KOKOMO, Ind. —Before she could drive, Paige Wild could fly.
Following her family’s tradition, she took the controls of a Piper Cub airplane at age 11. By the time she was 15, her father, Michael, began teaching her to do loops, rolls, and hammerheads 4,000 feet above the earth.
With her father and two brothers both competing, she learned to enjoy the sensation of aerobatic maneuvers while she was very young.
“I always liked it as a kid. It tickled my stomach,” said Wild, a sophomore majoring in criminal justice at Indiana University Kokomo. “It makes roller coasters not as fun, though. They’re not as intense.”
During the semester, she takes her Bellanca Super Decathalon up several times a week, though it’s more difficult during the winter, because of the early sunsets.
“It feels like you’re really free,” she said. “It’s like swimming. You can dive down and go all around. It’s like you have a new level of freedom.”
Wild, now 20, has earned her pilot’s license, and admitted it was difficult balancing the work with being a full-time student, but “you just have to make it work.” She is now eligible to compete in the International Aerobatic Club.
Pilots contend in one of five levels, starting with compulsory for the least experienced, then going up to sportsman, intermediate, advanced, and unlimited.
She placed between fifth and eight in her first season, noting she did not expect to win because she competed in the sportsman level, skipping compulsory because of her experience. She plans to continue in 2018, and to move up the five levels. Only those in advanced and unlimited qualify for international competitions.
Wild doesn’t remember a time before flying. Her father earned his pilot’s license while dating her mother, Pam. He later founded Wild Aerobatics, a training school based at the Kokomo Airport.
“My dad just liked airplanes, so he started taking lessons, and got his license,” she said, “He would fly and take us in the airplane, and we all decided to get ours too.”
Her brother Mitchell is training to fly KC 135 Stratotankers with the U.S. Air Force, while her other brother, Matt, competed internationally in Poland during the summer.
Her mother and sister, Charity, organize an air show at the Kokomo Airport every other year.
“I’ve considered becoming an airline transport pilot, but right now I’m just flying for fun.”
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.