My first flight was in a Diamond DA20, I was 26 years old and about to start a new career as a Pilot for the air force. I went in confident that hard work and a natural technical aptitude would be all I needed to get through the rigorous screening process. Unfortunately, I did not accomplish the syllabus as fast as the Air Force, at the time required, and was tracked into the navigation program.
While I had a great career as an Air Force Navigator and eventually earned my pilots license from civil training, I still wonder how different the next 8 years would have been had I taken the smart advice offered to me before heading to Initial Flight Screening. The following is all the advice that I wish I had listened to and some extra earned from experience both from the military and in civil flying.
1. Dream Big
Using the example above as a reference, there will be times along your way to becoming a pilot that you will feel like you can’t succeed. It might just be a bad flight or a rude flight instructor that squashes your enthusiasm. Or maybe it’s something big, failing a check ride or being turned down for a program for which you’ve applied. In these moments, the most important thing is to dream big.
Indulge with thoughts of flying your friends to the Hamptons for a weekend getaway, or imagine yourself flying around the world for a major airline. Hold on to the things that make you love aviation and keep going no matter the stumbling blocks. Where there’s a will there’s a way, and those dreams are the building blocks to having a ‘will.’
2. Build your Network
Fewer than 6% of pilots worldwide are female. It’s a tragedy that more women aren’t encouraged to try flying or told that they’d be excellent pilots. It’s also a tragedy that in this field boys are having all the fun!
The abysmal representation of women in aviation has created an opportunity, however, with groups like the 99s and Women in Aviation International (WAI) there are more opportunities for a woman to earn her licenses than ever before. Tap into the movement to get more women flying, and surround yourself with people who want you to succeed.
3. Save your money
I am fortunate to have as much training from the military as I do and was able to apply those skills towards earning my pilots license. That said, it’s expensive to get a license and I had to spend nearly every dollar out of my savings account to just earn a commercial license.
For your private license alone you will spend 10-12k USD. It’s an additional 20-30k to earn a commercial license and 20K to get through your instructor license. All said and done, to have an ATP (required to fly for the airlines) you’ll spend a minimum of $70,000 dollars. That doesn’t include the bachelor’s degree you’ll also need to fly for the airlines. Start saving your money now to have while you’re finishing your licenses and degree!
4. Don’t give up
There are a lot of barriers to entry when it comes to being a pilot. The cost is high. The training is hard. Not everyone will want to see you succeed and you’ll hear plenty of discouraging rhetoric on your way to becoming a pilot.
Don’t let it stop you! You are already among the rarest of gals willing to go the lengths to be a pilot and be proud of that! Also, remember, student pilots are PILOTS, just doing that much makes you among the most elite women in the world.
5. Ground training
You will save yourself a lot of money by investing in ground training. Studying is FREE! You can use the FAA website to access all the training materials you need or link up with Facebook groups like Winged Fly In Pilots & Study Buddies to tap into the experience and expertise of fellow aviators.
6. YouTube It
One of the most difficult things to learn for me was how things are supposed to look when flying visually. There is a precise picture that you have to memorize in order to pilot and land effectively. Fortunately for pilots learning today, there is no shortage of videos on youtube, to help you memorize the way things are supposed to look and sound. To see one of the ladies taking to the skies and the web (that’s me) check out youtube.com/c/jotracker.
7. Apply for scholarship
Going back to building your network, when you joining groups like the 99s and WAI you become eligible for a number of scholarships like the Amelia Earhart scholarship worth $6000 to finish your private license! Of course, the airlines want you to succeed too and have put programs in place to get you hired! JetBlue, for example, has a zero hour to a paid pilot program that might just be what it takes to get your airborne.
8. Visualize the perfect landing
Landing is hard! It, along with takeoffs, is the most dangerous phase of flight. You must have an exact approach speed and altitude in relation to the ground underneath you and there are a lot of checklist items as well as communications to accomplish in the process. Visualizing yourself doing all of the needed steps, and sticking the landing, goes a long way in perfecting the process.
9. Get your medical and stay healthy
I’m writing this while battling the flu and had to cancel flying today. With certainty, I’m sick because I haven’t been taking my own advice about self-care. On the path to reaching your goals, you hardly have time to fall ill. Eat a healthy diet, get the rest you need, and make sure to get the right amount of exercise (don’t over-do it!).
Also, now is the time to be thinking about your flight physical. Do you need glasses? Get them! Do you have health problems that can be fixed with a dietary change? Eat well! On top of all the other barriers to entry, a lot of people are unable to become pilots because of high blood pressure or poor vision.
10. Invest in yourself
Don’t forget to take care of yourself through the process of becoming a pilot. Make time for your friends and family. Enjoy the occasional romance novel or home-spa-day. What-ever you already do that makes you happy, keep doing it! Don’t give up your globe-trotting or the pedicures you get on Sundays. There are places to cut spending, but make sure it’s not on the things you’re doing for yourself. In my experience, spending money on a boyfriend is the first thing that should be cut. Make him pay if you’re going out. After all, you’re going to be a pilot and he’s lucky to have you.
Author, content creation specialist, and pilot Jo Tracker is a globe-trotting aviation enthusiast with a Bachelors of Arts from the University of Oklahoma and a Masters of Human Relations.
Tracker started her flying career as a Navigator for the Air Force and continues to fly as a general aviation pilot. She is a self-proclaimed adventuring expert with a wandering spirit utilizing her eight years of aviation experience to fly the difficult, unexpected, and under-explored places.
Jo has gone running in the Sahara Desert, baked bread with the Berbers in the High Atlas Mountains, made oceanic reports while crossing two separate oceans in one flight, plays the acoustic guitar, and flies while wearing dresses because they’re breezy (free tip to all you gentlemen pilots, dresses are the way to go on a hot summer day).
Of her most advocated fly-cations (flying-in vacation), Jo continues to recommend taking the Hudson river tour in New York city followed by an overnight in West-Hampton New York; and excitedly promotes her planned adventure to Grand Manan Canada, an island only accessible by small plane or boat.
You can follow Jo’s adventures on YouTube.com/c/JoTracker or at her blog www.wingedflyin.com/aviatrixblog.