Statue of girl pilot gets Maine home

Posted July 20, 2010, at 5:20 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Vicki Van Meter drew international attention in the 1990s when the schoolgirl from western Pennsylvania made cross-country and trans-Atlantic airplane flights accompanied only by an instructor.

Van Meter’s father said Tuesday he hopes people who see the statue of his daughter at the Augusta State Airport will draw inspiration from it.

Her parents, Jim and Corinne Van Meter, who live in Utah, delivered the life-size bronze statue to the airport, where her record flights began. A dedication in the airport’s terminal is scheduled for Wednesday.

“Vicki showed that if you put your mind to it … you can accomplish anything. It doesn’t matter how old you are, it’s what’s in your head,” Jim Van Meter said Tuesday.

She was an 11-year-old sixth-grader in Meadville, Pa., in September 1993 when she flew from Augusta to San Diego over five days. She was believed at the time to be the youngest girl to fly across the United States, although that distinction went to a 9-year-old girl in 1994.

As a 12-year-old the next year, Van Meter flew from Augusta to Glasgow, Scotland, earning her credit for being the youngest girl to make a trans-Atlantic flight. Vicki’s instructors said she was at the controls during the entirety of both trips.

Van Meter committed suicide in 2008 after a battle with depression. After her groundbreaking flights, she earned a college degree in criminal justice and served two years in the Peace Corps. She had planned to attend graduate school to study psychology.

Her aeronautical feats won Van Meter accolades from then-President Bill Clinton and a place in an exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. She lectured at colleges, corporations and NASA, and frequently visited hospitals and youth groups in hopes of inspiring young people, her father said. Van Meter’s family was surprised at the number of letters from military pilots who said they had been inspired by her. But her success never went to her head.

“Our Vicki was a real humble person,” said her father, a retired stock broker. “She would give anybody the shirt off her back.”

Van Meter also liked to give herself challenges, from the time the baseball-loving girl broke the local Little League’s gender barrier. At age 10 she began taking flight lessons and after failing a written test the first time, she studied some more, went back and passed it with the highest grade in the class, including adults, Jim Van Meter recalled.

While he had flown himself in his younger years and had once owned a small plane, Van Meter, now 69, said flying was his daughter’s idea all the way. The first time she flew a plane, from the airport in her western Pennsylvania hometown, “my wife was so scared she didn’t even go to the airport,” Van Meter said.

Asked if he got nervous when his daughter was soaring above the Earth, he said, “I always believed she was in God’s hands.”

The statue, sculpted by Utah artist L’Deane Trueblood at Van Meter’s expense, was driven about 3,000 miles to Maine from Utah in a truck rented by the Van Meters. It has a blue pearl granite base and is surrounded by a sweeping arch, which represents Vicki’s free spirit, her father said. Her likeness is outfitted with the headset she wore on the trans-Atlantic fight, and includes the lobster patch she always wore on her flight suit.

“She was always proud to be considered an adopted daughter of Maine,” said her father.

A similar statue is to be placed in the St. George, Utah, airport next year.

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