'I've wanted to fly all my life'

FLYING DREAM: Laura Woodcock
FLYING DREAM: Laura Woodcock

If the selection process for an aviation scholarship had a fairytale ending, Blenheim teenager Laura Woodcock would be the winner and everyone would live happily ever after.

Laura, a year 11 Marlborough Girls' College student, presented that scenario at the end of an essay she wrote for a $4000 John Pearce (Aviation Services Limited) flying scholarship.

Contenders had to be Young Eagles, aged between 15 and 18 years old and have either a physical disability or come from a family unable to afford the cost of flying lessons.

Laura, who lives with her widowed mother in Blenheim, fitted the latter category.

And to prove her head wasn't totally in the clouds, in her essay she added a second outcome should she receive the scholarship: flying lessons could lead to a fascinating, rewarding career or an exciting form of recreation. 

On July 4 Laura's name was read out as the scholarship winner at the Flying NZ John Pearce Aviation Services annual meeting and conference in Christchurch.

The scholarship will cover 50 hours of flying lessons and a chance to sit each of the six Aviation Services Ltd exams required for a Private Pilots Licence for free.

She hasn't had her first lesson yet but Marlborough Aero Club Young Eagles co-ordinator Derek Harding reckons Laura will be flying solo in six months' time.

This week the pair were at the Marlborough Aero club and the two-seater Piper Tomahawk that Laura will climb into for her first lesson, was parked outside the clubroom hangar.

''I've wanted to fly all my life,'' she says, and cites an uncle who had flown as a 19-year-old being an inspiration.

He never realised his dream to become a commercial pilot but his experience left a lasting impact on her.

Laura has flown in small Air New Zealand Beechcraft and a Wellington-Auckland 737 jet. Since joining Marlborough Young Eagles a year ago, she has flown with Derek or Omaka flying instructor John Neal in two-seater planes like the Tomahawk. 

Small aircraft provide a better sense of ''flying'' than the large, fast 737s, she says. Does she ever feel a little scared?Laura smiles.

''Thankfully, no.''

Asked about her other hobbies, the year-11 student says she has sung in the college junior choir Cabeletta and used to go horse riding with a friend who owned horses.

''We used to ride in a paddock just off the airstrip and we used to get annoyed when the planes came and spooked the horses!'' Laura grins: ''But that was ages ago.''

At last year's Classic Fighters Airshow, she was given the chance to ride with pilot Mark O'Sullivan in a vintage Chinese war plane, the Nanchang CJ-6a.

She loved the daring manoeuvres he put the plane through and was glad her fears of ''losing'' her lunch when they did some loops were unfounded.

The g-forces in the plane as he made it climb or dive, though were incredible.''I couldn't even smile.''

The Marlborough Express