Suits, but not Pant Suits

Recently, I was asked about the significant increase in male attendance at the Women in Aviation conference. From my perspective as a male person and also an active volunteer, I had several things in mind— and it was always my intention to post about conference, too. I became involved with my school’s Women in Aviation chapter years ago, because I value diversity and fight for equality. When I became president, my typical spiel was “No, I’m not a woman, but I do support women in aviation.” It seems to me that women have more fun with aviation than men. Furthermore, as a member of the LGBT community, I find it imperative that marginalized demographics, especially those of which involved in aviation, band together in an effort to promote their demographic.

Aviatrix Minnie Mouse!

I reached out several years ago to the writing staff at WAI, and I asked them if they needed any assistance at conference— what a better way to combine my two passions! They couldn’t have been more thrilled, and I was thrown into the ring to spotlight collegiate aviators. 

Because egos are often inflated in aviation (I mean, let’s be serious. Flying airplanes is pretty cool!), we lose sight of our other talents and abilities. And when we all come together for conference, we can use these different parts of our identities to enrich the overall experience. Most organizations of which I am a part struggle to find and retain volunteers. It takes people power (not just MANpower) to accomplish a huge feat of corralling 4,000 attendees. 

But I was dismayed by the number of men jumping on the bandwagon. It was obvious why they were at conference. Someone, somewhere, told them “Oh, you have to go to WAI. Everyone is there.” And it’s true! The best of the best and the who’s who of aviation attend this conference.

It’s exciting that our industry is experience growth. Future professional pilots like myself are in a great position for a great career. Just a few years ago, it was easy to walk up to the Delta booth and shoot the breeze, maybe turn in a resume for an internship, and walk away to the next booth. But this year, I had to navigate through endless lines of applicants, mostly male, and couldn’t get a word in edgewise to vendors. It was frustrating.

A source of mine, close to a large airline, said that they were sorting resumes by the applications based on years of membership with Women in Aviation— I praise that wholeheartedly. The question that often came to me as I saw the hustle and bustle of suited-up men was, “What do they contribute to the organization?” With my positive outlook, I can only hope that these men are truly joining for the cause and not riding on the coattails of many magnificent women to score employment. But the last thing I want is for this formidable organization to turn into that which aviation is already— a good ol’ boys club. 

And I’m not going to police every male member of Women in Aviation. So long as you can fight the good fight of putting more women in the flight deck, welcome aboard.

Disclaimer: This is my opinion based solely on my experience at the WAI 2014 conference. In no way does it reflect the opinions of WAI as an organization. 

The Immediate Future

Great Falls sectional

It’s staggering to think that in just six months, I will be a college graduate.

The normal trajectory of a college student begins with a blind eye to their life plan and ends with a succinct idea of their career plans. But mine couldn’t be more the opposite.

When I came to university, I knew exactly where I wanted to be: a captain at Southwest Airlines. Such a lofty goal for an 18 year old.

But now, just three short years later that have, literally, flown by, I have no idea what I want to do with my life. Of course, I’m not shying away from that first goal, but I’m more aware of the vast opportunities of what aviation can offer. The problem is that there are too many options.

Ever since I’ve lived abroad, something wants to take me back to Europe. How would I combine my degree in Aviation with an international market that is highly competitive?

I also feel stuck. When I graduate, I will have most likely obtained my certified flight instructor rating, a position that will be needed over the next few years of a pilot shortage. And it is an excellent way to build hours for the highly regarded interview process at a regional airline.

Is that what I want to do? Where would I want to teach? I could go anywhere— East coast, Left coast, pick a place in between.

What if I did the cliche move to New York and be a writer? Or even a yoga instructor?

Once when I was 17, I looked for a job in my hometown. Almost nowhere was hiring, save for a few places to which I applied, but I was never called. But then I found out that Goodwill was accepting applications. I promptly filled out the essentials and submitted them to a manager. She looked at me with a smirk on her face as if to say, “Why in the hell is he applying here?” And that’s exactly how I feel. Too qualified for any job, but under qualified for the big leagues.

I try to simplify the situation by asking myself an easy question: what would make me happy? I would enjoy flying and getting paid for it. I would enjoy traveling the world for next to nothing. I would enjoy writing and sharing my experiences. I would enjoy a modest abode in a nice city with a dog and a partner to greet me when I walk through the door.

So the last few answers aren’t exactly attainable just yet, but I’m open to what the world has to offer. I hereby surrender myself to the Universe and embrace what is.

Cleared to Yap

The Federal Aviation Administration is set to, uncharacteristically, relax on one of its policies. You know, that annoying, “All electronic devices with an on and off switch must be powered down at this time.” Meanwhile, you’re on the lookout for a wandering Flight Attendant, who is playing 7th grade math teacher and scolding passengers for having their cell phones on.

I’m guilty of it. When I look out the window and see that we’re relatively low to the ground, I switch out of airplane mode to see who could have possibly messaged me, tweeted me, or even, archaically, called me. Granted, I’m not a full fledged airline pilot yet and have limited experience with complex flight computers. But I have sat in my own glass cockpit aircraft and used my phone very close to the equipment. Nothing happened. The airplane didn’t veer off course, nor did it display incoherent messages. Therefore, I hardly think that my phone would cause an interference in seat 32A.


Therein lies the necessity (or lack thereof) for regulation on the matter. The FAA is strictly concerned with safety. Their principle question in this investigation is not whether Joe Shmoe is happy that his seat mate is being Kenny Tarmac and announcing that THEY JUST LANDED AT THE ATL. Therefore, the use of electronic devices should be dependent upon the airline policy.

In the court of public opinion, I’m sure the doctrine of No-one-cares-about-your-phone-conversation would be upheld, especially in such a confined space. But that isn’t the case here— the argument is based on the safe and secure operation of the aircraft, not the passenger convenience or discomfort.

Having said this, use discretion. If I’m trying to coordinate a ride from the airport or checking in with friends on the phone, I’m quiet, concise, and considerate. I even try to shield the brightness from my fellow seat mates, depending on the time of day and ambient light level.

It’s a tiny liberty for which I’ll continue to advocate under my breath. Until then, I’ll be breaking federal regulations to tweet one last time before wheels up.

Childhood Dream

“It has always been my dream to fly.”

I’m often prompted with this upon someone’s discovery that I’m a pilot. After I respond with, “It’s pretty fantastic” or something of the like, I encourage them something else.

Do it.

There’s only one way to become a pilot, and that is to start flying. But it costs too much! I don’t think I’m smart enough! Please bore someone else with your…excuses. You have not lived until you’ve experienced a crisp early morning with a graceful departure, or cruising into a metro area shining brightly at night— until you’ve seen the face of a friend who trusts you enough to burn holes through the sky for naught, don’t give me excuses.
Final for 20 at KHFD Here are some ways to get started:

  • Go on a discovery flight. Your local airport probably has a flight instructor sitting around, waiting for you to  hop in. He or she might explain a few basic things, but mostly it’s just to get a feel for flying. The flight will last approximately a half hour or so and shouldn’t be terribly expensive.
  • Be a bum at the airport. Hanging around airports is the best way to meet people; pilots are egotistic and love to brag about their airplanes, so why not schmooze?
  • Don’t be afraid of finances. Yes, flying is expensive. But most FBO’s (fixed based operators) are very flexible— I once paid off my balance at an airport by landscaping and odd jobs (it’s kind of neat to spray weeds on the side of a runway. Not glamorous, but neat).
  • In this day of technology, there is way more information on flying online than ever before. The FAA even publishes the Pilot Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge (PHAK) for free in PDF format— as well as the Airplane Flying Handbook and a multitude of other resources. It may not be the most savory reading, but it’s free and accessible!

And after your brain hurts from aerodynamic concepts and common procedures, roll on over to and drool to beautiful metal.

I’ll leave you with this: aviation is a very small community, one that supports everyone involved. Someone will find a way for you to defy gravity, but only if you want it more than anything. Once you join the rank of supreme beings— pilots —you can continue the tradition of paying it forward.


Blue skies!

For the FAA publications in free PDF format, follow this link to download copies of the PHAK, AFH, and more!

What I Learned From Theatre About Flying

This summer is exponentially less exciting than my last (as seen in this post here). I’m taking one course entitled Turbine Transition, which prepares students for crew environments. In addition to learning how to operate a King Air 200 simulator, I’m getting used to working with someone else in the cockpit with a shared responsibility.

Don’t get me wrong— my flight instructors have always assisted me in the cockpit with tasks, and there is a hint of crew resource management. But this environment is different in that each crew member has a definite set of tasks to complete in conjunction with the other.

Maybe I’m just eccentric, but I feel that every flight is a performance, just like being on stage. Although I’ve only had a few times on the stage myself, I remember what it was like to rehearse lines, practice delivery, and blocking. Flying is essentially the same— whether it’s a monologue (solo flight) or a large production (crews). We go through flows, a memorized pattern of tasks, and follow with a checklist to make sure we hit all the items. We synchronize with our cockpit partner like a fellow actor, making sure that he or she doesn’t miss lines. And when we do mess up, we improvise to get back on track— let’s just hope the audience is resilient and notices nothing.

The big performance, then, is the checkride. Stage fright barely begins to scratch the surface of what most feel when that day comes. It’s opening night of the rest of one’s career— a make or break flight if one receives bad reviews (or thrown, rotten tomatoes!). Depending on the level of preparation,

I could be suppressing some lofty dream of making it big in the spotlight, but the similarities between the two professions are eery and reek of ego.

Ebb and Flow: Summer 2012

I go back and forth between my blog and my journal. And I’ve become so introspective with that notebook, writing about dreams and situations all in an effort to get to the bottom of it all. But without further ado, I give you the happenings of summer 2012:

This is my office. The desk is in the back.

Through the trickle down process, I accepted a position in Parks College’s SURE program— Summer Undergraduate Research Experience, a program in which undergraduates research a certain facet of their studies and, with guidance from a faculty mentor, publish their findings. In sort of a lackluster way, I am doing that. Working with lovely individuals of the Center for Aviation Safety Research, located conveniently in McDonnell Douglas Hall at SLU, I am working with our yet to be attained UAV, or more specifically, UAS— an unmanned aerial system. A drone, one might say. It is not just a vehicle; the flight article is only one component of many, among the launcher, the catcher, the trailer, and payload. In essence, we bought a very expensive remote control airplane in an effort to stay on the forefront of aviation.

My day-to-day tasks involve a lot of writing, a skill set of mine that I had no idea I would use this summer. I’ve settled quite comfortably in my very expensive office, our Canadair Regional Jet simulator room. (When things get slow, I may or may not turn it on to shoot approaches). The UAS is a large operation and requires finesse and procedures— exactly what I am tackling. The manufacturer is mum on their checklists for the aircraft, and it is my duty to research what other UAS users are doing to ensure a safe operation. While it is exciting that I am directly responsible for the content of these checklists, it’s terrifying that I am directly responsible for the content of these checklists. Fortunately, I have oversight from skilled UAS pilots, and I won’t be liable for any mishaps (we’re prodding the manufacturer for their rendition of procedures, but it doesn’t hurt to have an in-house safeguard).

Internal Pilot station 

I’m also writing proposed academic minors to incorporate the UAS. While I’m not at liberty to discuss exactly what these minors will be, for they are in the preliminary stages of production, I will tell you that all students in the STEM realm will be pleased that the UAS could be of use to their careers. In an effort to provide a fully enriching experience for these minors, which will eventually become an entire major in UAS, we have purchased a simulator comprised of three stations: an internal pilot station, a payload operator station, and a master command (instructor) station.

You guessed it— I found a way to tie in coffee to all of this. The company that provided the simulation software and hardware is based in Israel; their representative traveled to the states for a week to install and train us on the equipment. Our trainer brought Turkish coffee to share, and while it wasn’t my favorite coffee ever, I certainly don’t see the need to add milk or sugar ever again— I like my coffee how I like my men: hot, dark, and bitter.

The real deal
Hot. Gritty. Just the way I like it.

Tiny, tiny airspace in blue to the left

So far, the summer has proven to be adventure filled. We can’t fly the UAS near the city at our home base, Downtown Airport (CPS)—the airspace is too congested—so the team has traveled to southern Illinois and Fort Leonard Wood to find suitable locations in which to operate our UAS. I accompanied them to Cannon Range several times at a firing range for our joint military services— and what a terrifying yet humbling experience. The airspace above the range is restricted to general aviation, meaning that Joe Doe can’t fly his Cessna through the area without being pummeled by A10 Warthogs. Driving through the place, scattered with old trailers painted like mosques and abandoned vehicles with cardboard humans, this looked like a war zone. I elaborate.

Laser eye protection

We arrived in late afternoon to the range; the gate was closed and a large red flag swayed in the light, hot breeze. Our coordinator called the Major on the callbox, who said, “Enter as quickly as you can.” Why? Because moments after we meandered down the long driveway and into the parking lot, I heard aircraft above me. A soldier greeted us at the vehicle and handed us laser glasses to protect us from the sighting equipment. Through the haze, it was nearly impossible to find the planes, but when I spotted them, they were in nose dives. Seconds later, a horrible noise, much like a bunch of pissed off hive of bees, sounded and white clouds of dust appeared down range. It turns out that those bees were metal and in a group of 1,000— bullets. My heart thumping, my mind racing, I came to the conclusion that this exhilarating experience was practice for my country’s protection.

It looks like much more fun than it is; mostly, I’m behind a desk all day, reading over other’s meticulous work and analyzing how we might incorporate it into our operations. I’m more than thrilled to have this experience, as I am working with highly knowledgeable personnel in aviation— suffice it to say that I’ve learned more in informal conversation than I have in most semesters.

In other news, I am working on becoming a Starbucks Gold Card member, because I’m snooty and want the perks— but the best things in life are free.