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Meet a Member - Colleen Keller

Decathlon
Colleen Keller, IAC 435485

By Gary DeBaun, IAC 4145

  • Nickname: [classified]
  • Occupation: Navy Operations Research Analyst
  • Chapter Affiliation: IAC 49 / Los Angeles Aerobatic Club
  • Age: 49

Gary DeBaun (GD): Colleen, I know you've been flying a long time; give us a brief rundown on your aviation background.

Colleen Keller (CK): Gary, I'm a whippersnapper compared to grizzled flying veterans like you. I earned my private pilot certificate in 1992, then instrument and commercial tickets, and was content to fly my Cardinal RG for 18 years. I initially became interested in flying after a couple opportunities to fly off aircraft carriers in jets (A-6Es, F-14s). The Navy didn't want me because I was too old by the time I decided I wanted to fly, so I pursued general aviation instead. I only discovered tailwheel flying in 2008.

GD: I love your big Skybolt! When you bought her, were you thinking of aerobatics at the time or just pleasure flying?

CK: Both! I got my tailwheel rating and quickly realized if I didn't keep up with it, I'd lose the knack. But seriously, ever since that first Tomcat ride (a 3v3 dogfight), I was hooked on the thought of aerobatics and wanted an airplane I could work on (experimental) that was fun to give rides in but that could also scratch the aerobatics itch. The Skybolt seemed like a perfect fit for a new tailwheel pilot.

GD: You also own a Cessna Cardinal. How long have you had her and is she mostly used for business or pleasure?

CK: The Cardinal is my ticket to snowboarding in the winter, canyon hiking in Utah in the summer, and cruising around in style in between. My bike or camping gear or my Great Dane fit perfectly in the back. What a great airplane. I'll never give her up.

GD: When and where was your first contest? Did you compete, and if so, how did you do?

CK: Ha, that's a loaded question. When I finally got the Skybolt into flying condition, took some instruction, and was ready for competition, the first available contest was the Borrego Akrofest in October 2011. I completed two flights, only to have the upper wing fabric/structure start to fail. I flew the third flight in Andrew Slatkin's Skybolt and managed somehow to win first place in Primary.

GD: Once your Skybolt is back in the sky, will we see you compete again or just volunteering?

CK: Are you kidding? I am so ready to get back into competition. The upper wing rebuild turned into a 14-month ordeal, which included repairing nine broken nose ribs, replacing flying wires, and fabricating new interplane and slave struts to accommodate the now properly rigged wings. While I love volunteering, it's the prospect of flying contests that has kept me going on this project.

GD: You have recently completed a SAR course. Will you use your Cardinal for search and rescue missions?

CK: I'm a rescue volunteer for the San Diego Sheriff's Department Search and Rescue Squad. At work, we're developing mobile phone apps for SAR, and volunteering with the Sheriff's Department gives me good experience to support that project. I never really intended to use the airplane for SAR - I'll leave that to the Civil Air Patrol.

GD: What other aviation background do you have?

CK: Well, six years ago I went through the aviation maintenance program at the local community college and earned my A&P ticket. That was one of the most interesting and useful school programs I've ever pursued.

GD: Any plans on attending the Nationals or WAC this year?

CK: Wouldn't it be grand to fly the 'Bolt to the Nationals? Of course, I'd love to do that, as long I can swing it along with the Reno Air Races, which is a yearly pilgrimage for me.

GD: Do you have any other hobbies or interests?

CK: Although it seems like all I do is spend time at the airport these days, I also enjoy fly-fishing, snowboarding, backpacking, playing softball, amateur astronomy, and bird watching.

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