VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. — Lt. Col. Deirdre Gurry, a T-6 Texan instructor pilot and former commander of the 8th Flying Training Squadron at Vance Air Force Base, recently completed a personal goal of flying to all 108 of Oklahoma’s public airports, and hopes to inspire the next generation of aviators.
Gurry has been a general aviation pilot for about two years, building on a love of flying she’s learned in almost 20 years of military service.
After being commissioned in 1999 through the Air Force ROTC program at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., Gurry went on to undergraduate pilot training in the T-37 Tweet at Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi. She stayed on at Columbus as a T-37 first assignment instructor pilot, then went to fly the C-17 Globemaster at McChord Air Force Base in Washington.
After a pair of staff assignments and completing the Air Command and Staff College at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama, Gurry first came to Vance as the 71st Flying Training Wing Chief of Safety in 2015. She took command of the 8th FTS in 2017, and relinquished command in March.
Gurry said she’s built up her private pilot licensing during her time in the Air Force but never got into general aviation until late in her tour at Vance, with retirement — and the end of military cockpit time — on the horizon.
“I knew I was retiring,” she said, “and I was afraid I wouldn’t be a pilot after I retired, so I bought an airplane.”
After completing a tailwheel endorsement, Gurry purchased a Van’s RV6, a homebuilt, two-seat, low-wing airplane.
“I bought that airplane specifically because it is aerobatic, but it’s also pretty quick, so I can go places,” Gurry said. “It’s one of the best aircraft to do those two things.”
She said she also liked the RV6 because its side-by-side cockpit configuration reminded her of the T-37 Tweet she flew as a student and instructor at Columbus.
Gurry began flying her RV6 out of Enid Woodring Regional Airport, but soon found she wanted a purpose to motivate her flying.
“I get bored really easily, and I had an airplane,” she said, “and I thought ‘What can I do with my airplane? I need a goal.’”
That goal came to her when she picked up an aeronautical chart of all 108 public airports in the state at the 2018 Oklahoma Women in Aviation & Aerospace Day event last December in Tulsa.
Poring over the wide variety of the state’s airfields, from small grass strips to Will Rogers World Airport and Tulsa International Airport, Gurry soon hatched the plan to fly an approach to or land at each of the airports.
The reason, she said, was simple: “It gave me a reason to go fly.”
Gurry’s flying odyssey began last December, and was completed April 24 at Halliburton Field in Duncan. Over a four-month period, she flew nine day-trips, with flights into the Oklahoma Panhandle being the longest.
Along the way, Gurry said she experienced wildly different flying environments, from the international airports down to grass fields with no buildings or improvements. And, she got to see some artwork left just for pilots.
“I enjoyed finding buildings with paintings on the roofs,” she said. “It’s fun to think about the people who leave the art just for us pilots to find. I’ve seen an eight-ball, a smiley face, and even a rooster.”
Flying between some of Oklahoma’s smaller fields raised new challenges for the seasoned pilot.
“One thing that was a small, but fun, challenge was transiting between the airports that were very close,” she said. “I would only do one touch-and-go or low approach to wet grass fields, and then move on to the next. With some airports very close, switching frequencies, finding the airport, and scanning for traffic kept me on my toes.”
Gurry said completing the tour of all 108 Oklahoma airfields was rewarding, but she’s hoping to do more for aviation after she retires later this summer.
General aviation already has given the Air Force instructor pilot, who’s racked up a combined more-than 4,000 flying hours, a sense of belonging outside the military.
“The aviation community is just a really great experience,” Gurry said. “The people are really friendly. We all do different things in our professional lives, but we have something in common in aviation, and I love that sense of community.”
Already a rated multi-engine and instrument instructor, Gurry hopes to continue instructing new pilots after her transition to civilian life. She also plans to fly to as many public aviation events as possible, such as fly-ins, air shows and aerobatic competitions, to meet and inspire potential aviators, young and old.
Inspiring others to pursue their dreams of flight is a personal mission for Gurry. Growing up in the small community of Bushkill, in northeastern Pennsylvania, Gurry said she never dreamed being a pilot was a possibility for her.
“I want to tell people out there, like me when I was that kid,” she said, “‘Hey, you can do this.’”