Pipe dream to pilot: Kate’s journey into the air


Courtesy Kate Koralevskaya

Senior Kate Koralevskaya sits in the cockpit of a plane at San Carlos Airport awaiting the beginning of her flight training. Many of the flight instruments are covered with emoji stickers to ensure focus on her surroundings. Over the summer, she learned how to fly and obtained her private pilot’s license through the Upwind Scholarship.

Ever since she received a little toy airliner as a Christmas gift, senior Kate Koralevskaya has been captivated by flight. From flying remote-controlled airplanes to building her own model aircraft, Kate has always considered aviation one of her passions, but only until recently has she been able to take that to new heights.

When Kate heard about the Upwind Scholarship from her school counselor, she knew it was an extraordinary opportunity to pursue her childhood dream of becoming an aviator. The program’s mission is to provide all the training necessary to obtain a private pilot’s license (PPL) for students in between their junior and senior year of high school free of charge.

After completing a lengthy application and her subsequent acceptance into the program, Kate began her training at the start of the coronavirus outbreak last spring.

Normally, recipients of the scholarship would attend ground school in person where they learn the fundamentals of flying. Due to the pandemic, however, Kate spent hours each weekend studying online lessons in her room whenever she got a break from homework.

Once summer came around, Kate and three peers put in two straight weeks of ground school, reviewing flight training from nine to five every day.

“It was the toughest part of the program,” Kate said.

After completing that portion of ground school, Kate was finally able to begin flying at the San Carlos Airport with the other scholarship recipients from around the Bay Area.

For the three weeks that followed, Kate practiced maneuvers and the basics of flying with an instructor until it was time for her first solo flight.

“I did a couple of landings with my instructor, then he got out on the taxiway and strapped this little teddy bear in the front seat where he was sitting,” Kate said. “He was like, ‘Here, this is your first copilot. When I pushed in the throttle and the airplane flew, I calmed down and after that it was just serene.”

Over the summer, Kate put in more and more hours of flight and studied hard on the ground. Regulations require 40 hours of total flight time before the PPL tests, including several hours of cross-country flight, flights between airports that are more than 50 nautical miles apart.

From Modesto to Salinas to Napa, each of these flights were adventures in and of themselves. Flying, especially for first-timers like Kate, is a hands-on process involving lots of checklists to make sure the important tasks are being taken care of.

“We went up to this place called Angwin Airport, near Napa,” Kate said. “It’s really challenging because it’s on top of a mountain and you need to have a very steep angle in order to clear the trees. My instructor always said that if you’re looking out the window, you probably are missing something on the checklist.”

One of the most rewarding parts of the entire experience, however, was at cruising altitude.

“At some point, you finish all the checklists and you’re just sitting there, and the airplane is flying by itself,” Kate said. “There’s just this beautiful feeling of calmness while you’re looking around at all the beautiful views.”

Now, having finished the program and earned her PPL, Kate plans on training as a flight instructor and hopes to become an airline pilot in her future.

She credits the Upwind Scholarship for all she’s been able to accomplish so far and hopes that anyone who shares her passion for aviation will look into it.

“It is a very hard scholarship to get into, you have to be truly interested in aviation,” Kate said. “It can’t be something like ‘Oh, why don’t I try flying this summer?’ You have to be ready to do a lot of work and put in effort in order to succeed in the program.”