Travel broadcaster Kellee wasn’t sure the instructor meant it when he asked her to let him out…
Interview by Yayeri van Baarsen
25 April 2022
Waiting at the gate at Burbank Airport, I saw a small aircraft doing touch-and-gos between these big airliners landing. Wondering, I googled ‘one-man small aircraft’ and GA came up. That’s when I realised you don’t have to be in the military to learn to fly. Becoming a pilot fit perfectly with my career… having the ability to fly to destinations myself sets me apart from other television hosts and travel journalists.
It was different from anything I expected. I felt sick during my discovery flight. Just getting into the aircraft was a challenge. I’m 5ft 4in and couldn’t see over the instrument panel or reach the rudder pedals very well. I had to take a pillow to sit on during my lessons – I’ve even used phone books. Also, I thought flying would be a case of just turning on the propeller and go, but it was so much more! I had to become a weatherperson, mathematician, and doctor on board. Mentally, at first it was overwhelming, but then I came to love the challenge.
Even now, when walking onto an airfield I can be greeted two ways within minutes. One is confusion, despite looking like a badass pilot with my aviators, headset and flight bag, people do a double-take and ask me if I’m lost or need help with something. The second, however, is excitement. I’m a young black female, which you don’t see often in the aviation community, and most people are really welcoming.
No, when my instructor told me to let him out, I asked what he meant. He repeated his words and my reply was: “Why?” He had to explain very slowly before it sunk in. Calling the tower, I had to wait what felt like 10 minutes before take-off. My legs were trembling from holding the brakes so long. When I finally got clearance, it was a bumpy ride. The Santa Ana winds were 20kt that day – later I was told I shouldn’t have soloed as it was too windy! After take-off, a tear came down my smiling face – I never thought in a million years I’d one day be flying an aircraft.
Flying in Alaska is one of the most incredible experiences a pilot can have. I obtained my seaplane rating in 2019 and recently flew a 1967 Beaver in Sitka. The Alaskan terrain is on a truly different level, its beauty is unparalleled. We flew over glaciers, lakes, between beautiful gorges, and saw bears along the riverside. Unless you go backcountry flying, I feel like you can’t truly appreciate where aviation can take us.
Broome (Australia), where I landed a Cessna 172 on a tiny dirt strip in an Aboriginal community in 2019. It was my first time landing on dirt. In Southern California, we’re surrounded by perfectly paved runways that feel like butter, so seeing red clay spit up as you’re coming in was a little jarring! A close second was flying from Dutch Harbor to Nikolski (Alaska) for Mysterious Islands in 2018. The conditions were so terrible, we couldn’t fly for three days, which delayed the shoot. It’s very important for pilots to respect Mother Nature and stay within your personal limits.
“I’m a diverse face in the aviation industry, my platform shows that flying is possible for people who look like me or have the same gender”
I’d love to do some recovery flying. Many aeroplanes that have gone down in the Amazon have never been recovered because of the dense flora and fauna. These unsolved cases bother me – I’d love to get some answers for the families of these pilots.
Aviation is really empowering. The fact that the aircraft is in the sky because of my skill set
makes me very proud. Also, as I’m a diverse face in the aviation industry, my platform shows people who look like me or have the same gender that flying is possible for them as well. Becoming a pilot hasn’t been the easiest or most affordable path, but it’s been priceless!
Travel personality and host of TV series Mysterious Islands as well as the Let’s Go Together podcast for Travel + Leisure magazine, Kellee Edwards has created an unconventional career by merging journalism with aviation.
|When||13 November 2012|
|Where||Van Nuys Airport (California, USA)|
|Hours at solo||72|
|Hours now||Approx 72|