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story.lead_photo.caption Sean Clancy, Paper Trails columnist

Did you get a gift certificate for Christmas?

Have you used it yet, or is it stuffed in a drawer somewhere?

For almost 20 years, a gift certificate for a "discovery flight" from Barrett Aviation in North Little Rock was tucked away inside "The Complete Private Pilot," a flight instruction textbook, in the home of Tracy and Sam Cooper.

Not long before they married, Sam bought the book and certificate for Tracy as a Christmas gift. She had always wanted to be a pilot, and taking a discovery flight was a chance for her to go up in a small plane with a flight instructor and check things out, get the lay of the land -- or the skies -- and see if she wanted to actually go about learning to fly.

Alas, Tracy, a certified public accountant and president of Little Rock firm TLB Services, never got around to it. Pesky things like careers, kids and grown-up life in general kept her grounded.

In December 2019, she and Sam were talking about life goals and bucket lists when Tracy mentioned her desire to fly.

"Sam said, almost with a chip on his shoulder: 'I got you that gift certificate years ago, and you never used it,'" Tracy recalls. "'You wouldn't even know where it was.'"

Ah, but she did.

"Three house moves later, I knew exactly where the book and gift certificate were, and I pulled them out," she says. "It was that important to me. I'd always hung onto it."

And get this: Barrett Aviation honored the certificate, which didn't have an expiration date. So she took her discovery flight at about this time last year.

Wanna guess how it went?

"I ended up loving it," Tracy says.

She was set for takeoff and full-blown flight lessons through Barrett Aviation with instructor Aaron Hinton until the pandemic clipped her wings.

"That was crushing," she says. "I was really ready to get going."

It was just a temporary setback, however, and Tracy returned to flying lessons and online classwork in the fall.

"I'm just learning the basics. I haven't done anything dramatic like flying solo. I'm trying to take lessons twice a week, but the weather really gets in the way of that so it turns out to be more like once a week."

If all goes well, she hopes to have her license by autumn, and says Sam plans to pursue his pilot's license as well.

"We both like to travel and are both pretty spontaneous," she says. "We can see ourselves deciding: 'Hey, let's go see our daughter in Florida this weekend and then flying down there.'"

Getting off the ground 20 years ago wasn't a possibility, but Tracy is finally pursuing one of her life's goals.

"It was the right moment. It all just came together."

So hang onto that gift certificate you got for Christmas. It may come in handy in a few years.



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