The Liberty Gazette
December 25, 2018Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Pilot, veteran, entrepreneur, lecturer, and philanthropist David Oreck made an appearance in this space last week. Now you’ll meet his lovely pilot wife, Jan.
They met on a blind date forty-two years ago. David had a Cessna 421 and when Jan flew with him, she often asked questions. After they married, he brought home an airplane for her – a Super Decathlon. She was a bit overwhelmed at first.
"I appreciated the gift, I mean, what a surprise, an airplane! But I told David there was just one problem: I didn’t know how to fly. He immediately answered, ‘You’ll learn.’ Then I had that fleeting thought of self-doubt and I asked him, what if I can’t do it? What if I can’t fly this plane? When he said, ‘Then I will,’ that took all the pressure off me, and I was ready to give it a try."
Jan trained every day during the week out of Lakefront airport in New Orleans. When it was time to solo, her instructor, Al, hopped out of the plane and said, "Take it up, three times around, a full stop landing each time."
Many, if not most students don’t feel ready to solo when the instructor knows they can do it. Jan started to say, "Wait!" but it was no use. Al was out, portable aviation radio in hand, waving her on.
All her training had been done on Runway 18-36, which is oriented north-south, so when the tower controller sent her to Runway 9, the east runway, she had to do a mental reboot and figure out where to taxi.
"The first time around," she says, "I was nowhere near landing in first third of the runway. I heard Al’s voice in my head: ‘If you can’t land in the first third, go around.’ The second time, I landed."
Then the controller told her to land on a different runway, which she suspects was Al’s idea. "I handled it. But that took a lot of moxie," she laughed.
Jan loved the early challenges of learning flight planning, finding an airport, and flying. She earned her private pilot certificate within a few months.
"These days," she says, "I’ll go from our farm in Mississippi to lunch in Gulf Shores because I can. I’m happy putting around in my girl."
The Orecks have hosted fly-ins at their farm the first weekend of November to commemorate the founding of the women’s pilot organization, the Ninety-Nines. "We have a ‘Top Gun’ theme and everyone wears flight suits. We’ve turned it into our own version of ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show.’ We sing and have a wacky time."
But she’s quick to point out that flying is so much more than going somewhere. Many of her friends flew supplies into Houston and Beaumont after Harvey. After Katrina, Jan was able to take off from her grass runway to see if there was a way out for people who were trapped.
"Flying is very serious, but when we’re done, we jump out and shout ‘Wahoo!’"