Taking flight from cancer

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Kelly Rinne recently earned her private pilot’s license after six months of study. She plans to continue studying to earn her tailwheel special endorsement, which will allow her to fly the Luscombe plane parked behind her. Photo by Mary Kay McPartlin.

Kelly Rinne, Vice President of Mortgage Sales for United Bank and Trust, has learned sweetness can come from life’s bitterest moments. It took a diagnosis of Stage 3 Hodgkins Lymphoma in 2009 to inspire Rinne to fulfill many personal dreams.

Along the way she has made friends, inspired her sons and beat her cancer into remission. One of the best things to come out of the darkness of cancer was earning her pilot’s license and becoming friends with Jo Walker of Skywalker Flying in Adrian.

When a coworker asked Rinne what the next item was on her bucket list, Kelly said “I want to fly a plane.” A mutual friend suggested Walker’s flight school.

“They are phenomenal,” Rinne said. “They’ve been like a family to me.”

“We never met, although we know many of the same people,” said Walker, former director of the Tecumseh Center for the Arts. “We’re very glad we did. This was a bond that was meant to be.”

The two women know they are somewhat of a rarity in the world of private pilots. According to Women in Aviation, International, women make up only six percent of the population of pilots.

Amelia Earhart was a hero to Rinne, and as a girl she wanted to fly a plane, but Rinne found herself fearful of flying as an adult. “I think it was just because I couldn’t control it,” she said.

Cancer was a time of no control for Rinne, and it ultimately inspired her to move past that fear of flying. Always goal-oriented, Rinne approached beating cancer and learning to fly with the same focus and determination.

“I set a goal, and I go get it,” Rinne said with a big smile.

Rinne earned her pilot’s license in six months. “That’s very fast,” Walker said.

“I tried to fly a couple times a week,” said Rinne. “It’s a fun goal. It was easy to work on.”

“You focused in and in between you studied,” Walker said to Rinne, adding that the length of time to earning a license depends on the person.

Time in the air is a refuge for Rinne. “You can have a bad day on the ground, and up in the sky all is right with the world,” she said.

A pilot’s license requires more than just flight time in the air. Pilots have to learn technical information about planes, studying them inside and out. After fulfilling class time on the ground and flight time in the air, the Federal Aviation Administration requires written, oral and flight exams.

It is a big challenge, meant to keep pilots to a minimum. “It’s doable if you have gumption,” Walker said.

Rinne had plenty of gumption, and last week after receiving her private pilot license, she made her first flight as a pilot, flying around the lake area with her teenage sons. “They loved it, and they can’t wait to go again,” said Rinne, smiling. “They said their mom rocks.”

Flying has shown Rinne that humans are a very small part of the world. “We think we’re so important, but really we’re just a fleck,” said Rinne.

Not content to rest on her laurels, Rinne plans to earn an endorsement to fly tailwheel planes, and to fly the two-seater Luscombe owned by Skywalker Flying. Walker pointed out even commercial pilots must study for this special endorsement.

The challenge is learning to fly a plane with a longer body and no wheel to help hold up the engine. The reward is flying a plane that can land easily on grass.
Rinne has her eye on a Cessna 172 to have for her very own. “I hope to make it mine in the next couple months,” she said.

Rinne’s plan for her first long distance flight after receiving her license is to fly to the airport located between Petoskey and Harbor Springs.

Now that she has conquered the air, next up for Rinne is learning Spanish. There might even be work as a flight instructor in her future. “I would never say never,” said Rinne with another big smile.




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