Eyes Turned Skyward

Risking the Fall Just to Learn How to Fly

This life has brought a host of experiences; from choosing a college, blundering fools for dates, and changing my entire lifestyle completely. All of these things have shaped me in some way or another. Like one day I went to a professors office hours to ask for help. He looked at me and said, “you get D in class”. This experience definitely contributed to my decision to switch colleges. Another example, I dated a nice guy when I was younger, but he got into the habit of standing me up. I let it happen approximately 20 times (I was 16 and in looove). Well, now if I am even remotely close to being stood up, I forfeit any future dating with that guy.  Regarding my life style, the point that showed an obvious change was needed was when I would go shopping and be absolutely dissatisfied with what I saw in the mirror. I wanted to change my looks. That led to years of bad dieting that didn’t work. Eventually I adopted a lifestyle that centered around just feeling my best, and in turn have slowly grown into a decently rockin bod. It’s stronger than I ever imagined it’d be, that’s for sure… Oh, but then there’s my favorite example. A study abroad trip to Europe. How it has changed my life, inside and out, as well as the way I view love and passion in all it’s complex glories.

In the spring I went on a study abroad trip to Germany, Czech, and The Netherlands through Purdue University. This trip was comprised of other students selected from the other Purdue extension campuses. There was one other student going from my campus, but I had never met him. The only reason I went on this trip was because they needed one other girl to go (there was only one other girl whom needed a roommate), and Purdue offered a scholarship. I had never flown in a jet before, so I had to get a passport put together, extra money, and still concentrate on classes, all in just a couple short months. I was excited none the less.

To be honest, I was filled with the most bitter mix of emotions regarding the trip the day I left home for the airport. I threw a fit, cried, said I wasn’t going… I wasn’t scared of flying (I love aviation), I was scared of the people. I was scared I wouldn’t fit in, and be stuck with a group of people who wouldn’t include me. I arrived to the airport in a big over-sized sweatshirt (that way I could hide in it like a turtle I guess was my thinking), nerdy  glasses, and my luggage. Meeting my group at the gate was nerve racking. I was the last one to show up, and I made certain to portray myself as having it all together. Everyone introduced themselves to me one by one and I forgot their names as soon as they told me. I was really a wreck on the inside with emotional turmoil. Little did I know, this group would become very close friends of mine in less than 48 hours. Little did I know, in less than 72 hours I would, well you’ll have to just read it for yourself…

When we were waiting to board the plane everyone was noting their feelings towards travel, past flights, and other air port stories. The other guy who went to my campus, named Jake, was abounding with excitement for the whole trip and it’s entirety. Or maybe he was just entirely excited about flying. He briefed me that his mother worked for Delta Airlines and he has loved aviation since he was a little boy. He explained to me how the whole commercial plane thing worked since I had no idea, but, as we were boarding the plane, he said he was excited for me. He said he couldn’t wait to hear what I thought after our flight from Indianapolis to Washington airport. All the worry and sickness left my stomach.

I was lucky enough to have a window seat on both flights. I had to sit next to a really old, ancient scented, man on the first 1 hour flight to Washington. He was kind and was shocked to hear that it was my first time flying, all the way to another country. The things I remember most about that trip was going down the run way and quickly looking up at the sky, observing it get a deeper and deeper shade of blue. Looking down at earth was alright, but looking up seemed to make it that much more real for me. I was not scared, but excited, in love with being high. After we landed, I felt pretty strange from it all. My ears and throat were soar and my head felt like a ball balanced on a pin. I was ready to get on the big boy plane to take me to Germany. Of course, everyone asked me what I thought of my first time flying… and I wanted to act reserved, so I said, it was alright.

The Boeing 777; XL twin turbofan engine jet made for traveling over 8,000 nautical miles, capacity: near 400 passengers. Three rows of 3 seats. This plane is it.

4,000 miles out from Germany, I was 10,668 meters in the air, flying at 613 mph. I watched the little map on the back of the seat in front of me the entire time. I’d get a little excited with altitude changes. What could bring me down at this rate? (As I was thinking this, there was a little virus making the move on my system that I would soon feel on my third day in Munich, losing my voice entirely). I sat next to another trip mate on the flight, Ben. I was so nervous to even attempt sleeping before anyone. Snoring, or looking half dead probably doesn’t make for a real cute impression. To sleep, I folded the table down and slept on that. I did not suffer from jet lag surprisingly. I could see Jake was a row behind me and one aisle over. He was reading a book the whole time. Cool calm and collected. How I envied that calm. I was bursting with infatuation for flying on this air worthy jet. If I wasn’t people watching, I was looking at the sky. How deep it looked, like if we climbed a few more feet, we’d be riding the mesosphere. While I will not go into all the good times experienced while in Europe, I will share some developing feelings that really thicken the plot to a simple study abroad trip.

May 13th we actually arrived to Germany. May 14th was a lot of exploring and getting to know my group VERY well. Boots of bier makes anyone a good friend I guess you could assume. May 15th, Ben, Jake, and myself went on a self guided adventure via u-bahn to check out a local grocery store outside of the main hub of Munich.
 I got to know Jake and Ben a little more personally this way. May 16th was the last hoo-rah for us in the city of Munich before departing for Prague. My back was in horrible pain (walking ~10 miles a day on old shoes), all I wanted was a good massage and rest. Well, Jake took me to get my first real Moscow mule and have deep discussion over life in general. That will forever be my favorite mixed drink. I found we had much in common, in the way we viewed the trip as a short escape from our reality back home to simply listening to Dwight Yokam. Just like that Moscow mule, things were mixing just right for us.

Jake wanted to become a commercial airline pilot. That was his dream, his goal, and the forefront of his thoughts. This deer hunting, country music listening, boy wanted to fly planes for a living. I wanted him to fly every bit as bad. You see someone light up when they talk about their passion, and you just want to see them submerge in it entirely. Something about that boy loving planes, made me love his dreams every bit as much.


Europe was a great learning experience about culture, business, and feelings. I had a s/o back home that made the trip less than easy. I did suffer culture shock pretty harshly sometimes, like when I went to the Czech Republic. A touristy place filled with an oddly familiar bitterness and turmoil by the elder Czechoslovakians.


There were times I felt scared or even angry.





I tried to reach out to home nearly 5,000 miles away, but I got shut down. I got put down. I got told to put up with it. I got hurt more and more. I naturally leaned on the one person who made me feel safe from the start, and I am filled with gratitude for that. It was nothing like falling in love. It was like ascending in a plane. Reaching the altitude in which you wish to fly, trimming it out perfectly, and someone telling you to bring it right back down. Instantaneously. That is how my trip ended with Jake. It was 2 weeks of high flying you could say. Although, I flew home from Washington to Indianapolis a lot more confident than I was 2 weeks before. My heart had change, as well as a realization of what I deserved, and needed to feel optimal in life. I could envision what I’d like to be happy.

Returning home was sweet but tinged with sadness. I was filled with an everlasting love of flying though. I was ready to take to the sky again. Going to Europe showed me that I am alright in solitude. There is no body anywhere on this earth that I need in order to be complete, and with that said, there is no single human on this earth that can take anything away from me. All too often I let people mar my life with thoughtless words and actions. All too often I find myself asking how I can do more to please others. Europe showed me that the world is just that, the world. The earth is meant to be toured and the best way to do it is by plane I say. So I took to the sky.

I thought of Jake often after the trip. I had hoped that following our many of long talks in Europe, he felt my yearning to see him fly and would do just that. As Amelia Earhart said, “The most effective way to do it, is to do it”. He did it too, and quickly. I’d like to think that I said something that made him feel air worthy himself in signing up for the lessons. I could see it in him from the first time I met him. I went into engineering for aeronautics, my dream is to work in the space program for NASA. In a way I want to fly too. Just in the exosphere that is. His passions about his goals got me thinking about mine. I wanted to feel like it was okay to be that passionate about something. Not all astronauts are pilots, but it sure helps. (From NASA’s mouth). It almost seems uncanny. It’s like I saw someone want to do something so bad, and I wanted to see them follow through with that dream just to see it be done. It gave me the courage too. For once, I felt so encouraged. I am very much encouraged.

Currently I am pursuing my private pilots license, the idea of flying a jet sounds absolutely amazing, and I will take that offer if it comes down the road for me to do so. Contentment comes with being able to proudly do something that is for you and you alone.

Over the summer, the Europe group stayed in contact, sharing stories, memories, and occasional drunk messages. Forever I will cherish these people. They were all so good to me. As summer came to a close, my 21st birthday fell on the last Saturday before the fall semester started up. Oddly enough, Jake suggested we all meet up for my birthday at a German restaurant downtown. I got to reconnect that night with what felt like an old dear friend. All the emotions, comfort, and warmth – still vivacious. He gave me a book for my birthday. Skyfaring by Mark Vanhoenacker. He said it was one of his favorite books. I opened it up even though I could feel tears just welling up inside of me, and there was a picture of the two of us in Europe. On the inside he wrote, ” I can’t wait for the day we are flying together again”. Same here, and something tells me that next time will be soon.

This is My Journey With a Pilot





Author: Courtney Simpson

I am a Purdue University Mechatronics Major, currently in my Senior year. HOORAY! I am also proudly a Brooke Owens Fellow. I am a woman in aerospace and I have a family of 80 women just as passionate as I am about all things in the sky. I have worked closely with other Engineering students on some really amazing projects, and have big ideas I hope to implement some day in the tech world! If I'm not at school being an engineer, I am either at the gym lifting heavy objects, or I'm in my art room or kitchen letting my creativity run loose. My passions are not so technical. They're deep and sporadic in nature. Welcome to not so technical blog where we put science into life, and emotion into living!

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