That’s exactly what happened in 1977 to Madeleine Monaco when she accepted an invitation from a parent at her daughter’s school to go for a ride in their small plane.
“I enjoyed it immensely; it was magical,” Monaco, 78, explains. “On that flight, I told my friend, the pilot, that I wished I was someone who could learn to fly.”
She quickly learned that she was. After signing up for ground school at Oakton Community College, she flew through the knowledge test and was ready to take her first flying lesson later that same year. After being turned away by two male flight instructors who said they ‘didn’t fly with girls,’ Monaco found the perfect flight instructor in Marge Sundmachr who became her role model in many ways.
Monaco received her pilot’s license in 1978. “I was in my early 30’s, had a good job and two great children, but I just wanted to accomplish more,” Monaco says. “It changed my whole life.”
Her great adventure was just beginning.
With a busy career at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union (IBEW), Monaco enjoyed flying out of Chicago Executive Airport with friends and family in her spare time. Along the way, she taught her brother and nephew to fly.
Monaco discovered that teaching is what she loved most. “It’s amazing to see others have that exhilarating sense of accomplishment that I didn’t feel until I was more than 30 years old,” she says. “Especially girls and women because there are still so few of us in the air.”
Over time, Monaco has logged over 3,600 hours and owned both a Cessna 172 and 150 and a Mooney M20J. The Chicago Executive Airport has remained a constant, and she speaks of its community as her ‘flying family.’ “The gloriousness of aviation is truly the community,” she explains.
Her passion for flying and its people has motivated Monaco to gather with and advocate for fellow pilots. Many years ago, she joined the Chicago 99s – the local chapter of The Ninety-Nines International Organization of Women Pilots – to support and provide assistance to other female pilots in a male-dominated industry. She has held leadership roles in the organization, including as a member of the International Scholarship Trust.
Monaco was also one of the founders of the Chicago Executive Pilots Association which formed to advocate for general aviation pilots when the CEA converted from a private to a municipal airport. She has served as the organization’s President, board member, and currently serves as the Scholarship Chair.
Today, Monaco is a part-time Chicago Executive Flight School instructor currently helping two 15-year-old girls get their wings when they turn 16. She also teaches ‘Pinch Hitters,’ a series of lessons which enable pilots’ spouses to land a plane in the case of an emergency. She enjoys aviation-themed films, such as ‘Top Gun Maverick, ‘Always,’ and ‘Project X.’ And she is always ready to take a passenger on a great adventure.