At the age of 17 and in pursuit of her power pilot’s licence, the Air Cadet and former Youth Speak News writer flew solo for the first time in July in a Cessna 152 plane out of the Waterloo Wellington Flight Centre in southwestern Ontario.
In 2013 she also flew solo, but that was in a glider, a Schweizer SGS 2-33. The two-seater Cessna 152 is a different beast in that it has an engine and, therefore, can take off and land multiple times, said D’Souza.
“I think about God a lot in equal amounts to my flying,” she said. “Even when I was getting my glider pilot’s licence, my first solo consisted of more prayers than radio calls.”
Her first solo in the Cessna lasted six minutes. Her instructor, a man of few words, wished her luck, gave her a few last-minute tips and promised to keep his eyes on the sky.
“It was great. I was pretty nervous before going up. First time without your instructor flying an aircraft is pretty nervewracking, but the greatest thing you notice is the silence in the plane,” said D’Souza.
Once she landed, she couldn’t stop smiling. That quick trip was meant to build up her confidence.
Her second solo flight kept her air borne for about 70 minutes. That day, the skies were crowded, which increased the stress. It was hot; the plane has vents to let air from outside in, but no air conditioning. Without a GPS, D’Souza navigated her way back to the airport the old-school way: using a map. She became tired, but upon her approach to land, another aircraft was too close.
“If they landed and I landed, then we’d probably hit each other on the way. So air traffic control told me to overshoot,” she said, which meant she positioned herself above the other plane, allowing it to land first.
“So flying with a lot of other traffic can be stressful, especially when you want to radio air traffic control and everybody else is on the radio,” said D’Souza, but “it’s pretty good experience.”
The amount of knowledge and the complexity of flying is not lost on D’Souza who never expected to have an interest in aviation when her parents encouraged her to join ground school. She soon realized what opportunities awaited.
“There’s a thrill you get out of flying. Just knowing that there’s so many people that would love to be in your position, an experience not a lot of people your age get just makes it all the more thrilling,” said D’Souza. “Flying isn’t something that’s natural... Humans don’t fly. It’s just knowing you’re up there in the sky, seeing the clouds and seeing the scenery down below. It’s exciting.”
But the downside of the thrill exists in “knowing that everything you do affects your safety, the safety of others. It’s not like driving (where) if there’s a problem you can just stop and call someone. You have to know your stuff when you’re flying,” she said. “If your engine fails, you have no one to rely on but yourself to fly the plane.”
Flying and all the work up to it has been a life-changing experience, said D’Souza.
“I know that God is with me every step of the way… Even on course, I make sure to go to church every weekend because I just know that without Him, I definitely couldn’t do it.”