Shot down over the Midwest: Just one of the many amazing exploits of a single mom crop duster

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EDMOND, OKLAHOMA -- Nothing but a scattering of high clouds over central Oklahoma, light winds, a summer day that might be good for flying.

"My life was flying," says author Rhonda Colia. "I woke up to the sound of airplane engines every morning."

Colia surveys her surroundings like a pilot would even though she's never flown an airplane.

Her perspective comes from her mother, Mary Eilers, born nearly a century ago, who saw her first airplane at the age of 5 and knew right away what she wanted to do.

Colia says, "She knew from that moment on she wanted to be a pilot. That was exciting to her."

Young Mary got her chance with World War II coming on.

The Army Air Corps needed instructors for future fighter and bomber pilots.

They offered steady work teaching in the skies.

"For as long as the war was happening," adds Rhonda.

After the war Mary turned to crop dusting with her husband.

It was dangerous work by itself.

But in a story she related to her family in 1990 and recorded on video tape, Mary was actually shot out of the sky by a bored teenager with a rifle.

In a 1990 interview captured on videotape, Mary Eilers told her children what happened, "I told her (her student pilot) I've been shot."

"She took over the controls and landed the plane without incident," says Rhonda.

Three days in a coma, she recovered, and got back into the cockpit as soon as she could.

Mary stayed flying even after divorcing her husband.

She kept her crop dusting business and stayed in practice with a game called hedge hopping, basically touch and go landings across rural fence and tree lines.

Colia says, "Then we'd go up to the farm-house and have a piece of pie or coffee, whatever was on hand."

To Rhonda, all these adventures were just her life.

It wasn't until later she realized how unique her mother's exploits really were.

A couple of years ago she started putting them down on paper.

The result was a book called 'The Crop Duster's Daughter'.

"It seemed like such a nod to her," says Colia. "She broke glass barriers. She really pioneered for women."

Her mom would be almost a century old now.

Rhonda still has that pilot crew chief perspective.

Every time she hears a singe engine plane she listens close.

To her, it's someone special.

"It's my momma," says Rhonda. "She's saying hi."

Colia's book is available on order from at

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