Free flight in Texas and my flying school is in real danger of shutting down and a growing community of pilots coming to an end.
My mother always said, "Tiki, only ask for help when you really need it - if you can do it yourself, then do it." I reach out now because I really need your help.
Like so many others, the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey hit my flying school hard. Surviving meant leveraging all my financial resources, tightening my belt, and careful planning. Through hard work, I dug out, put down the red pen, and brought the ledgers back into the black.
Now, a second body-blow has landed: the loss of my partner. Both instructor/pilot and mechanic, his departure will cripple the flying school's ability to foster new pilots, and deprive it of critical revenue. The flying community will loose access to the big sky of Texas, and the dream of flying hang gliders here will become a thing of the past.
I am ready to fight to make sure that doesn't happen. To overcome these challenges, the school must adapt, expanding to include powered instruction in a light sport aircraft. This new source of revenue, combined with continuation of solo pilot flight tow services, will allow me to stay aloft as a single instructor. In the meantime I will be looking for another instructor to join the school.
To finance the aircraft, I need your financial help - I'll do all the other heavy lifting. Your combined contributions will translate into engine, wheels, wings, and all the small parts that make up flight. Every part, every member of the community, every contribution, no matter the size, is critically important. At 50-something, I'm no stranger to adversity, and have kept this flying school growing since 2003. It has been my joy to share the transformative freedom of flight with people from all walks of life. Building a flying community here in Texas has been an honor, and a dream made real. I invite you to be part of that dream. Part of our success story. Part of our community - as much as you want and are able. With your help, our flying in Texas will thrive. See below how you can donate. Thank you so much for your interest and consideration.
THE WHOLE BACK STORY
1961 I was born into poverty, one of five children residing in the public housing projects in San Francisco, California. Born to an abusive and alcoholic father and a mother who worked diligently and sacrificed all to protect us and lead us out of the slums.
1965 My family moved to Daly City, California where I bore witness to the continued abuse. Mom was a registered nurse working nights in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit so she could be home during the day when her children arrived home from school.
1967 She elevated herself and packed the kids and moved us to a house in South San Francisco, California. One night I found her at the neighbors, she had jumped out her second story bedroom window to escape my Father who was threatening her with a knife. My Mother bought a shotgun and my father would never live with us again.
My escape was television. That’s when I discovered “The Flying Nun.” Done deal, I wanted to fly. I dreamed of flying. My first foray into flying was when I borrowed my friend’s new bike with its cool new hand brakes. Wow hand brakes, I’d only ever ridden a bike with pedal brakes. At the top of the hill, I got on that bike and went screaming down the hill, full-tilt-boogie, my two bushy pigtails bobbing in the wind, I was flying. As I passed my house I saw my brother and decided to stop to share my elation. I quickly squeezed the front brakes as hard as I could – that was my first foray into flying. I exited that bike over the handle bar. Ten stitches and a fat lip later, I decided that was not the kind of flying I had dreamed of.
1969 My Mother bought a McDonald’s restaurant in Oakland, California. The first African American Woman in the whole country to own a McDonald’s. She studied with Roy Crock himself. She would go on to own many different successful businesses and settle in Walnut Creek, California, before her untimely death in 1979 at the age of 42. I was crushed.
1980 I discovered hang gliding a couple of weeks after being asked to leave the college off-campus housing because the neighbors and one of my roommates’ parents did not want a black girl in the house or the neighborhood. This was my first in-your-face experience with racism. As luck would have it I moved to the beach and discovered Dockweiler Beach, where I first saw hang gliding, I went slack-jawed when I saw folks flying off a thirty foot sand dune – in a hang glider – so like The Flying Nun. I raced home lickity-split and looked up “hang gliding” in the circa 1980 internet called the Yellow Pages. Days later I was now running down that very sand dune in a hang glider. Life was good.
1981 I trained hard, flying distance (cross country) flights, driving to flying sights all over Southern California and eventually achieved my USHPA Advanced Rating and Basic Instructor Rating. At the same time I secured a job at a hang gliding school in Santa Monica, California
1983 Still wild about flying and cross country flying, I continued flying as much as I could, but decided to go back to school where I acquired a degree in Paralegal Studies. I would work as a paralegal in Los Angeles for 13 years, eventually becoming an independent contractor for various law firms – this allowed me to take time off and pursue my flying more.
1984 World Travel I went hang gliding in Rio de Janiero, Brazil – I was ground crew for the US World Team.
1985 I entered the hang gliding competition scene. Quickly realized I hated competitive hang gliding, too much structure. Long distance cross country flying was siren calling my heart.
1987 World Travel I went hang gliding in Sydney, Australia – Again I was ground crew for the US World Team.
1989 World Travel I went hang gliding in Switzerland – again as ground crew for the US World Team.
1991 Time to put all that flying into action. I decide I was going to set a world hang gliding record. I moved to Florida, established myself again as an independent Paralegal contractor, and set myself up to take entire summers off in pursuit of world hang gliding records. My partner and I went out west each year to fly for distance records.
1995-1998 Hobbs New Mexico – still trying to set world records – I flew numerous 100 mile flights, but not far enough for a world record. Along the way I acquired my USHPA Master Rating in hang gliding
1998 Finally in Hobbs New Mexico, I set two world records – 190 miles & 219 miles and two national records. I got put in the Year 2000 - Millennium issue of Guinness Book of World Records and became a sponsored pilot by one of the major manufacturers. Life was great.
1999 Living large on life with the promise of more records, my dreams came to a tragic and abrupt end. My life partner and best friend (nicknamed “Hollywood”) died hang gliding during our world record attempts. His loss caused a profound change in my flying. I thought I would never fly again.
A month after the accident The Discovery Channel approached me to do a story on my record flight, I had no stomach for it and almost turned them down. But I felt I had to do it, for Hollywood, he would have wanted that. Oddly, I was scared to death of flying – it had betrayed me. Little did I know doing this piece would change the trajectory of my life forever. After filming I dropped out of the “real world” – jettisoning my Paralegal career and dropped into working fulltime for a hang gliding flying school in Orlando, Florida.
I took what was then called “ultralight” flying lessons in order to be a tow pilot – towing hang gliders aloft.
2000 I was towing up hang gliders, along with instructing and helping to manage the largest fulltime hang gliding aerotow park in the world. I acquired my USHPA Advanced Instructor Rating, my Aerotow Tow Pilot Rating, and Tandem (dual) Instructor Rating. I was marking time and still licking my wounds.
All along I had a nagging feeling I owed it to “Hollywood” to try for one last world record. Put to rest what we had started together. So I went Zapata, Texas. Once again tragedy found me. On my attempt at distance I gambled and flew deep into an area far away from civilization hoping I would get lift and fly out of there. It was not to be. I landed in the middle of the day in the desert in 110 degreed heat with no water and no shade. When the helicopter found me I was suffering from severe dehydration. This would be my final attempt at a world record – I would never try again.
2001 Still working at the flight school in Florida, I acquired my Tandem Administrator (presiding over Tandem (dual) Instructors); I also won a seat the USHPA Board of Directors. I was turning 40 so ran and completed the Disney Marathon (26.1 miles) just to see if I could.
2002 Again I ran and completed the Disney Marathon and completed Danskin Mini Trialathon. I was working hard, flying and teaching . . .life was good.
2003 My new partner and I left the flying school in Florida and moved to Jackson Hole, Wyoming to start our own flying school, Cowboy Up Hang Gliding.
2006 Already having 2,000 hours in powered ultralights (stick and rudder), I took official FAA airplane flying lessons and received my FAA Private Pilot’s Certificate (license)
2007 But of course, life knocks you in the grill when you’re not paying attention. Taking my flight physical I was diagnosed with heart disease and was rushed to emergency surgery in Utah.
2009 I was the first African American to receive a FAA Private Pilot’s Certificate in the category of Weight Shift Control. As a matter of fact I can claim that in every aspect of hang gliding too.
2013 Excellent decision to expanded Cowboy Up Hang Gliding to Houston, Texas. We built a successful flying business and had a blast doing it. We also pumped life back into the existing hang gliding flying community. Life was great.
2016 Hurricane Harvey hit our business hard.
2018 December another blow . . . Loss of business partner in Cowboy Up Hang Gliding
2019 – WHY I NEED YOUR HELP Since my school is based on being a two-person operation I must now transition to a one person operation if I am going to continue. That means I need to acquire a powered hang glider that will allow me to fly and teach on my own. I would also be able to service the existing hang gliding pilot flying community. Cowboy Up is the only fulltime year-round hang gliding school in Texas and I really need your financial help to acquire that aircraft in order to continue operating. Financing through traditional channels has proved disheartening because of the unconventional nature of the aircraft I need.
I have always worked for everything I have gotten. I am usually the one giving the leg up. But this time I need a leg up. I want to continue sharing those smiles with you after taking you flying, but that can only happen with your help.