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Meet the Pilot - Stephanie Wells

LightHawk Volunteer Pilot Stephanie Wells has had incredible experiences with aviation.

"Stephanie is one of those pilots that when you’re around her, you really want to become a better pilot, just like her," says Greg Bedinger, LightHawk's pilot outreach manager and a longtime volunteer pilot himself. Greg shares his interview with LightHawk Volunteer Pilot Stephanie Wells of Arvada, CO.

Greg Bedinger: Why did you learn to fly?  

Stephanie Wells: The flying bug bit me at age 15 after I took an introductory lesson.  I joined Civil Air Patrol and earned a solo scholarship before college, then got my private license my sophomore year of college in 1973.

Stephanie Wells while in pilot training in 1978.

GB: Do you remember where you were when you got to 1,000 hours PIC (pilot-in-command)?

SW: I don't remember the 1000 hours PIC, but I do remember getting 1000 hours total. I was about 25 years old, a T-37 IP in the Air Force. The 1000 PIC time had to come within a year of that.

GB: How did you get involved with Lighthawk? 

SW: When I retired from the FAA in 2010, I found LightHawk when looking for a flying-related volunteer job. It was a perfect fit, except I didn't have a certified airplane to fly for LightHawk. So I put it on hold until a couple of years later when you recruited me. I found a 182 to fly for LightHawk, and found the profound joy of flying for LightHawk in Mesoamerica.

GB: Tell me about one of your favorite flights for LightHawk.

SW: I loved one of my early LightHawk flights out of Ft. Collins, Colorado flying over the recent High Park fire area with some forestry people from Colorado State University, and some conservation folks. Another great flight was with Dr. Sylvia Earle out of Tamarindo, Costa Rica.  But the best was probably on one of my Guatemala mapping missions over the high plateau in western Guatemala with awesome weathr and scenery.  17N actually made it to 13,500 feet!  (Sorry – that was three...)

Dr. Sylvia Earle and Mesoamerican Program Manager Armando Ubeda flank Stephanie Wells after the flight in Costa Rica. image: Kip Evans/Mission Blue/LightHawk

GB: What does being able to fly mean to you?

SW: Flying is who I am and what I can do well. I never get tired of it, and am glad I find many different venues to do it. But I'm doing enough other great things so that if/when I can no longer fly, it will not be the end of the world.

GB: Why do you sign up to fly missions for LightHawk conservation projects?

SW: LightHawk combines the two things I am most passionate about in the world: flying and the environment.

GB: What’s the next best thing besides flying?

SW: Traveling.  Being retired and my son in college, I'm making up for lost time with 3 or 4 international trips a year. I'm looking to combine volunteering and a more lengthy stay in a Latin American country sometime in the next few years.

Stephanie with LightHawk's Cessna 206 during her 10-day flight series mapping Guatemala with Wildlife Conservation Society.

GB: Has your flying for LightHawk changed you in some way?

SW: Yes.  Flying for LightHawk in Mesoamerica has changed my whole outlook on what I would like to do in the next decade. I want to volunteer in some way to really make a difference, and if I can do so by flying and/or living overseas for a period of time, that's ideal.

GB: How do you think being a pilot and seeing the earth from that perspective changes your outlook?

SW: As I've been a pilot flying for most of my life, I've always enjoyed looking at the earth from the sky.  LightHawk's partners have shown me just how much can be seen from above that can be seen no other way.

At NASA with a colleague around 1989.

GB: What is the most challenging aspect of aviation for you?

SW: Most challenging is staying proficient. The most challenging thing I've done in aviation recently is flying as a team member on the Rocky Mountain Renegades Formation Team, performing in air shows. That really requires a lot of practice to stay proficient.

GB: What do you do to maintain your flying currency, to stay on top of your game? 

SW: In my RV-7 I fly about 80 to 100 hours a year -  a combination of cross country (usually in the mountains), flying formation, taking people on sightseeing trips, and practicing instruments. I'm also purchasing a ¼ share in a C-182 that I can use for LightHawk, and carrying more people cross-country. I also give some instruction in people's own planes – usually flight reviews and instrument proficiency checks.