Natalie Kelley aka “flyGIRL Kelley;” CEO/Owner of flyGIRL, LLC and the Fly Foundation, Inc (a non-profit, 501(c)(3).
I am the child of a professional commercial and naval pilot. I am also the niece of a
private pilot who exposed me early on to general aviation through his love of maintaining and flying warbirds. My love of aviation was fostered by these two male aviators in my life, in very different ways. Their lives seemed very exciting and out-of- the-ordinary. That is something that was very appealing to me and my adventuresome spirit.
The desire to become a pilot was born in early adolescence and that yearning continued
to grow throughout my life. Becoming a professional pilot wasn’t something I considered as a career, however. I was more intrigued with general aviation. Attending air shows, watching aerobatics, learning about small aircraft and warbirds was most interesting and appealing to me. Somehow, I knew that GA (general aviation) would play a role in my life. I just wasn’t exactly sure how until my mid-40’s. My college degree was in business, with a major in marketing (that came in handy much later and would help tie into my current life in aviation!).
Soon after college, I got married and my husband and I began a family. It was important to us that I be a stay-at-home mom and be present for our three sons. I am thankful for that opportunity and experience. During my years as a full-time “mom,” I always dreamed of more or would daydream about what the other chapters of my life could entail. All of my dreams had been documented early on in my marriage on a word document titled “Bucket List.” It was created and printed off of an old word processor in 1999. This was the year our first son was born. There were approximately 20 items on that list and I never forgot any of those items. That list was crammed in a scrapbook for years (and moved several times) without seeing the light of day! However, some personal struggles led me to revisit that list on a cold, early-Spring day in 2016. I was 43 years old.
That quiet morning, as I sat looking at my “bucket list,” there was one item that seemed to jump out at me: Earn my private pilot’s license. This was the time to begin my aviation journey. About a week later, I was enrolled in Sporty’s Academy near Cincinnati, Ohio. From that point on, I was an eager, steady student 2-3 days a week for the next 2.5 years. My training didn’t stop then! As I’m writing this, I can proudly say that my CFI (certified flight instructor) rating was just completed! Since beginning my training, I’ve earned my PPL, Instrument rating, Commercial rating, Multi-engine Commercial rating, Seaplane rating, Complex, High-Performance, Tailwheel, and now, my CFI rating. My aviation journey has transformed me and my life in so many surprising and positive ways!!
One of the biggest and most exciting endeavors during my aviation journey was starting my own business of pilot gear specifically for women, flyGIRL. Helping other women has also become a huge goal of mine (and probably the most rewarding). Therefore, a non-profit 501(c)(3) was also created that would allow the creation of flight training scholarships for women. This is where my love of helping others, marketing, and aviation were able to finally come together. That’s something I could not have predicted years ago, but that just naturally evolved. This is why aviation has been one of the greatest blessings in my life!
My flight training experience was very fulfilling. It was tough. One of the toughest challenges was learning to learn again. It had been nearly 20 years since I’d been in a school/learning environment!! Beginning to learn a whole new subject was daunting but it was something I wanted so badly that I was willing to do anything in order to master my piloting skills and to learn all I could about aviation.
I am often asked what advice I would give to my younger self. Don’t ever give up on a dream! I wouldn’t change anything. Every decision and experience led me here. I think it’s best that we allow our interests to develop over time. Accept that the timing isn’t always up to us but that doesn’t mean a dream should die. Don’t stress about when, where, or how it will all come to be. Have faith that your talents will be used at the appropriate time and keep plugging away at the things that light up your soul! My age has probably allowed a little more insight than someone just starting out. I know how overwhelming and confusing it can be when things don’t seem to happen when you want them to. Keep building your life and working on yourself. The right paths (and there may be more than one) will reveal themselves to you throughout your entire life. Isn’t that exciting?!?!