An airline pilot…how did you get into that career? That is by far the most common question I get asked. In fact, I had somebody ask me this just the other day. It has a simple answer: I decided I wanted to do it, so I did it. But I didn’t become an airline pilot overnight. It took years of studying and hundreds of hours of flying. I know many people wonder what it takes, so here is a glimpse into my experience of becoming an airline pilot.
When I was 17 years old, I found out that girls could be pilots. I’d always thought flying was cool and traveling sounded fun, but up to that point, it never occurred to me that I could be a pilot.
I was 18 the first time I stepped foot on an airplane, and it is a day I will never forget. The feeling of freedom I got when that jet airplane took flight is one that has stuck with me even after all these years. I knew at that moment that I was going to be a pilot, and there was nothing and nobody that could change my mind.
A few months after that first flight, I started my flight training. I thought my instructor would just fly me around that day, but he let me take the controls and fly wherever I wanted to. An hour of pure joy- I felt like a kid on Christmas morning. I was excited about aviation before this day, but flying that little 2-seater Diamond Katana airplane for the first time solidified that. I was hooked.
A few weeks after that was my next big moment in aviation: my first solo. I had less than 20 hours, but my instructor said I was ready. You think letting your teenagers drive a car at 16 is scary? Think of letting them fly an airplane alone when they are only 18! Good thing 18 year olds know everything… haha. But I wasn’t nervous- I was excited. And it was exhilarating- landing and taking off that airplane all by myself. Who’d have thought that me, of all people, would be able to do something so incredible? I had found my wings!
Time flew by quickly over the next three years. I earned my Private Pilot’s License, Instrument Rating, Multi Engine License, Commercial License, and then my Flight Instructor Certificate.
I only needed 250 hours to get my commercial license, but no airline can or would hire a pilot with such littler hours, so I decided to become a flight instructor to build my time. Talk about a fun/scary/adventure of a job that was! I had to be on my A-Game 100% of the time because students are unpredictable. After years of flight instructing, I had enough hours to apply for the airlines. Not a major airline, but a regional airline that does the shorter flights for the majors- the small jets.
A new job is always intimidating, but starting a new job at a regional airline brought that intimidation factor to a whole new level for me. I went from flying a 1,200 pound airplane as a student and CFI to a 26,000 pound EMB-120 propped-airplane and later on to a 50,000 pound CRJ aka the Barbie Jet; from flying around 1- 3 people to up to 76 passengers. It was a huge jump, but one I will never regret.
This was taken in 2015, my last day flying the EMB-120 Brasilia, aka "The Bro."
This was my first day of training on the CRJ, aka "The Barbie Jet."
Initial training at the airlines was about 3 months long, and I felt like there was still so much for me to learn once I completed it. There was a month of ground training, about a month of simulator training, and a month of training in the airplane.
I remember feeling like such an imposter on my first day of work at the airlines. But, as I have learned, I acted like I knew exactly what I was doing- like I was a seasoned pilot just going through security for the millionth time- and walked through the airport with confidence.
However, it was the most nerve-racking/exciting day for me. I flew a commercial airplane with actual passengers all over the west coast. Wow! That first 4-day trip went by in a blink of an eye. I flew with the most fantastic crew, and had the time of my life. That was the beginning of my airline career, and a trip I will forever remember.
Since that day, I have been hired as a major airline pilot. I have flown all over world- over the pacific and atlantic ocean, and from coast to coast over the US. Every day of work is an adventure.
Maybe I don’t look like the traditional pilot, but on the inside, I am just like the rest, with a love of aviation that cannot be tamed. Becoming an airline pilot was certainly not the easiest career for me to choose, but it has been the most rewarding. So why did I get into this career? Because I was born to fly!