After a career in the skies, Linda Honegger recently got the chance to return to the wild, blue yonder.
The 74-year-old resident of Coventry Meadows Assisted Living center took the facility’s bus to Smith Field on a recent warm, sunny autumn morning and took to the air for a brief homecoming to her longtime job.
In a nod to help celebrate National Assisted Living Week, Coventry Meadows partnered with Sweet Aviation, which is headquartered at Smith Field. The 30-minute flight was donated by Sweet.
“(Coventry) reached out to us on Facebook,” said Sweet Aviation Marketing Manager, Jake Pickett, “and from then, it was, ‘What could we do to help,’ because of her impact on local aviation. I mean, there are probably a dozen guys here (at Sweet) whose careers she impacted.”
Honegger began flying when she was about 40, and it became her passion. “For 30 to 40 years, it was her life,” said her son Scott Honegger, who came to Smith Field to watch the event as a surprise for his mother.
The local woman moved from being a private pilot, to becoming a flight instructor, to even starting her own charter flight business. She’s been living in Coventry Meadows the last few years, but not a day goes by that she doesn’t talk about her days in the sky.
South Side High School graduate, Sara Mullen, said she took lessons with Honegger when she was in college, about 1991 or 1992. She said the lessons she took in a small Piper Cub plane didn’t just build her flying knowledge, but served as an inspiration, as well.
“She was a great teacher,” said Mullen, now a 47-year-old Associate Director of the A.C.L.U. in Philadelphia, “patient and encouraging. She was also a great role model. There weren’t a lot of women pilots back then.”
When Coventry finalized plans to get Honegger back behind the yoke, it was an emotional moment, according to Coventry General Manager, Lindsey Boyles.
“We’ve never done anything on this scale, nothing like this,” Boyles said, who added that when Honegger found out about the flight, she “had tears in her eyes.”
Several of Honegger’s friends from the facility even came out to Smith Field, 902 W. Ludwig Road, to support her return to the air, making their way through the airport building onto the tarmac to watch her take off.
Slightly nervous before her flight, Honegger was resolute, nonetheless. “I just want to see how this goes and what’s going to happen,” Honegger said. “This is kind of a highlight of my life.”
Actually piloting Honegger’s brief flight was Sweet Flight Instructor, Lorin Kaney, who said the day’s itinerary was kind of up in the air, so to speak. “We’ll probably go around the city; we may even fly over Coventry Meadows. We’ll just kind of be sight-seeing.”
The plane Honegger took up was a Cirrus SR-20, and was only about one year old. No matter the plane she used, the day was a dream come true, as evidenced by the look of joy on her face as she slipped on the earphones and settled into one of the plane’s front seats.
“Being able to fly again has brought her a lot of joy,” said Scott Honegger. “She was able to turn this into a career, and she hasn’t flown for eight years.”
“It was a passion of hers for 30 years,” continued her son, a salesman from Ossian. “She talks about it every day, and now she finally got to do it again.”