Sunday, January 1, 2012

Nancy Cooper Moore

In my post "First, Fly the Plane", I mention my flight instructor, Nancy Cooper Moore. She's one of the more memorable people I've encountered, so I thought I'd put some of it down here.

I haven't seen or heard from Nancy since I moved away from where I took my flying lessons. Still, I carry with me many things she taught me even though I haven't flown for many years. She believed that flying was much more than just how to work the controls, how to work the radios and navigation, and how to work with the wind patterns. Flying is about working with nature, people, and machines all in harmony.

I'll never forget the first time I met Nancy. After talking with a co-worker's husband who had his own plane, I drove to the small local airport (FAA identifier 20N) just outside Kingston, NY. It has a 3100-foot paved runway, not too short, but not long enough to do stop-and-go landings. There were two buildings on the property, a hanger where they did maintenance, and a two-room building where they had their office and held ground school classes.

When I walked in, Nancy was sitting at a table talking with the airport owner and one of the other flight instructors. She was wearing a floor-length skirt (a.k.a. a "granny skirt" and plaid shirt. Sitting beside her was Sauron, her Afghan dog, who looked remarkably like Farah Fawcett. (Nancy and her dog were on David Letterman on time for the "Stupid Pet Tricks" segment). My first thought was, "That's Granny Clampett but that sure isn't ol' Duke!"

The two flight instructors tossed a coin and Nancy won me. I'll skip over all the stuff about the introductory flight and the training and get right to Nancy, but will mention one point about that first flight.  When we had landed and were walking back to the office building, she said, "If you are going to fly, you need a lucky clover for your log book."  She then looked at the ground for about a minute, bent over and picked a clover.  After picking out the supplies I needed for my training, she took the clover she had picked and taped it to the inside cover of the log book.  It had four leaves!  I had never seen one before, and don't recall seeing one in the wild since.  Nancy later explained that some clover are more prone to produce four leaves and they encouraged it along that part of the airport grounds for just such a purpose.

Nancy was definitely a character. As we flew together, I picked up bits and pieces about her, some of which I later checked out to be sure it wasn't all tall tales. She lived back in the woods near Woodstock, NY, heated with wood and spent her non-flying time doing various crafts and studying insects. She had been flying since she was a teenager, which was a long time ago when I met her.  When I mentioned her to my boss at the time, a middle-aged fellow, he told me about the time Nancy, then Nancy Cooper, took his cub scout troop one at a time for a flight over the Hudson River.  I still don't know how old Nancy was but the cub scout event had to have been twenty-five years before I met her.

Back when she started flying, there weren't that many women fliers,  despite Amelia Earhart. She was a member of the Flying 99's, a club started in 1929 for women fliers.  She participated in cross-country air races in the late 1940s through the 1950's (see clipping from the 1955 All Women Transcontinental Air Race).  She made her living teaching flying and flying for small air shuttle services, carrying mostly parts between manufacturing and assembly plants in New York state.

Nancy also taught classes at the local collage.  Her specialty was insects and the weather.  She always told me that understanding weather was the second most important thing to know about flying.  (The first is, of course, "First Fly the Plane").  Nancy would teach how to watch insect behavior to see what kind of weather was coming.  She was amazingly accurate, particularly on longer-range forecasts.  I tested her on this a few times.  She would look at the ants beside the hanger and tell me the 5-day forecast.  Then I would write down what The Weather Channel forecasted, then compare the two to what actually happened.  Nancy was consistently more accurate than The Weather Channel.

She encouraged her flying students to get their spouses or significant others to become involved in flying.  She often talked about fun things to do near airports within range.  Interesting eating places were a favorite.  Because you can't carry passengers until you have your license, she would set aside a day, with perfect weather, to take up the spouses so they knew what to expect.  When she took up my wife, on a totally calm day with the sun shining, Nancy took a look at her just after pointing out the wonderful view of the Hudson River and the Kingston-Rhinecliff bridge.  As Nancy tells it, my wife had turned a shade of green very similar to a blue spruce.  The visions of flying from Kingston to visit our relatives in NH, or exploring the wonderful restaurants near other airports went down the drain.  My wife never flew with me in a private plane.

I lost track of Nancy since moving away, shortly after getting my private pilot's license.  I know that she continued to teach for at least several years after I left, and I've seen her class in the course catalog of the college where she sometimes taught. I hope that the piece of my t-shirt cut off and nailed to the hanger wall (a tradition for your first solo flight) is still there.  I suspect she is no longer with us, but so many of her words come to mind still.
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