Soaring Susie

By Isabelle Todd

     It’s a Wednesday afternoon in April and Susie McDonough (‘17) is on her way to her flight lesson. She drives calmly, humming along to the radio through the backroads of the Pease Airport. She pulls up to a large blue warehouse that looks aged on the outside, but once we open the door, the drafty building is full of shiny small aircrafts. I have the privilege of joining Susie for her flight lesson today. The enormous doors open and reveal the runway. McDonough calmly walks out to a the small plane she is learning to fly. Ten minutes later, McDonough is in the pilot’s seat and we are lifting off, soaring over the suburban homes of Newington and towards Great Bay.

     “Once you’re up in the air your whole perspective of your surroundings changes,” says McDonough.

     McDonough attends Oyster River High School and has lived in Lee her entire life. McDonough, like most of her peers, juggles school, work, athletics, a job, and a social life, but there’s something that makes McDonough stand out from the crowd; she is currently in the process of getting her private pilot’s license for a Cessna 172 plane through the company Seacoast Helicopters located at the Pease Airport. This lengthy process entails 40-60 hours of flight practice, attending a ground school which goes over all rules and regulations and then a test produced by the FAA (Federal Aviation Association). “It’s sort of like getting your driver’s license in the same way that there is a written portion and a driving portion, only much more difficult and extensive,” says McDonough.

     McDonough is instructed by Anna Yilmaz who Susie has taking lessons from for the last three months. “Susie is very patient with herself, she makes a mistake and she gets it and she moves on. For me I would get so mad at myself, and what that did was slow my learning process. But with her it is ‘Oh I messed up,’ we talk about it and she would be ready for it,” says Yilmaz.

     Flying has run in McDonough family for quite sometime, McDonough’s father, Mike, found an interest in flying in his junior year of high school as well. After a friend’s father took him for a ride in a seaplane. Ever since that day, Mike knew he wanted a future in flying. Mike is now a pilot for Delta airlines. McDonough’s mother, Sandy, has worked at Pease doing Airport Management since McDonough was very young. In addition, McDonough’s older brother Mikey (‘14) joined the Air Force after graduating from ORHS in 2014.

     “I think flying fits Susie’s personality. She’s easygoing and fun to be around, but she can be very focused when she needs to be. She can be pretty critical of herself and pushes herself to do better, which you can see when she plays sports too,” says friend of McDonough, Alice Sperry (‘17).

     McDonough wants to get her license to see if she would like to pursue a piloting career.  She also enjoys the challenge and excitement of learning to fly.  Mcdonough’s father Mike is supportive of Susie’s interest, “My priority is to support Susie’s educational goals to ensure she has a happy and successful future,” Mike continues saying, “She also has an interest in the medical field so flying may be a hobby, not a career.  Becoming a pilot requires a lot of studying and practice but she manages her time well and is keeping her grades up, this makes it easier for me to support her flying.”

     McDonough and her brother were first introduced to flying when their father gave to each of them an introductory flight lesson for their 16th birthdays. “I never mentioned the idea of flying again, leaving it up to them.  A year after that flight Susie asked to take lessons,” says Mike.  

     Although flying is something Susie enjoys, it’s not easy to fit into her schedule.

     “Honestly I have no idea how she does it. I would crash and burn if I had to manage all of things she has going on in her life. She has a job, school work, flying, and a puppy she has to take care of. I don’t understand how she has even a little bit of a social life but she does. She manages her life well and I am very proud of her,” says her brother, Mikey. Great quote

     McDonough hopes that this experience and license will shine some light on future endeavors she may want to pursue. “I mostly wanted to get my pilot’s license because I just think it’s really cool and exciting, but I also will hopefully be able to use it in my future. I plan to hopefully go pre-med and then into the Air National Guard, so having this experience will help me with that,” comments McDonough.