Flying about 4,000 feet above the rugged coal-laden mountains of southeastern Kentucky, a single-engine plane circles in a tight grid—15 miles in one direction, then 15 miles back again. The plane repeats the pattern until it covers a swath 15 miles wide, then repeats the grid in another section.
Lynda Kilbourne sits in the co-pilot seat, scanning the ground below for something, anything—smoke, shiny reflections, broken trees—indicating the presence of a Cherokee 6 aircraft that crashed on its way from South Carolina to Illinois.
The associate professor of management spends her off hours as a scanner on search-and-rescue missions for the Kentucky Civil Air Patrol. Although she is a licensed pilot, she’s not certified yet to fly the missions—a position she hopes to one day achieve. Kilbourne started flying just four years ago when she turned 50. It was one of those midlife things, she says. Having grown up with a father who was a World War II fighter pilot, she always knew she would fly. She just didn’t know it would take her so long.
In 1999, she moved from San Antonio to Cincinnati, built a house, got divorced and decided it was time to do something for herself. So she signed up for flying lessons. Then Sept. 11 happened, and, like many others, she became motivated to volunteer her services to help the country.
“I read an article that said the Civil Air Patrol would have a stepped-up role in homeland security,” she says. “I wanted to do something for my country, and this gives me the opportunity to do something really important for society with my flying.”