Woman's dreams of flying have taken her to great heights - KCTV5

Woman's dreams of flying have taken her to great heights

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GARDNER, KS (KCTV) -

What started out as another routine flight for Michele Stauffer could have ended badly when the plane's landing gear didn't work. But Stauffer calmly was able to land the plane safely on its belly and, months later, still thinks about the moments.

On April 25, 2013, she and a co-pilot were on their way to a meeting when Stauffer noticed the landing gear wouldn't go down. She tried everything she could think of. Her co-pilot read everything in the manual. They even called five mechanics as they circled the skies over Johnson County.

After burning some fuel, Stauffer attempted to do something she had never done before: land a plane without landing gear. It worked and the plane landed safely on its belly at New Century Airport.

For Stauffer, it's just another significant accomplishment in a long, successful career.

It's been that way since her early 20s when a chance flight over Alaska took her breath away. She decided to get her pilot's license, passing the written test by one point.

"I was so fired up that I had passed my written test that I went out to the airport and took a lesson in a Cessna 150, a 30-minute lesson," she recalled.

There were some in her family who thought she should have a "real job." But she always had the support of her mother.

"My mom encouraged me a great deal. She said I could do anything I set my mind to. She was way ahead of her time. Neighbors would say, 'You're not really going to let Michele fly are you?' And she would say, 'Leave the girl alone, she's doing what she wants to do,'" she said.

Stauffer's love of flying led to a career in aircraft sales. Despite it being mostly men, in 1990 she founded Kansas City Turbine Aircraft Sales. Three years later, she purchased Kansas Aircraft Corporation. One memorable client was actor Christopher Reeve.

Business was good, though it took some time for men to get that Stauffer has thousands of flying hours and knows each and every aircraft she sells.

"I'll be working late and it's kind of funny because you'll get somebody, a guy from California calling because it's only 5 o'clock and I'll answer the phone ‘Kansas Aircraft,' and they'll say, 'Well, is there a salesman still around?' I'll say, 'They've all gone home, but I might be able to help you,'" she laughed.

In 1993, Stauffer got an invitation of a lifetime. She had the opportunity to fly a Russian SU-27 tactical jet fighter. After some convincing by a mentor, she agreed. In doing so, she became the first American woman to fly such a plane and break the sound barrier at the same time.

"It was a real experience," she said.

In her personal time, Stauffer flies for Angel Flight, transporting hospital patients to other cities or other charitable needs. On one flight, a mother and cancer patient touched her deeply.

"And I asked her, 'Melody, how was your treatment?' Because what are you going to say? And she said, 'Oh Michele, it may not help me, but I hope it helps someone else.' It's the people I've met who have given me far more than I have given," Stauffer said.

These days, Stauffer has turned the reins over to a local couple and is helping them with the transition to ownership. Down the road, she hopes to return to Alaska, with no regrets for a career well spent - buying, selling, helping and flying.

"I've been blessed. I still love to meet the people and I love to get in an airplane and fly," she said.

Stauffer has flown more than 250 trips for Angel Flight. In 2006, she was named National Pilot of the Year by the foundation.

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