoor.

Jan first soloed in October, and as winter settled in she and Tom relocated the plane to Florida. “I did some training there with another instructor, but the weather was really horrible and we weren’t able to complete the training as hoped,” she added. “We brought the plane back to Wichita in spring, and I wrapped everything up with my checkride on July 6th.”

As one of the newest members of the flying community, Jan has continued to build time with her “license to learn,” including her first flight as PIC with a passenger, Tom.

“No duct tape was needed” to keep Tom from interfering, Jan laughed. “But, I did need to knock his hands away from a button or two. I’d learned with a different checklist than he’s used to, and I wasn’t going to deviate from that. It was a bit awkward at first, being in the left seat as PIC but with a non-instructor, senior pilot with many more hours sitting next to me.”

Mustang sillhouette

Jan is now considering her next step, which may include earning IFR, multi, and SIC ratings. “I have plenty of time, and I’m humbled to be part of a very small club,” she added. “Astronauts are part of this club.”

Flying won’t occupy all of her time, however, as in addition to riding Harleys and learning to play the harp, Jan is also an accomplished dancer. “Our promise was that once Jan got her license, I would take Argentine Tango lessons,” Tom said. “Dancing is a lot harder than learning to fly.”

(Tom’s own experiences transitioning from flying single-engine piston aircraft to a turbine, “First Plane, A Jet,” are chronicled in the Sept. 2015 issue of Twin and Turbine.)