Posted: Tuesday, October 27, 2009 2:00 am | Updated: 9:35 am, Tue Nov 3, 2009.
By CANDACE CHASE/The Daily Inter Lake
Valeria Valiquette, 72, flew off into the sunset last week with her new private pilot license.
“I’ve still not come down to earth,” she said in an e-mail about her adventure.
A resident of Polson, Aliquette and Ron, 76, her husband of 50 years, enjoy traveling south together in the winter. Now, like a true snowbird, she can soar into the sky, taking her turn at the controls of the Cessna 182 they share.
After her check ride for her license, Valiquette flew back to her base airport in Ronan at 7:45 p.m. in the dark.
“A very nervous husband greeted me, but so proud,” she said.
Valiquette first started learning to fly in Spokane in 1975 in Cessna 152 and 172s. Back then, she made a solo flight after 10 hours of instruction.
At the time, she and Ron owned a Cessna 182 RG which he used for business. She flew one major adventure in that airplane to Long Beach, California, Miami and Tampa then back to Spokane in 1976.
With her husband using the Cessna for business, Valiquette said she had little time to practice her skills. She and her husband took a college course together for ground school visual and instrument flight rules but she never finished her practical training.
After selling their business in 1979, the couple sold the Cessna and built sea-going motor yachts together for 13 years. They lived abroad for a few years then traveled from the San Juan Islands to Glacier Bay in Southeast, Alaska..
Valiquette also mastered driving a motor home pulling a trailer full of toys on their trips in the winter to the Southwest and Mexico.
In 2008, the couple bought land in Polson. They had lived in Missoula in the ’60s and had always considered Montana home ever since..
Their home overlooks the Mission Mountains and an airstrip.
Valiquette said that airplane gave them a new purpose, a new sense of responsibility and procedure that made them challenge their brains.
“This has actually renewed our youth and enthusiasm for more adventure,” she said.
She studied and practiced for her license with flight instructor Stephen Turner of Polson. Valiquette said Turner has a gift for teaching and “quietly” demanding perfection. He recommended her as ready to take the exam.
Michelle Petrina, a federal aviation designated pilot examiner, put Valiquette through the required tests to qualify for her private license..
Valiquette said the examiner made her feel at ease throughout the testing. Petrina, the only qualified woman examiner in Montana, flew with Valiquette for the first time about three weeks ago as a kind of warm-up before the official check ride.
“My approach as an examiner is I want people to feel relaxed and comfortable,” she said..
The qualifying process includes an hour or two of oral questions with Petrina, who also works as a flight instructor out of Glacier Jet Center at Glacier International Airport. She said that Valiquette passed the orals with flying colors.
he said the former student pilot did an excellent job of flying her Cessna 182 to the FAA practical test standards. Petrina said she hopes it encourages others, particularly women, to consider giving flying a second look.
“In 20 years of flying, I have never met someone with this ambition starting an adventure in aviation as she has done,” she said. “She’s an amazing woman to become a licensed pilot at age (almost) 73.”
Valiquette called getting licensed a tremendous experience and a year she would never forget. She said her solo forays were particularly hard on Ron but he was the motivation for her to succeed.
“I’m so glad I can finally fly with him and, as agreed, we will always fly together and take care of each other. That’s what learning to fly was all about for me. After 50 years of marriage and many adventures in planes, boats and cars, we still do it together.”
Reporter Candace Chase may be reached at 758-4436 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.