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J-school student found higher education through aviation

By Angelica Rodriguez
On April 17, 2013


Senior journalism major Elisabeth Tate didn't always dream of flying.
When it came time for everyone to choose a career path coming out of college, her classmates
fell into traditional lines - dance, law, medicine or the military.
"I wanted to do something out of the ordinary," she said.
That meant going into professional piloting at Jamestown Community College.
Tate views flying as a "life-affirming" experience.
"There's this sense of freedom that can't quite be described," she said.
Before she could take her feet off of the ground, though, she underwent a rigorous process in
order to qualify. First, she had to find a partnering aviation school in the Buffalo area, and she
was referred to Prior Aviation at the Buffalo-Niagara International Airport. There, she trained
with a pilot named Gary Stevens.
"Before you can even touch a plane, you have to get a medical/student certificate and undergo
extensive FBI background checks," she said. "They screen you for everything, and I mean
everything. Then after all that gets settled, you can start learning to fly."
There are a number of requirements a pilot needs to meet in order to be licensed. To be cleared
for the practical exam, a piloting student needs to complete "dual flight," or a set number of
hours with an instructor, plus a minimum number of solo hours (part of which has to be a cross-
country flight) and a written exam.
The final exam is a "nerve-wracking" two-hour session with a Federal Aviation Administration
instructor. The first hour consists of an oral exam testing your knowledge of flight principles,
weather factors, federal regulations and flight planning. During the second hour, a piloting
student has to demonstrate maneuvering skills and knowledge of Air Traffic Control, navigation
and emergency procedures, including using the radio and emergency landings.
"The margin of error is very tight, and every year the requirements to pass an exam get tougher
to adhere to," Tate said.
Once she achieved all of the requirements, she finally got into the cockpit.
"Your first time flying... is frightening because you feel like if you let go of any of the controls, the
plane is going to nose dive into the ground," she said. "After, like, the third flight, you start to feel
this exhilaration.
"By the time I got really good at maneuvering the plane, I could do it hands-free and my
instructor trusted me enough to sleep through the entire flight -- he had done this on many
Unfortunately, flying is an expensive endeavor. Tate learned that she couldn't afford to go to
Buffalo State and fly, so she decided to give up on flying for the time being.
"Aviation is associated with rich people for a reason: it's not a cheap activity," she said. "I
stopped going to (JCC) because it was too costly to try and complete both (piloting and
journalism) majors at the same time."
Still, she has contemplated continuing her flying at some point in the future. Sadly, Stevens
passed away in February, leaving her to find a new teacher should she decide to go back.
"Maybe down the road I'll get certifications added to my license so I can be hired to fly people,"
she said. "That won't happen until I get a higher-paying job, so I can afford to rent different
planes and a new instructor."
Angelica Rodriguez can be reached at

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