Mom flies small planes all over the world-Twice!
– Tribute to Moms –
By Larry Atseff
This is the story of Sue Nealey, a mom who considered raising her two children, (and now helping with grandkids) as her primary focus, but she went beyond. Way beyond. She became a pilot of small planes, and made not one, but two, extremely challenging trips across the world with another lady of like mind in the 90’s. What drove her? Sue, now, 71, grew up the daughter of a father who worked as a sheet metal worker. She admits to a very strong curiosity, so she watched as he showed her how to perform handyman tasks around the house. It came naturally to her to learn both the “how and why” of working with tools. Her mom, a positive thinker, instilled a confidence that if she put her mind to it, she could do it. Curiosity and “I can do anything” are pretty strong motivators. When she was 16 or so, she recalls, “I got a chance to take a ride in a small Bonanza airplane. There was a control between me and the pilot, and once we were in the air, he said, take the wheel. ‘You got it’. I couldn’t believe the thrill of actually steering a plane through the air. It was such a ‘high’”. She was hooked and started taking lessons every chance she got and found she was a natural and just loved flying. When she went out on dates, her first requirement became, “We have to go fly.” She got her pilot’s license in 1970. (To put this in perspective, since the start of flying there have been about 7% of the population worldwide has a pilot’s license. Of that number, about 3% are women pilots) Eventually, she married and became part of the Nealey Air Show where she also learned how to fly planes doing aerobatics with loops and rolls. She has flown many makes and models of aerobatic airplanes.
“I got a chance to take a ride in a small Bonanza airplane. There was a control between me and the pilot, and once we were in the air, he said, take the wheel. ‘You got it’.”
She smiles as she admits, “I have gotten my son into flying, a licensed pilot now and next my daughter is ready to learn to fly. Early on she was not happy flying but at least, she always smiled when I strapped her in.” All the while, she was getting more flying hours in, taking flying vacations to Florida. Along the way, in 1989 she met Faith Hillman, a pilot for Continental Airlines, and Faith told her about a rally/race that called for small plane to pilots and follow the airmail route from London to Australia in 1990. (Go to hinsdalemag. com to read the article of the trip that Sue wrote. Included during the trip was a big assist from then King Hussein of Jordan. There, you will also be able to read how she and Faith set several world records when they flew as the ‘Winged Desire Air Race‘ team over 22 days Around the World.” As she puts, “Those two exploits helps build one’s character. Keep in mind in 1990 we were flying vintage small planes, without the electronic guidance systems of today, we flew just like the old pioneer pilots did.” With her grown children close-by in her home/airplane hanger at Downers Grove called Brookeridge Aero Park, she is happy to baby-sit and qualify as a pilot to continue to fly the planes sitting in the hanger. She is also writing a book about her pilot experiences and dreams of it being a movie.
*Photos by Keith French