The Air Up There Podcast
Gliding the Skies Before She Could Drive

Season 6, Episode 3

You've heard “crawl before you walk,” but how about “fly before you drive”? Join us in redefining the journey to new heights in our latest podcast episode, “Gliding the Skies Before She Could Drive”.

Get to know Ishitha who, at the age of 16, earned her private pilot certificate with a glider rating before she earned her license to drive. Hear her inspiring story, from her start in aviation upon moving to the United States to how she created innovative youth aviation clubs and outreach programs to inspire other young minds in aerospace.

Tune in as Ishitha reveals the intricacies of glider flight training, how she felt on her first solo flight, and her passion to ultimately become an astronaut and venture into space. Can you guess where her top destination is? Listen to find out! 

We hope this episode inspires young aviation enthusiasts everywhere to let their dreams fly high. Share with your family, colleagues, and friends. Happy listening and keep reaching for the skies!

Curious about gliding? Learn all about it in the FAA’s Glider Flying Handbook!

Check out the FAA’s Airport Design Challenge (ADC).

Meet Our Guest: 
Ishitha is a high school student participating in pilot training in Washington state. She serves as an ambassador for the Experimental Aircraft Association, is a Red-Tailed Hawks cadet, and continues to advocate for aviation with her peers through clubs she founded in middle school, high school, and her local community like the Sky Riders.

Disclaimer: Reference in this podcast to any specific commercial product, process, service, manufacturer, company, or trademark does not constitute endorsement or recommendation by the U.S. government, Department of Transportation, or Federal Aviation Administration. As an agency of the U.S. government, the FAA cannot endorse or appear to endorse any specific product or service.

Ishitha in a glider
Gliding the Skies Before She Could Drive
Audio file

Ishitha Arekapudi: It was incredible. I mean, going on my own. I was really nervous, of course. I mean, you're going for the first time by yourself. Once like it started taking off, I was like, wait I actually know how to do this. Like I can do this and I don't have to be worried. So, I just enjoyed it. I mean, being able to be on my own, like knowing I can do this by myself was just crazy to me.

DaiJah Metoyer: That’s Ishitha Arekapudi talking about going on her first glider solo flight when she was 15. 

Lucy Jabbour: And at the age of 16, Ishitha got her private pilot certificate with a glider rating and was flying before she was driving. 

DaiJah Metoyer: She's also our guest on this episode of – The Air Up There! 

Various People: This is your captain speaking. The feeling I get when I’m flying is just; you get an adrenaline rush. Seeing something fly is awesome. It’s incredible to be able to fly. Flying airplanes is all I’ve ever wanted to do. I get so excited about aviation, aeronautics, space, engineering, and tech. Like star gazing and just wondering what it would be like to be up there. I just fell in love with it. Stick with your passion and pursue it. Just know you can do it. There is not a room, there is not a cockpit, there is not a place that you don’t belong. There’s certainly a place for everybody in aerospace.

Lucy Jabbour: In this episode we’re talking about an aircraft that can stay up in the air without using an engine: a glider. 

DaiJah Metoyer:  Did you know that you can be eligible to fly a glider solo at the age of 14? It’s a great introduction to aviation!  

Lucy Jabbour: And you can be eligible for a private pilot certificate with a glider rating at 16, just like today’s guest, Ishitha. There are glider clubs all over the country where you can get involved that offer flight training. 

DaiJah Metoyer: In fact, most airports have some type of pilot training available, either through FAA-approved pilot schools or FAA-certified flight instructors.

Lucy Jabbour: Ishitha, can you just tell us a little bit about yourself? Just kind of give us a little background.

Ishitha Arekapudi: Yeah. So right now, I'm living in Seattle, Washington. For like most of my life, I actually lived in Ireland. Five years ago, we moved here through my dad's job. And that's kind of actually how I got into like the space and aviation field, because like coming here, I learned about all of that. In Ireland, nobody really talked about it. So, it wasn't a thing. I wasn't exposed to it. So that's kind of how I started. 

Lucy Jabbour: Okay, so you grew up in Ireland and then you moved to the United States and you start to get interested in aviation. 

DaiJah Metoyer: Can you dive into that a little bit more?

Ishitha Arekapudi: Yeah. So um, basically what happened was, when I moved to Seattle, like, you know, there's Boeing here, there's all the like airlines here. So, like in school, and everything, everyone would just talk about it and I was really curious, because I hadn't heard much about it before. But even in school, like, I've always been interested in science, so I joined like Science Olympiad and all these other clubs. And one day, we had a guest speaker from Blue Origin. And she really inspired me just like talking about her job. About like the astronomy world. How she wanted to be an astrophysicist, but then wanted to work with astronauts. So, that was just really inspiring to me. So, I like started researching from that. And the more I heard from other people was just really intrigued me. 

Lucy Jabbour: Do you think like, part of the inspiration you were feeling had to do with the fact that it was a woman who came to speak to you?
Ishitha Arekapudi: I think so because she was so passionate about what she was doing. And just the way she like, portrayed her job. It just made me feel like I could be there. I could do that, too.

DaiJah Metoyer: So, you're a certified glider pilot, for the people who don't know. Can you break it down, very simply, what is a glider?

Ishitha Arekapudi: Okay, so, you all know, probably know, about small airplanes. It's basically like that, but it does not have an engine. So obviously, it's kind of configured differently. It has longer wings. And so, you fly with like, another plane with an engine and it brings you up, and then you release what's called a tow rope. And then you come back to land on your own without an engine. 

Lucy Jabbour: That's so cool. It's kind of like water skiing, but in the air. Right? 

Ishitha Arekapudi: Yeah.

DaiJah Metoyer: That's a perfect description.

Lucy Jabbour: Getting your glider pilot certification, I imagine there was some hoops to jump through. What kind of steps did you have to take? For those who might not be familiar with kind of what you have to do to get that. 

Ishitha Arekapudi: So, um, it's kind of crazy to me how you can start flying gliders at the age of 14. Like, I didn't know that. And it's just crazy about that. So, when I found out about that, I was like, that's something I want to do. Like, if I could start now. I want to start now. So, I kind of started researching. And then I found like, this is a way that like, most people do it. So, first you like find a glider club that's near you. Joining one of those and then they also help you a lot with like the steps to get there. But the basic plan is, you begin flight training, and they teach you all the way up to like solo. And that means the first time you fly by yourself without an instructor. But um, you don't have your license at that point. It's just like a sort of like a temporary thing that you can like, go by yourself for a while. And then after that, they give you even more training and like longer distance and more like in-depth stuff. And that like leads up to your training about your license. So, then you take like this written exam through the FAA, and then you do a checkride with a glider examiner and they issue your certificate if you pass that, and that's kind of the basic stuff.

Lucy Jabbour: So, of all those things in the process. For somebody who might be listening to you and going, wow, this is so cool. I want to do this, too. Was there one part of that, that you found more challenging than the rest of it that you want to give people a heads-up on?

Ishitha Arekapudi: Yeah, um, probably what was most challenging for me was just the checkride at the end because obviously, this was my first checkride. I didn't have any experience. What I heard from some people was that it's really hard to pass. So, that kind of like scared me a bit but what I just did for that is I put in some like extra hours. Studied for it. Made sure and when the day of the checkride came, I felt prepared. The questions the examiner was asking me I already knew because I'd studied so much. So, that really helped me there. 

DaiJah Metoyer: It must be an amazing and unique feeling to be in the air and the glider. Can you explain what you feel when you're in the air?

Ishitha Arekapudi: The feeling I get when I'm flying is just peace, like, I feel like this is what I'm supposed to do. It feels comforting. And just a sensation that you're able to control this entire thing by yourself. It’s just in the air and you have like control over it. You can like, tell it what to do, basically. And it just feels like you're like free like you yourself are flying. And it's very different from an airplane, because an airplane has that sound of the engine the entire time. You can feel it shaking. In a glider, once you get off tow for a minute, there's just no sound nothing. You're basically just floating because of how light it is of how like the wind carries you.

Lucy Jabbour: Going back to something you said earlier, you kind of mentioned briefly, my first solo flight. What was that like for you having your first solo flight?

Ishitha Arekapudi: It was incredible. I mean, that was the first like flight thing that I've ever done. The first milestone. I was really proud of that moment, because I got to that point. And just like going on my own, I was really nervous, of course. I mean, you're going for the first time by yourself. But um, once like it started taking off, I was like, wait I actually know how to do this. Like I can do this and I don't have to be worried. So, I just enjoyed it. I mean, being able to be on my own, like knowing I can do this by myself was just crazy to me. 

Lucy Jabbour: I'm sure it instilled a lot of like self-confidence for you and your abilities. To kind of find that confidence as young as you are. I think you have a really awesome path ahead of you, because you've figured some things out pretty early. So, speaking of that, you've kind of become a bit of an aviation advocate for other youth. Can you tell us just a little bit about some of the aviation clubs that you founded? 

Ishitha Arekapudi: Yeah. So, I mean, it kind of started out like, you're able to start gliders at 14. That's when you're in like middle school. I know that some of my like classmates and my friends were like, kind of interested in being an airline pilot and stuff. But they like had no idea about this. And like, how were you supposed to know if it wasn't like advertised to you or like shown to you. So, it's like I know about this, but like, I kind of want to let everybody else know, like, share it. If they're not interested, that's fine, but there were so many people who were interested that could benefit from it. So, in my middle school, I started a club called Sky Riders and it's basically just about aviation, aeronautics, space, kind of like all the different fields. So not just piloting, but like mechanics jobs, engineering. So, we kind of talk about all of it. We share a lot of different opportunities and I just kind of built off that. So, I started in middle school. That's continuing and then I moved to high school. I started it in high school and now we've also made it a community outreach club within our community. So, like, doesn't have to be at our school. Anybody can join. Any ages. There's like kids as young as like 8 years old who like, want to be in it. There is stuff that they can do that we like, teach them about. There's also people who are like 18, or something. They can already start. So, we're like giving them different resources and stuff. And it's really inspiring to see how interested they all are. 

Lucy Jabbour: Are there like a lot of people interested in kind of your club and showing up to some of the events you're doing? 

Ishitha Arekapudi: Yeah, so like, when I started out, I was like, okay, maybe we'll get like five people who are interested. But there's been a lot of interest. So just really inspiring to see that.

DaiJah Metoyer: Yeah, you mentioned there's a big interest in people who are your age and people who are even younger? What do you think is the biggest barrier for people to get into aviation or aerospace hobbies?

Ishitha Arekapudi: Finance, I mean, it's expensive, especially if you're this young. And another thing that we try to like, talk about is scholarships because they want youth to fly. They want like, us to get into the field. We're like the next generation. We're like the Mars generation. And like the airline is going like through a huge pilot loss right now. We're the people who will fix that. So, like you need to start young if you want to, like have an advantage in that. So, we do try to like talk about the different scholarships that are available. Because I mean, it's kind of hard otherwise. 

DaiJah Metoyer: You're super young and you're already a certified glider pilot, which is crazy. What is your dream career at this point?

Ishitha Arekapudi: To be an astronaut. And that's kind of how I started. I mean, in seventh or eighth grade, I was like, this is what I want to do. Like, first, I thought I wanted to be an astrophysicist for a while, but then I was like, I love studying about it, but I kind of want to go there. I want to be able to experience all those things while also doing research. And I've also been really interested in astrobiology and like the study of life in space. So, right now my goal is to be a medical astronaut. And basically, those are like an astronaut, but who helps on the medical side of the crew. And like, I've been really interested in medicine. So those two things kind of like aligned for me.

Lucy Jabbour: If you had the chance to go to Mars, would you go? 

Ishitha Arekapudi: Yes. I want to go to Mars so bad.

Lucy Jabbour: Some people say the moon but you said we're the Mars generation, and definitely things people are talking about. It seems so sci-fi, but you know, it's obviously something that is within our reach. 

Ishitha Arekapudi: I mean, we've already been to the moon, the next step is like bringing people to Mars. And like, by the time we grow up and become adults, that's gonna be our generation. So, that's just really inspiring. 

Lucy Jabbour: So, who would you say is a role model for you?

Ishitha Arekapudi: I think one of the first people that I like, kept as my role model was Eileen Collins. Like when I started researching into this, she was just really inspiring to me. She's like, the first Commander of the Space Shuttle. Like she piloted it. She was the first woman commander of it. So that was just like, that could be me, you know. That really related to me. Compared to all the firsts of men, it was just kind of nice to see that. 

DaiJah Metoyer: What is the next step in your journey?

Ishitha Arekapudi: Since the beginning of this year, I've been working towards my airplane license, and I've soloed in February. So, I'm just kind of like working back up to that. And I'm planning to get my license.

Lucy Jabbour: Is that for like a power plane? 

Ishitha Arekapudi: Power plane? Yeah.  

Lucy Jabbour: Yea, with an engine. Wow. That's a really good goal. And then space.

DaiJah Metoyer: That’s impressive. That’s really impressive. 

Lucy Jabbour: Engines, rockets, 

Ishitha Arekapudi: All of that. 

Lucy Jabbour: Yep. If you if you had like one message that you wanted to make sure that your peers who might be listening to this would hear, what would that message be? What would you like them to kind of walk away from this with?

Ishitha Arekapudi: Just knowing that you can do it. Like when I first started, I was like, there's so much. Like, maybe I can't do it. Maybe this isn't for me. But just, you can do it. Just believe in yourself and it's possible. Like, just go for it. I mean, you're young. If you like, don't like it, you can change it up later. But it's probably better to start young if you think you're interested. And just know you can do it. 

Airport Design Challenge PSA: Hey students! Think you know Minecraft? Think again! We're not just talking about playing – we're talking about designing your very own video game simulation! Get your creativity engines revving for the ultimate Airport Design Challenge! That's right, you'll be the mastermind behind every virtual terminal, every control tower, and every pixel of the sky. Are you up for the challenge? Head over to the and get ready to take off on this epic STEM journey.  

Lucy Jabbour: Thank you for listening! For more information about today’s guest, check out Subscribe, like, follow where ever you get your podcasts so you don’t miss a single episode. Coming up next week... 

Clarence Garden: We try to meet people where they are and we let people know that, hey, this is something where people who look like you have done this. People who look like you can do this and you can do it as well.