Our many RAF supporters have such vast and varied experience, and we’re capturing some of their words of wisdom to share with you. This month’s guest editorial is by Jeanne MacPherson, a longtime RAF supporter. Here is her philosophy on life, and how it relates to flying . . .

Can we ever become accomplished enough to stop practicing our craft?

Pablo Casals was one of the most renowned musicians of the 20th Century. Though he was a brilliant cellist, even in his eighties Casals continued to practice daily. When asked why he kept practicing when he was the best in the world, he replied: “I feel like I am making progress.”

This lifetime practice resonates with me in so many things that I love to do. Flying our two airplanes takes constant practice. Sometimes it is one of life’s upsets that forces you into learning and practicing yet again. I recently broke my hip ice skating on Canyon Ferry Reservoir’s wild ice. Daily physical therapy and exercise are now my routine. After a two month break from flying, I am once again practicing landings over and over…looking for that “daily progress.” I have never been comfortable with the saying: “any landing you can walk away from is a good landing.” I believe in striving for excellence. 

Challenges that I have taken on to improve my ability to land accurately in a stabilized approach at a pre-specified spot are wheel landings in a tailwheel airplane, glassy water landings in a seaplane, short/soft field arrival at a planned spot, touching down on one wheel, and crosswind landings. It is always an ongoing practice.

Enhancing aviation skills can be done in many ways and yet made to be fun. One of my favorite approaches to flight reviews is to engage in add-on ratings or specialized flight training.  AOPA’s Air Safety Institute offers “focused flight reviews” using tailored lesson plans for mountain flying, positive aircraft control, IFR proficiency, and others. I encourage you to check them out.

My husband, Bill, and I like to take on new challenges for our flight reviews. Several years ago, we traveled to the world’s best and friendliest airport in Santa Paula, California, to take Rich Stowell’s Emergency Maneuver Training Course at CP Aviation. This course not only challenged us and made as safer pilots but took us down a path toward ownership of a beautiful Super Decathlon and participation in the International Aerobatic Club. This also prompted me to start a flight school for emergency training, aerobatics, and Montana Mountain flying.

I am now retired from my work at Montana Aeronautics Division as Bureau Chief for Safety and Education and from my flight school, Mountain Airdance, but recently our Granddaughter, Graci, has expressed a passion for flying. Now, with a renewed sense of purpose, I am practicing landings from the back seat of our Super Decathlon with Bill in the front.  I am making daily progress, getting the sight picture and perception from the rear seat so that I once again can be on top of my game as a flight instructor for our granddaughter Graci.

The philosopher Seneca said: “As long as you live, keep learning how to live.”  I believe that if we follow this advice, we – like Pablo Casals the cellist – can keep making progress as pilots.

Jeanne has been a supporter of RAF since it’s inception. Her aviation work experience includes flying freight, Bureau Chief and Chief Pilot for Montana Aeronautics Division, copilot for the Montana Governor’s Office, and owning a flight school teaching basic aerobatics and mountain flying. She and her husband love flying into backcountry airstrips and are grateful to RAF for working so hard to maintain these aviation treasures.

Submitted April 23, 2024.


  1. Ron Keller on April 24, 2024 at 8:31 am

    A Super Decathlon is a fun machine! This story reminded me of the aerobatics flight I won as a raffle prize at McCall Airport Open House a few years ago. I flew with Rich Stowell in his “Cath” out of Cascade, ID. It had been years since I had flown a tailwheel, but Rich gave me the reins for takeoff and landing, ready to bail me out. Fortunately my happy feet kicked in right away. If you have a chance to fly with Jeanne in the Super Decathlon, Do it!

    • Jeanne MacPherson on May 3, 2024 at 8:02 am

      I am glad you flew with Rich Stowell…what a wealth of knowledge.

  2. Tim Clifford on May 1, 2024 at 8:23 am

    One pearl of wisdom Jeanne shared with me years ago was to always “keep something in the bank” on backcountry takeoffs – something to call upon if conditions suddenly change. This advice has undoubtedly saved me from bending some airplanes over the years. She may profess to always be learning but I do hope she never quits sharing her vast reserve of knowledge.

    • Jeanne MacPherson on May 3, 2024 at 8:03 am

      Thank you for all that you do, Cliff!

  3. Mike Whitehead on May 1, 2024 at 8:28 am

    Well worth the read – so many parallels between music and flying! I heard a musician this week say “If it sounds good when you are practicing you are doing it wrong.” Meaning try something harder. I took the Champ out yesterday and put it (me) through all the paces (falling leaf stalls this time). After 75 years the Champ seems to have it down cold but me I feel like I am making progress at 55. I hope to meet Jeanne someday!

    • Jeanne MacPherson on May 3, 2024 at 8:05 am

      Good job, Mike, “the falling leaf” gets your feet dancing!

  4. Perry Brown on May 1, 2024 at 8:42 pm

    You are such a good friend, mentor, and inspiration to me. Thank you. I would love to learn from you sometime with some of those EMT maneuvers!! I really enjoy your write up. I’ve always said,”The day you don’t learn something new flying, or the day you think you know it all and can do it all, is the day you better stop flying.” Excited for you and your granddaughter. Those are very special times. I pray I can do that with my grandkids someday.

    • Jeanne MacPherson on May 3, 2024 at 8:06 am

      Thank you for your kind words, Perry. Flying with our Granddaughter Graci is certainly magic!

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