A lot has happened since I last posted here about my flight training. If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you probably already know most of what I’m about to tell you 😀
About a year and a half ago, I became a certified flight instructor, which just means I get to teach people how to fly airplanes now! I have loved every bit of it and it’s possible I’ve learned more than my students have, lol! There are two main events in a pilot’s quest to earn their license.
One is to “solo” which means you get to fly the airplane by yourself. Your instructor has the confidence that you know how to take an airplane up into the sky and get it back on the ground again. And your instructor must be so confident that they will sign their name and therefore their reputation into your logbook. The other event is when you go for your final test, or “checkride”. Again, your instructor must be so confident that you are ready that they will sign your logbook as proof that you think they are ready to pass that test. I have had the privilege of sending twelve people to their checkrides, and soloing eleven students <3
I have also been flying a Pilatus all over the country with Ted for a local business owner. I’ve learned a lot about flying at higher altitudes, faster airplanes, and in busier airspace. O’Hare is one of my favorite places to go because it’s so busy and it challenges me all of the time. I love flying around the country, meeting new people, eating breakfast at local restaurants, and visiting places I’ve never gone before.
Somewhere in Colorado
At the beginning of this year I didn’t know whether I wanted to stay in corporate aviation or try the airlines. I joined a program called the Professional Pilot Leadership Initiative through the Ninety-Nines. It is a program designed to mentor ladies just starting in their career as a pilot, changing careers, or at a new place in their career such as upgrading to captain. By the end of the program you get to mentor another lady as she starts her own career. I am just now in the second phase of the program, but have already had so much clarity and direction. As a result of talking to my mentor, I decided to give the airlines a try. If I like it, I’m getting a start building seniority, if I don’t like it (which I doubt!), I can always jump back into flying business jets.
In March I went to the Women in Aviation conference in Long Beach, CA and talked to every regional airline there, asking them questions about their company. Just a side note: if you want to fly for the airlines, you often need to start at a “regional” and build more experience before you go to the “big” airlines such as Delta, United, American.
At the Women in Aviation conference after we had just experienced the hypoxia chamber 😀
I made a spreadsheet noting the bases, pay rate, and airplanes each regional flew. SkyWest kept standing out to me as my first choice. They have a base in Chicago O’Hare and Detroit which are both “close” to home, their pay was decent, and most importantly, every SkyWest pilot I talked to LOVED their job and I could tell that their company culture was one I wanted to be a part of. By the middle of April I applied for SkyWest Airlines, and they called me pretty quickly asking when I wanted to set up an interview. I wanted a little time to study, so I scheduled it for the beginning of June.
I also needed my multi-engine commercial license before I went for the interview. It is relatively “easy” to get compared to some of the other licenses, but also very expensive because multi-engine planes cost a lot to operate. I kept trying to save money towards it, and applied for some scholarships. But my savings weren’t growing very quickly, and I didn’t win any scholarships. One day I got a text from the owner of the flight school I teach at that said, “Call me when you get a chance.” I started wondering what was up, if I had failed to do something at the school, or if I did something wrong, etc, etc 😀 When I did call him the conversation went something like this:
John: “Hi Jessica! You’ve been flying? How’s your day been?”
Me: “Yes, I have! Going great!”
John: “Well, I just wanted to let you know that we’re not the only ones around here who appreciate you.”
John: “Someone has contacted us and wants to pay for you to get your multi-engine training done.”
Me: “WHAT???!!! Ohmygoodness! WHAT?!”
John: “So get with Greg as soon as you can and get started!”
Me: “OHMYGOODNESS! I will!!! THANK YOU! Tell whoever it is that I said THANK YOU!”
John: “I will! You keep me updated on how it’s going and I’ll let them know your progress.”
One of my coffee shop study sessions…
So I studied and flew as much as I could in between teaching my own students. The checkride was scheduled for May 28, 2019. I woke up on the 28th to low clouds and bad flying weather. My checkride had to be cancelled. I tried not to stress out, but…you know I did! I needed that checkride done before I went to my interview on June 11th, and the examiner was booked solid until the middle of June. I started calling around to other examiners, and then my original examiner called that evening. He just so happened to have a cancellation for the following day, and did I want to take that spot? YES I DID! The forecast didn’t look great, but I prayed for there to be hole over Valparaiso of clear skies so that I could take the test. May 29th came and it looked like the clouds *might* lift. I opted to start the checkride, and based on my examiners comments, I don’t think he thought we were going to be able to fly. We had to do the verbal portion first, where he asked me about the systems, engines, performance of the airplane. By the time it was time to fly, THERE WAS A HOLE OVER VALPARAISO! We went up and did the flight portion and I came back down a commercially rated multi-engine pilot! I realized later that night that it was four years TO THE DAY that I had taken my very first flight lesson with Ted in the Skyhawk. I think it was God winking at me saying, “I see you! You’re doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing, and I’m smiling at you!”.
And to my anonymous angel…whoever you are, THANK YOU. You encouraged me more than you know. I wouldn’t be where I’m at right now if it weren’t for you.
The day of my checkride!!! Notice how the skies cleared out!
I had also been studying for my interview at the same time I was studying for my multi-engine rating. I was a little nervous as this was my first formal interview. But I didn’t need to be! There were just two other guys interviewing the same time as me, and it was such a fun experience! One of the first things they had us do was the CRM or “crew resource management” exercise. Basically they want to see how well you work as a team with people you’ve never met before which is often what you are doing in the airlines. They gave us each a role…I was captain, one of the guys was the first officer, and the other was a jumpseater in the cockpit on his way to work. I had initially been a little anxious about this portion, because HOW ON EARTH do you know how well you’ll work with people you’ve never met before?! And then when they told me I was acting as captain, I was both excited AND nervous, because now I was also IN CHARGE. But ohmygoodness! That ended up being my favorite portion of the interview. We all worked together well, bounced ideas off of each other, and our interviewers only had a couple of suggestions on how we could have done it a little better. I left Salt Lake City and they told me to expect a call in 3 to 5 days.
Day of the interview!
Two days later they called offering me the job! My friend Sarah and I were on our way home from a quick trip to Niagara Falls (they let us fly OVER the Falls!!!). We had stopped at Erie, PA for fuel and to wait out some thunderstorms. I noticed I had a voicemail from SkyWest when we landed, so Sarah found me smiling and crying in the airport lobby. I had her listen to it as well and we were hugging and crying and exclaiming and the people at the front desk were wondering what on earth was going on.
My next step was to finish getting all of the hours required to be an airline transport pilot (a.k.a. ATP). They want you to have 1500 total hours, 100 hours of night flight, 500 hours of cross country flight, etc. The biggest hurdle for me was 25 hours of time in a plane with more than one engine. All of the training flights I do are in single engine planes, and since I am not a multi-engine instructor (yet), that meant I would need to pay for 16 more hours of multi-engine time, which adds up to a few thousand dollars. I already had 9 hours from my multi-engine training.
If you’re not careful, you’ll always find a reason to worry. It was tempting to worry about how I was going to afford 16 hours of flight time when I couldn’t even afford the first 9 in the first place. BUT I knew if an anonymous person had somehow found out my goals, and learned that I needed that multi-engine training and just PAID for it, there would be a way, somehow!
If you know much about my flight story, you know it’s filled with stories like this. Every step has been less expensive, unconventional, and MORE FUN than if I would have tried to make it happen myself. I think you understand there’s a difference between putting the work in and forcing something to happen. I’m not saying you should sit on your couch and expect people to call you on the phone offering to pay for everything 😀 You must move in the direction you want to go, expecting to meet the resources and opportunities on your way.
I could have cranked out an hour a week in the Baron and asked my flight school to just take it off of my paycheck, but flying around for an hour at a time…there’s just not a lot you can do,and I wanted to GO places. Plus I couldn’t really afford for a third of my paycheck to disappear into the Baron every week, lol!
I just had this feeling I was supposed to wait a bit, that God had something in mind. One of my students who is also headed for the airlines would tease me about it, and he told me once, “Jessica, have you figured out how you’re going to get that multi-engine time yet? *I’M* starting to stress about YOUR flight time!”
Sometime in July, an FAA friend of mine (who also gave me my flight instructor checkride), texted me asking me when my class date was with SkyWest. I told him, and then on a whim, asked, “You don’t happen to have any ideas on how to get some more multi-engine time without me auctioning off my arm and leg do you?!”
He replied, “I might have something, hold on!”
And ohmygoodness! Did he ever!
Me with “One-Five-Quebec”…the Cessna 340.
He put me in touch with a friend of his who flies quarterly trips to visit clients in several states and even up into Canada. For a relatively small fee per hour to cover his liability, he has you fly left seat as pilot-in-command, and he’s also a great instructor. So I ended up flying this Cessna 340 to Ilinois, Iowa, North Dakota, Nebraska, Missouri, Wyoming, Washington state, Saskatoon Sascatchawan, Brandon Manitoba, and probably a couple other places I’m forgetting 😀 I learned a new airplane, learned about flying internationally into Canada, learned more about when and how to fly through or around weather, and I got to do it with Jim and Kim, who constantly kept me laughing!
Jim & Kim
Jim is a super instructor, and Kim’s favorite thing to do during the trip was to start chatting up the other pilot’s at the airports and drop in that I was the pilot, not him. Then he’d watch their jaw drop and have a good laugh about it later, lol! They’d also make up songs on the spot, with rhyming lyrics and everything which kept me in stiches. We found the greatest little places to eat, like the authentic Italian food at Tiramisu in Quincy, MO. Or the ribs place we stopped at in Nebraska.
I now have all of the hourly requirements for the Airline Transport Pilot certificate and I have a scheduled class date at the end of November with SkyWest Airlines!!! I’ll be in Salt Lake City for at least a couple of months, going through the ATP course, ground school, and flying the big fancy simulators to learn how to fly the CRJ (click here for pics) as a First Officer. I CAN’T BELIEVE THIS IS MY LIFE!!!
Flying the Chicago skyline on a night cross country
Currently I have several students who are close to being ready for their checkride, so we’re working on getting them ready before I go. The ones who won’t be ready before then will be transitioned to new instructors. And I think that instructors of Eagle Aircraft work so well together already that the transition should be a smooth one for them. This transition has always been a concern of mine…I don’t want to leave my students hanging. I KNOW I’M GONNA CRY MY LAST DAY TEACHING!!! I love my students, I love my Pilatus job, I love my flying club!
So behold…that’s all the news for now! I’ll be sure to update you when I’m officially a First Officer with SkyWest!!!!