CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Brenda Jackson said she's pinching herself to see if it's real -- that she really is a FAA-licensed flight instructor.
"It's a dream come true," said the grandmother of three.
She credits her father, her daughter and her flight instructors -- one of whom she married -- for becoming perhaps the first woman to teach flying out of Executive Air, the private terminal at Yeager Airport.
Jackson received her certification Sept. 6 in Cincinnati after a two-hour oral exam and demonstrating her competence to fly a high-performance plane as well as a one-engine Cessna.
She started flying nearly 40 years ago, then stopped for about 25 years before returning to the air in 2009.
"I soloed in an airplane before I was legal to drive," she said.
Jackson grew up in Fayette County, the daughter of a coal miner who loved flying. He took her to the Beckley Mall once when a flight instructor had parked his planes there as a marketing event. She sat in one of them. "I was hooked. I had to learn how to fly."
She was still 14 when she took her first flying lesson from Frank Thomas. She thinks it cost $15 an hour. By law, she couldn't fly solo until she turned 16.
"I remember I was scared to death. I took off and came around and I could see the runway. Then I knew I could do it, I had done it many times. It was all thrill from there -- it's still a thrill to me," she recalled in a recent interview at Executive Air.
With her father's financial help, Jackson continued taking flying lessons at the Beckley airport after she graduated from Mount Hope High School. When she got her commercial license, she was told that she was only the second woman to do so in Fayette County. Her next step was to obtain a license to fly a multiengine plane.
And then she got married.
She and her late husband, William Gilland, a drywall finisher, had two children. Jackson said she was mostly a stay-at-home mother, working periodically as a telemarketer or cashier. They had enough money for her to renew her flying license one time.
"I probably flew three hours in 21 years," she said.
A few years ago, her daughter, Nancy Welch, started taking flying lessons at the Beckley Airport. Jackson went along to watch her grandchildren. "I had no desire to fly. I was more interested in my grandkids," said Jackson.