LPF 7 | Flying Solo

Flying Solo: Navigating The Skies With Denise Jennings

 

Denise Jennings believes her passion for aviation was inherited from her father who flew the PB4Y in World War II. Nearly two decades after he passed, Denise took her first flight lesson and later, obtained her Commercial License and Instrument Rating. She has been flying her Mooney 201 for over 25 years. She is the Business Development Manager at PacMin, Inc., an aviation and aerospace marketing solutions, specializing in helping promote their customers’ brands with custom scale models, 3D rendering services, and targeted digital content for engaging trade show exhibits, experience centers, corporate lobby environments, and museums. Today, she shares with David Yu the story of how she fell in love with flying solo and how flight has evolved over the years.

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Flying Solo: Navigating The Skies With Denise Jennings

I interviewed Denise Jennings. Join me as she talks about her experiences working in various aviation-related companies. She also talks about her experiences as an owner of a Mooney 201, as the former Chairwomen of the Ninety-Nines Fullerton Chapter and as part of the board of directors at the Aero Club of Southern California. To find out more about my aviation-related content, please check out, www.TheLevelPlaneField.com. If you have any financial questions, consult your attorney, accountant or financial advisor. If you’re interested in how I help airline pilots as a certified financial planner practitioner, please visit www.PacUnited.com.

On this episode, I’m with Denise Jennings. She’s the Business Development Manager at PacMin, Inc. PacMin creates customs precision scale models, display and specialty and items for the aviation industry. They work with all the manufacturers, all the airlines all across the aviation industry and aerospace industry. She has always had a strong passion for aviation. She’s an instrument-rated commercial pilot and she owns a Mooney 201, which she uses for philanthropic purposes. She was the former Chairwomen of the Ninety-Nines Fullerton Chapter and serves on the board of directors of the Aero Club of Southern California. Welcome, Denise.

Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here.

I’m glad to have you on. To start it all off, tell us who exactly is Denise Jennings and how did you get into aviation?

First of all, there’s something that’s always been in my DNA. My dad was a pilot in World War II. He flew the B-24 Liberator, which is the PB4Y. He flew in the South Pacific during World War II. Although I never flew with him because after the war he did not fly, something in the DNA or the heredity came through. He passed away when I was 21, so he never knew that I flew, but he’s shining down and watching. I was working for TRW at the time. I had been working there for several years. I was working on a project and we had a legal department. The legal department was doing the contracts and there was a girl that works in the legal part of the TRW that made a comment about wanting to learn to fly and I thought, “That sounds fun.” We decided that we were going to go and take an introductory lesson, it wouldn’t be fun to go through this all together.

That year, things changed at TRW and the legal department got all mixed up and she ended up leaving TRW and went to QLogic. We lost track of each other. I went ahead and went to my introductory lesson and I was completely hooked. I could not believe how passionate I became about flying. I was at the airport two nights a week for ground school. My family didn’t see me for about six months. It was one of those immersions.

What age were you at that point in time when you finally took your first flight?

It was 1990, which I would have been 38 years old.

Did you know that you had a passion for aviation prior to this or was it just, “I should probably check this out,” and you fell in love with it?

I traveled to my job and I remember I get to the airport early so I could sit and watch airplanes. My dad would take us to air shows when we were kids. We lived in Ohio and we went to Akron and we went to air shows. There was always a little twinge of it, but I didn’t think about me doing it until I met that girl at work. We went our separate ways. I started taking my lessons. By August of that year, I had my license and then there was the, “Now what do I do?” I never learned to fly because I wanted to go get the $50 hamburger. I want you to go away, go to lots of different places. Renting did not appeal to me. I started looking for an airplane, and by February of that following year, I bought a 1974 Cardinal.

Going into your private then, were you thinking about going to instrument or were you thinking about the entire mission what you’re going to do with it, purchase a plane and all that stuff? Did you go into it and it evolved from there?

I knew I wanted my instrument because we live in Southern California and the marine layer can keep us grounded. It’s a great deal. As soon as I bought the airplane, I started the instrument training in the Cardinal and I got that done. I started thinking, “I think I want something a little bit faster.” I was flying to Oregon a lot to see my sister and see my mother on my vacations. I researched an airplane that would get me to Bandon, Oregon, which is about 649 nautical miles. I needed a fuel stop in the Cardinal, but I wanted something that would get me there without that because it takes a long time out of your day. It’s still the things you think about. Every time you made a trip you start to think, “How do I make that trip a little bit faster next time?” I started researching and the Mooney came up as the best and most economical cross-country airplane. It’s very cost-effective and good on fuel, very fuel-friendly. I bought a Mooney in 1994 and I’ve owned that ever since. I sold the Cardinal.

How much did you buy it for, if you don’t mind me asking?

I think it was about $63,000. The Cardinal was $23,000 but his engine was timed out. I put an engine in that and then I sold it for a very good price. I sold it for $44,000. I turned around and bought the Mooney, so I was in good shape.

Let’s explore that quick. We’re going to go off on a side tangent on the Mooney because that’s pretty interesting, plane ownership. Obviously, you have firsthand experience. You’ve owned the Mooney for years. Over the years, what’s the cost of ownership? Do you have a tie-down or a hanger?

I’ve only had the hanger for a little over a year. I was on a tie-down for years. You as a financial planner would say, “You have no business buying an airplane,” but when you want something that bad you figure it out a way. What do I budget for the airplane? Since I don’t have a partner in it and I’m not one that saved up for the engine overhauls. I figured I’ve got two houses, I can figure out how to do that when the time comes. It’s one of those things where you always go, “I want to go and have fun.”

If you’re passionate about something, it might not be the best.

These are all the things I tell my clients not to do.

Saving, budgeting, all that stuff.

I’m here to tell you, you can still do it. I figure my annuals are about $2,500. The hangar is $460, and then you do three or four oil changes a year depending on how much you fly and that was a couple of $100 each time and then whatever comes up during the year that might have to be fixed. I don’t have a budget for that. That’s always a surprise, so I just let it happen.

LPF 7 | Flying Solo

 

Has anything major come up over the years or is it pretty reliable?

I do budget at least one full tank of gas a month.

There you go, at least you’ve got something.

It’s at least six hours of flying time in a month.

With the Mooney, is it a pretty reliable plane? Have you had to replace a whole bunch of stuff?

It will be reliable as long as you keep up with the maintenance. Airplanes are pretty basic. They haven’t changed materially over the last 40 years. With engines, power plants are pretty basic, standard and they are workhorses. Lycoming is a good engine. I’m happy with that. Somehow, you just know because of the timing between having those things fixed when they’re in the air.

Let’s get back on topic. You started flying the Mooney. What happened from there?

I decided I needed 25 hours in the Mooney to get my insurance and I didn’t have any retractable times, so that was why my insurance was requiring that. I thought, “I might as well go get it rating.” I went and got my commercial and I did that in the Mooney. That was a fun rating to get because you get used to your plane, you get to fly by numbers and you learn a lot about your airplane. I got my commercial in the Mooney, then I was on my way. I haven’t gotten a rating since. I’ve gotten a tail-wheel endorsement since then, but I’ve been happy flying it.

Go through your career. After TRW, what did you do after that?

I left here TRW thinking I might retire and then I thought then that didn’t work out. I went back to work at the airport at a company that takes people up to see what it’s like to be a fighter pilot. It’s called Air Combat USA. They’re operating out of Orange County. They left Fullerton and there are some changes because the owner that I work for passed away. I don’t know what is going on with that company. I worked there for 24 years and had a blast. It was fun. You had people with smiles on their faces all the time. I’ve got to fly cross-country a few times as part of the job.

Once you’ve seen the scenery, you’d want to go faster. Click To Tweet

You guys are the company, took people up and you guys dogfight?

They would be simulated dogfights. The only thing simulated were the bullets. You flew the airplane that you were coached by your instructor. Your instructor was keeping you out of trouble. The airplanes were fully aerobatic. They were SIAI Marchetti.  They can handle just about anything. They’re beautiful airplanes to fly. They’re all equipped with electronic tracking, so you could tell when you lock on your target, then you video playing the whole time you were flying. It was quite an experience. It was fun to watch and we used to do a lot of corporate events and we flew out of 25 or 30 cities around the country. A lot of my job was scheduling the airports and the locations and who is going to host us when we’re in a given city.

Let’s say someone goes in, do they require a pilot’s license or anyone can go in and they’ll sit in with an instructor?

This is a fantasy camp for people who thought they should have been. We did have some pilots but most of them were non-pilots that would fly with us.

After that, where did you go after Air Combat?

When I left Air Combat, I got hired at PacMin. It was a gentleman that I see at the airport a number of times. I knew him but not really well. He asked if I was interested in retiring. He said, “Why don’t you come down and talk to me and we’ll see if there’s a fit?” Because I’d been in the business world, I’ve been around aviation and all those things and they’re definitely an aviation-focused company. I did and I love this place. I said, “This is the nicest, most interesting group of people I’ve ever worked with.” Honestly, they are passionate about what they do. We do all kinds of models, physical, digital and interactive modeling for marketing and branding tools. Our stuff ends up at trade shows and airlines over the world and it’s a cool place to be.

You guys make models, basically whatever the manufacturers want or whatever the airlines want where they’re like, “We want a full-scale model.”

They had a contest with all the aerospace manufacturers to build the next Air Force trainer, and Boeing had their entry and it was the TX. We built a full-scale TX. It’s a 40-foot long airplane. We built it, we rolled it out and we shipped it to their very first trade show somewhere in Washington, DC and then it’s been around the world. This airplane has been all over. We always say that they want it because of us, but they won the contract. We’ve made others, they just re-did the paint scheme on it with the Tuskegee Airmen. They’ve introduced the red tail version of it. They call it Red Hawk and it’s beautiful. That went to two or three shows. That one’s not a full-scale model though, but we’re building in another one that’s 140-foot wingspan. We do all kinds of stuff. We’ll do desktop models. There’ll be stuff that ends up on your executive’s desks and when they deliver an airplane for Boeing, they want to make sure they have an airplane that’s produced by PacMin. We take our time and they’re beautiful pieces of art when we’re done.

How long has this business been around?

Since 1946.

LPF 7 | Flying Solo

 

Is it family-owned or not?

It was found by two Douglas guys who were making models. They started the business separate from Douglas and continued. The owner, Fred Ouweleen, bought the company in the ‘60s. He’s owned it for a long time and he’s built it up into doing all kinds of special projects. At that point, we were basically models and cutaways. We do digital animation and CGI. It’s expensive to launch an airplane, so lots of people like to use CGI to replace flying airplanes around to get good footage. We make it look like it’s flying and very realistic.

You’re not a pilot, but you do work in the aviation industry. You’ve done the Air Combat thing for quite a while. You’ve been through PacMin for a little while. One thing I like to get into is the recessions. I ask pilots all the time. It’s like, “How did the recession back in the early 2000s and 2008?” Obviously, it hits the aviation industry pretty hard as far as airlines are concerned. We all know that. There are furloughs, mergers, acquisitions and bankruptcies. Going from your experience outside of the airline world, but still connected to the airline world, do those recessions affect you?

I can tell you that 2001 resulted in about 40% refunds the next day for us. We took money on account and we flew them off. We pay for it ahead of time and then you booked it like you would go on an airline trip. It only lasted for a few months and it trickled back up again. This country came together and said, “No, we’re not taking this. We’re going to keep going.” Believe it or not, yes, there were more restrictions and more things that came into play that we had to work around. We got through 2001 okay. 2008 was a different story. That one was a lot harder because corporate-wise it affected everyone.

There was not a lot of extra money to use for events and expensive gifts. People were pulling back in a lot of ways. All of us saw our mistakes shrink that year. There wasn’t any disposable income. That one lasted about two years. We started to pull out of that probably in 2011, and then we totally pulled out and things were going back to normal. I don’t know about PacMin because I wasn’t there at that time, but I’m guessing that they probably experienced very similar things.

With Air Combat, you’re relying on tourism or people coming in.

It’s definitely disposable income. It’s a luxury and something that someone does fun. That’s one of the first things to go.

Do you guys work with everyone in the aviation industry like Boeing and Airbus?

We’re very fortunate. We have quite a reputation for producing a good product. When it’s important to be on a trade show floor, they want something that’s going to respect their brand really well. We tool for all the models and we produce so that they’re accurate within the CADD that we’re provided. It’s not like somebody carving it out of wood. These are accurately produced. That’s very important to our manufacturers for sure. Liberties are very important to our airlines and that everything is respected perfectly and we do a wonderful graphics team that put it all together and apply it to the airplane meticulously. When you’re all done, you do have a piece of art.

Are there moving parts?

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These are not toys in any way. They’re used as display pieces, but we did do the Osprey and the engines articulate. That’s about as close as we go. We do have other things that we’ve done where there’s actually moving parts on it. Sometimes you’ll do an exhibit model and things are happening on the model. We did one for UTC. They did a hybrid electric motor that they wanted to show on a turboprop and it showed how the electric power gets to the engines and it had all these electric travel through the airplane.

You did and still do a few things outside of work as well. Are you still part of the Ninety-Nines?

Yes, absolutely.

You did a stint there for a little while as the Chairwoman of the Ninety-Nines, talk us through it and what was that experience like?

I was the chairwoman for seven years. It was a fun time. That was around the 2008 timeframe and things were tight and there weren’t a lot of pilot starts. We got to be a very small chapter for a period of time. We almost thought we weren’t going to be able to keep a chapter going. Things started to loosen up. We started to go out and campaign and we stopped doing things like serious fundraising, which sometimes isn’t always all that much fun to do. We wanted to make it so that we were going places and doing things that people would want to join the chapter and go do. We planned a lot of fly-ins and stuff and started taking people places, getting them enthusiastic about flying.

We have got four or five people that have gotten their license through knowing us that were on the fence. We got down to about ten people and now we’re up at 35. That’s a success story. I’m not saying it was me, I’m just saying that it was the times and it goes to show that when you keep things active, as long as an organization continues to do things, then people will want to be part of it. If it stagnates, no one wants to be involved. The Ninety-Nines is active. We have a lot of new people that are taking over the reins, which is nice.

When did you join the Ninety-Nines original?

Right after I got my license in August of 1990. I waited until I was done because I was already at the airport almost every night. When I got my license I immediately joined and I have been a member ever since.

I’m assuming that’s something that you would highly recommend.

I do, women pilots and it’s a great mentoring. When I started, we were operating in a man’s world. It wasn’t bad, but sometimes it’s nice to be around other women pilots so you can relax a little bit and talk about things. Women don’t always grow up with the same training. We don’t learn engines like men do. When you get into flying, you’ve got to start learning some of that stuff. You’ve got to know how the system works, you got to learn all that stuff. We would bring in mechanics to teach us different things probably a guy who parked a car when he was growing up doesn’t need to know. We always apply our meetings to something that was useful to women pilots.

LPF 7 | Flying Solo

 

Let’s talk about the Ninety-Nines in general. For those people that don’t know, obviously it’s a pretty huge organization.

There are about 7,000 members worldwide. It was started in 1929 by Amelia Earhart. They had run the first women’s air race to Cleveland, Ohio. They all had so much fun. They decided, “I think we need to start an organization.” They sent out invitations to all the licensed women pilots at the time and 99 responded. That’s how they got their names. It’s got a great history and it’s evolved beautifully into what it is. We had our very first section meeting in China and I got to go to that. We spent ten days in China and we had a wonderful time. The girl that started the China section, her name is Ida Zhang. She joined the Fullerton chapter and she was one of those ones that we mentored. We brought her to our fold. She had a little bit of language barrier and all those things to get around. We nurtured her and she has been such a wonderful, shining light. She’s in China trying to open up general aviation in this country that is amazing. It has all the capabilities, but it needs to be focused differently.

I know nothing about aviation in China. Does general aviation exist in China?

At a very limited level. They have very few general aviation airports, to begin with and those that they do, the airplanes are only allowed to fly five kilometers from an airport, so all you can do is pan over. Everything is like a great big restricted area. They get permission occasionally to do different things, but the government controls it all. Until they can open that up a little bit, they’re having a pilot shortage too and they’re trying to address it in their own ways. They’re open to suggestions. They don’t have the infrastructure, so it’s going to be a long time coming. We actually spoke at a school that was an aviation and STEM-focused school. We gave them a presentation of what it’s like to fly in the US. Everything has to be translated. It probably lost a little bit in the translation. You get this feeling that the dream of flying is universal.

Derek Vento, he runs The Traffic Pattern Podcast and he’s actually a friend of mine and I was listening to one of his episodes. He was talking about when you’re outside, you hear an engine and always look up, whether it’s cloudy or not. There can be an overcast right over your head and you still lookup.

I live under The Vinyl Approach for Fullerton, so I see every airplane that goes over. I got a little deck out here that I can sit at and try to identify what airplane it is without looking, just by the sound. Piper is easy.

You talked about airlines a little bit and opportunities for women back in the time when you’re training with your license. Did you ever think about going into the airlines?

I started late to begin with and they weren’t hiring much when I started. I’ve aged out, so that’s out of the question. I sometimes think about some of these little startups where they don’t have the age limit and maybe going out and getting myself type-rated, a caravan or something that I can maybe learn something else and do something different and fly. Maybe if I finally get to the point where I’m ready to retire and then I would do that as the next job for me, or maybe a flight instructor. I never did that before. I think I don’t have the nerve to let somebody hop on an airplane and go fly it. I’m so glad somebody had that nerve to let me go because once you go, that is the a-ha moment.

I think about that too. I’m 38 as well and I’m starting my flag training.

You’re my age. You can join the airlines because they’re hiring like crazy.

As long as an organization continues to do things, people will want to be part of it. Click To Tweet

I’ve thought about that. It would be a pretty cool opportunity to fly jets. There are all different commercial outfits. The goal is to try to get up in the air without actually having to pay for it. We’re not going to rely on the income, but if we can just fly for fun, get up in the air and not have to pay rental fees, gas or insurance, I think that would be an awesome opportunity. Through the years, through your work with the Ninety-Nines, have you seen an increase in women wanting to be airline pilots or just women wanting to be pilots in general?

We’d give away scholarships and we’ve seen an influx of scholarships given away for women to get their advanced ratings so they’re ready for the airlines. They’re all in time building mode, but we have four in our chapter that are doing that. We had one that went to the Air Force reserves and she’s flying the C-130. We’ve got two or three that are destined for the airlines. One’s flying for the Med-Fly people because she’s building time, getting herself in a position. She’s a flight attendant for Delta and she eventually will go for the airlines once she has the hours in.

What’s your role then? You’re the chairwoman of the Ninety-Nines.

I’m trying not to have any real role. I just want to be there and every time they say, “We’re going to go fly somewhere. How many passengers can you take?” I say three and we’re gone. I get involved in lots of different ways. I’m involved in one scholarship that we establish for the man that runs Air Combat for many years, Michael Blackstone. When he passed away, we started a scholarship in his name. I handle that one. For an aerobatic scholarship. Unusual attitude and training because that’s what he loved. We wanted to make sure that it was something that he would have been excited about.

What type of scholarships do the Ninety-Nines do they have?

The Amelia Earhart Scholarship Fund is quite large. You go and you figure out what you want to try to do if it’s ATP or what it is, if it’s type rating or whether it’s ATC. You figure out what the training is going to cost and you submit your bills and then you submit your essay on why you think you should receive this and all the other details that they require. If you win it, you could get $5,000 towards some rating or otherwise or even more. We even have four pilots getting started. We have what we call Fly Now Scholarships. They’re smaller amounts, but they can go on account at flight school and offset some of those costs. We’re always a little bit leery about doing too much of the private level because they weren’t sure if people would actually do the whole thing, but they worked it out so that you finish your rating and then they would reimburse you. I think it’s $3,000 for Fly Now.

You’re also part of the board of directors on the Aero Club Southern California.

They do scholarships too. They’re not specific pilots. Their scholarships are towards engineering and different things that go into fields in aerospace. We gave away ten, five high school and five colleges. We gave away about $35,000 worth of scholarships.

Are they all for high school-aged?

Yes, and college-bound kids.

LPF 7 | Flying Solo

 

What is the Aero Club of Southern California? What do you guys do? What’s the mission?

Our mission is to celebrate the legacy of famous aviators. We own the organization on the Spruce Goose. They sold it several years ago to Evergreen up in McMinnville. Spruce Goose is in a museum up in McMinnville, Oregon. We took payments for all those years and it helped build up our scholarship funds, but as an organization, they do one big fundraiser a year. It is the Howard Hughes Memorial Award. That gets awarded to somebody who has made a difference in aviation or aerospace. We gave it to Marilyn Houston. She was amazing. We gave it to Northrop Grumman’s and to Boeing’s CEO. We gave it to Buzz Aldrin in 2018. He didn’t actually come, which was disappointing. In 2019, we give it to Captain Chesley Sullenberger. We’re very excited about having him there. I’ve met him before and he is just a doll. Fun, interesting, passionate about aviation and aviation safety. He would be a wonderful recipient.

I’ve read his book and he has an aviation safety consulting business.

He was there with Jeff Skiles and they were so funny. They were a joy to listen to.

LIGA was the other thing. Tell us a little bit about that. That’s interesting. Do you use your Mooney for those purposes as well?

I do, and then sometimes I do schedule the pilots that go down there.

Tell us what LIGA is?

I’m what they call the pilot coordinator. I have a dear friend who has been in my chapter for years and she’s been my best friend for probably years since I started. Her name is Pat Savage. She has been the pilot coordinator for several years with LIGA. She was always saying, “You need to start going. You’ll like this. It’s great flying.” I kept thinking, I need to do something to give back. You enjoy this wonderful privilege of flying. Actually, it helps because you’re actually reimbursed for quite a bit of the cost going down there, but you’re still doing something. You’re giving back, you’re helping an organization. These people in Mexico have nothing. When we think about poverty here, it doesn’t compare to what we see down there. The disease, issues, problems and medical things that have to happen. We take doctors and nurses down to two clinics. In a large month, we will take 120 medical personnel down to Mexico and probably 27 airplanes. They look like little soldiers, it’s marvelous. For me, I’m a lowly pilot, so I’ll go clean, scrub toilets or whatever they need me to do. Sometimes I’m counting pills in the pharmacy, whatever they need me to do. The main thing is to get the medical people down there safely.

That’s one flight down there usually or it’s multiple trips to get everyone, all the doctors down there and the medical personnel?

It’s just one trip. You get your passenger list and you go. Typically we stop and see it out over gone. Some people have different airports, they like to stop it to clear customs because there are no customs in El Fuerte. For me, if I go to Obregon, it’s four hours there and it’s another 40 minutes to El Fuerte. It’s about a five-hour flight. We’re there from Friday until Sunday, the first weekend of every month. They’re down during the summer. They go in June. They do not go in July, August or September. They start again in October, but they go all winter long. They’ll take an entire eye team down there out of Davis and they will do 80 cataract surgeries on a weekend, like an assembly line. These are people that are blind. When they get to us, they can’t see at all. Pat tells a story of one man coming in with his grandson on a donkey. He comes in and they restore his sight. The next morning, they packed him a lunch and he was off on his donkey to go back home. There are so many stories.

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Is this something that you do every single month or once every other month?

I’ve gone about seventeen times. I need to get back into it. I’ve been a pilot coordinator a couple of times. Pat can have time off and she goes to Colorado.

I’d love the use of the airplane for charitable purposes and to help out and give back.

They’re a great group of people. Jay Bruce is one of them. He flies down there occasionally. I was always the one that go maybe three times a year, but some of the people go every single month to do mission down there. I’m a novice, but when I retire I’ll go.

I’ve no clue what the flying is like in Mexico. Is it easy?

Yes.

What is it like to go across the border and go through customs flying in Mexico? Is it about the same as up here or a bit different?

You fly on an international flight plan. It’s the same as here. They have radar down there. You’re in radar coverage. You’re talking to controllers just like you would here. The paperwork is a little more complicated than when we fly around here. We can fly places here and we don’t even have to do a paper flight plan. Down there you produce paper flight plans, you hand them to them and they stamp everything. If it’s not right, they’d redo it. They’re very good to us. There are some fees involved with different things, but as long as you’ve got all your documents, you’re good.

Looking forward to everything, with PacMin, your career, what’s next for you? What’s next for the company?

I put my best efforts into making PacMin successful, which it is. It’s doing well; we’re great. Lots of stuff are coming in and going out. I love to see that show up at all these wonderful places like the Paris Air Show, Singapore, Qatar and all these places around the world.

LPF 7 | Flying Solo
Miracle on the Hudson: The Extraordinary Real-Life Story Behind Flight 1549, by the Survivors

Do you guys attend all the different big air shows out there?

Sometimes if we have something that we need to provide support. If the model has been there before and they put it together before, then we don’t necessarily need to be there. For the first time for a model we saw lots of times, we’ll go and support that. We had a wonderful trip to Oshkosh, Wisconsin for EAA. We sponsored the D-Day Doll, which is a World War II C-53 that went to Normandy and all the way back. We sponsored it to make a detour and stop in Oshkosh. We invite all our customers that are at the show. We’ll have Embraer, Textron, friends at Cirrus, Airbus and Boeing there. We’ll invite them all out to come and see the airplane, tour it and look inside of it. That was a fun thing to do. I always go to Oshkosh.

How is Oshkosh? I’ve actually never been there. I’ve heard it’s amazing and there are so many events and things to do and amazing people out there.

It’s definitely an immersion into aviation and everywhere you go, you sit down at lunch or wherever else you’re talking to people from all over the world that are all there for one main focus. They always have the most amazing displays and it’s fun to see what’s coming out. Go to all the different companies like Garmin, ForeFlight and Boeing. You’ll see what they’re coming out with, that’s a great place to showcase new products and new things. Camp on your wing, go back to your tent. I don’t camp anywhere in my life but I camp in Oshkosh.

I heard it gets pretty rainy out there during those times.

It’s always an adventure no matter what. You just count on it.

What’s next for you then?

I want to go back to Oshkosh. I’m going to put an engine in the airplane. I went to Alaska in 2000 and I’d like to go back there again.

Where did you go up in Alaska?

We flew up the trench, follow the Frazier River, Prince George up to an area called Watson Lake and to Whitehorse. That’s all British Columbia and Yukon territories. We went into Alaska over Northway and then up to Fairbanks. We spent a few days in Fairbanks and then we landed in a place called Haley River. We went to Denali and went through the park, spent several days there and then came on down to Homer and spent a few days there. We went over to a little area called King Salmon, which is out on the Peninsula. You can only get there by airplane, so that was exciting. That was a fun trip all the way around. We flew in, whether you wouldn’t even go to the airport if you were home. If you can stay under it, you’ve got 50-mile visibility. Sometimes you’re 400 or 500 feet.

There were times when we’d be flying from one place to another and we’d say, “Let’s turn around. We’re not going to go get through.” Somebody going the other way at 500 feet below us and we’re saying, “Maybe we can.” Everything talked on frequency. They’re always communicating and they’re always saying, “Yes, you can get to Whitehorse. No worries. You’ll make it.” The famous word was, “It’s doable.” As long as you don’t rule out all your options. You always make sure you’ve got back up plan, you’ve got to wait around and go back. If you can make it to your previous airport, you’re fine.

I’ll go through some fun questions. What are your hobbies outside of flying?

My family is important. I don’t know what I’ll do when I stopped flying.

I’m assuming once you retire.

I like yoga, I like to cycle. I do bike trips sometimes down to the beach. I like to travel even commercially. I’m not opposed to traveling commercially. I will go to TSA once in a while.

If you have to go to the East Coast for a business trip or for a personal trip, would you actually take the Mooney out there or would you fly commercially?

I’ve been to Ohio three times and all over the US a couple of times. I’ve been to Oshkosh twelve times.

All the aircraft out there, commercial aircraft, GA aircraft, what is your actual favorite aircraft besides your Mooney?

I love the airplanes that you still fly. I think the biggest airplane I would be excited about would be like a Pilatus or a Pontiac workhorse kind of an airplane. I’d love to hone an airplane that’s a tail dragger at some point in my life and go back into somebody’s backcountry strips. That’s always been a fantasy or one of those things that I dream about or think about. There’s an airplane called the Sportsman that’s made up in Oregon and I think about that one. I’ve talked to them at Oshkosh. I love the F-35. I’ll probably never fly one.

I think most of us out there will definitely never fly one in our lifetime. That’s for sure, but that would be pretty amazing though.

I met Marilyn Houston and she never offered.

LPF 7 | Flying Solo

 

I’m sure you guys have probably made scales or a little scale model.

We made a beautiful F-35.

That’s as close as you ever get to it. It is a beautiful airplane. I love the F-35s and F-22s. They’re amazing.

The pilots loved that one. They’re flying it but I don’t know that they’re producing them anymore.

What’s your least favorite aircraft and why?

Anything that flies is pretty good.

Is there one aircraft that have you flown in the past and you’re like, “This thing is horrible,” without knocking off any manufacturers?

I was crazy about the Cessna Skymaster push-pull. I actually flew in one once years ago, but I can’t say anything horrible about it. I just was never crazy about it.

What’s one funny or interesting or scary, whatever you want to share aviation story that you have for us?

I have lots of stories, but everything always works out. I always measure all the risks every time I do something and I try not to get myself in situations where the risks outweigh the benefit. There have been moments where I thought, “I wish I was down there.” This was many years ago and I was on a trip to Ohio with my sister and our two daughters. I was trying to get to Ohio, which the destination looked fine, but there was some weather in between. I remember I stopped in St. Louis. This is way back before we had all the weather on board that we have.

I would probably have stayed in St. Louis if I’d known that. I launched once and tried to go up the Ohio River, and that was not working out because the visibility went down South. I turned around and went back to St. Louis, checked again. I climbed up and went on top and I kept realizing that the clouds kept growing. I was IFR rated, but it wasn’t the weather that you wanted to fly through with thunderstorms. Indianapolis was being hammered and none of the controllers wanted to talk to me. I ended up on some frequency where you got to talk on one and then you’ve got to listen on another. I find somebody to say my destination is still decent or should I just get out of Dodge and go back to St. Louis and just call it a day.

It was one of those moments where you think, “Maybe I shouldn’t have gone.” I did get somebody and he said, “It’ll be broken right around Dayton or scattered right around Dayton and then you’ll be fine to get to Cleveland.” I went on, but for those moments, especially when you have three people in the airplane that are non-pilots, nobody comparing notes with and you’re trying to make sure you do the right thing. I remember thinking that was probably one of my more a-ha moments. You’ve got all this weather data onboard and we didn’t have any of that.

You can make more educated decisions on the ground too. I guess back then, you just got to roll with the punches and make those decisions.

You know how quickly things can change after you’ve taken off, things can deteriorate. That’s what happens, especially in the Midwest. When things start to build up, they build up fast. Before you know it, you’re at 12,000 feet, but it worked out fine.

You’ve gone through years and years of plane ownership. You’ve worked in multiple successful careers, someone came up to you and said, “Denise, what is your best financial advice that you can give me?” What would you say besides safe?

I’m going to put an engine in my airplane, I could have a Tesla. I don’t need a Tesla, I want my airplane and I want it flying. It’s giving me way more joy than I think a Tesla would. I have to make trade-offs all the time.

It is all about sacrificing. You have your passion.

I don’t know if you think of it as a sacrifice because that’s not important to me. To me, a car is what gets you to the airport.

As long as you’re making smart decisions to support the things that you’re passionate about and making everything work, that’s probably the most important thing out there.

I’ve made it this long without a partner and without a partner in the airplane. I keep thinking, that’s always an option if I get to the point where I don’t think I should be spending that money.

Denise, thank you for joining me. It was awesome. You have such a wide array of experiences across through the volunteer work, through the different organizations, through Air Combat and PacMin. It was interesting to know your story and experiences.

I appreciate your interest in having me on the show and thank you. You’ve been great to work with. Keep up the good work. Get out there and get flying.

Thank you. I will.

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About Denise Jennings

LPF 7 | Flying SoloShe’s the Business Development Manager at PacMin, Inc. PacMin creates custom precision scale models, displays, and specialty items for most of the aviation manufacturers, airlines, and aerospace industry.

She has always had a strong passion for aviation. She’s an instrument-rated commercial pilot and owns a Mooney 201, which she uses for philanthropical purposes. She was the former Chairwomen of the Ninety-Nines Fullerton Chapter and now serves on the Board of Directors of the Aero Club of Southern California. She also volunteers as a pilot for LIGA International – Flying Doctors of Mercy.

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