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Interview with E.P. – Airforce Pilot, Working Woman

E.P.* is a lady who I’ve known since we were in elementary school together.  She possesses a truly radiant kindness and warmth, the type of person who instantly makes you feel comfortable around her.  She also has one of the biggest and brightest smiles I’ve ever seen, and a joyously happy laughter to go with it.  I’m so glad she allowed me to ask her some questions about her life and career as a pilot in the United States Air Force, and share them here on our blog.

(*We are using only her initials because she is a member of the U.S. Air Force and requests that her name remain anonymous for this interview)


 

 

Tell us a little about yourself and what work you do

I’m a Florida girl, born and (mostly) raised.  We moved overseas for a few years as a child, but always back to Florida.  I joined the Air Force Reserve almost 2 years ago.  Right now I am finishing up some training on the C130.  It’s a pretty awesome, large cargo plane that has been around forever.  I love that it has such history.  It’s tried and true, not all new and shiny.  I guess, to me, it just has such character.  So that’s where I am in life, just starting out a (hopefully) great, successful career in the Air Force.

C-130 airplane

C130 airplane

Walk us through a typical day of work for you. 

Right now, I’m still in training.  So my days usually start with academic work, whether it be a classroom lecture or computer-based lessons.  But the great thing with the lectures is all the war stories and real world experiences that are shared.  We go over rules and regulations and what is always drilled into us is that a lot of these rules/regs are “written in blood.”  So it just reinforces the importance of knowing your s**t or else you could put yourself and your crew in danger.

How did you first become interested in aviation?

My father was an Air Force pilot and has always been a huge influence on my life, encouraging and supporting me. But it wasn’t until later in life, mid-20’s that is, that I finally took a serious look at aviation and the military.  I always thought I was a pretty smart gal, but never thought I had the aptitude for something as demanding as aviation.  I got my private pilot’s license and from there on, realized this was a career I wanted.  It took almost 2 years from my first private pilot lesson to shipping off for my first Air Force training.

Were there other occupations you were considering, or did you know you wanted to pursue becoming a pilot?

When I was younger, I wanted to work with children with special needs, and I did for a couple years.  But I realized that I wasn’t going to affect change in a broader, more impacting way.  Also, I don’t think I have the mental or emotional strength to make a lifelong career in that field.  When I get older, I could see myself going back to working with children, but right now, I feel so empowered.  I truly believe I am reaching my full potential.

What was the training process like?  Were you the only female?

Training to be a civilian or military pilot is fun, challenging, never ending, scary, rewarding, and humbling.  You never stop learning and you could always do/be better.  But as long as you always remain “teachable”, you will find the most amazing mentors who are so eager to share their stories and experiences with you, imparting decades of knowledge and experience.

There were a couple women in my pilot training class (probably a 1:18 ratio) but the common thread between the women is we just want to fly!

Do you feel a strong sense of awareness regarding your gender within the aviation field, or do you feel that your gender is more or less inconsequential to your profession? 

I am a pilot (who happens to be female).  I am not a female pilot.  I want people to say “she is a damn good pilot” not “she is a damn good pilot, for a woman”.  I have never (in my very short AF career) run across a time where I felt uncomfortable because of my gender.  I think as long as I continue to know my s**t and fly a good airplane, hopefully gender is inconsequential.

EP flight pic

What is something unique, or unusual, about your job that people outside of the Air Force would typically not know or think about?

I guess for me it’s that “serving my country” is my pleasure.  Whenever it comes up that I am in the military, most people are very grateful.  But for me, I am enjoying it so much, it is hard to look at it as “work”.

Ummm….also Star Trek is kind of a big deal in the Air Force!  It has a cult following, so considering I’ve never seen a full episode, I have some work to do if I’m ever going to promote!

And flight suits are the most comfortable thing ever!  It feels like wearing a giant “onesie”.

What, for you, are the most positive or enjoyable aspects of this career field, and what are the most difficult?

You know that feeling you get during a great, challenging hike when you have reached the peak and you are looking across a great vista?  Or when you head to an empty beach and see a pod of dolphin swim by and you are overwhelmed by the peace and beauty?  It’s kinda like that.  It can be amazingly peaceful, overwhelming and powerful.  Sometimes I just have to pinch myself.  But I’m still starting out.  I haven’t deployed yet.  I’ve just been away from my family for a couple months, nothing too significant yet.  And I really haven’t been “tested” so to speak.  All my flying has been under relatively calm and safe conditions.  So I think the most difficult years are yet to come.  But it is what I signed up for.

Do you ever get scared?  What scares you and how do you deal with it?

Of course I get scared.  But that mostly comes from me not knowing something I already should or putting myself in a situation I shouldn’t have.  But like everything, you fall back on what you know, your training, and you trust that.

EP flight pic 2

What advice would you give to other women who wish to pursue aviation as a career field?

Just go for it!  Don’t be afraid to fail.  I could kick myself for the years I have wasted, being content, not challenging myself, not pushing my limits to see what I am capable of.  Don’t stand in your own way!

*


All images courtesy of E.P.


 

4 Comments

  1. Hello,

    Found your interview by searching Air Force related topics. Fantastic interview and you did a good job of covering EPs experience of flight school. As a former Air Guard Instructor Pilot in the C-130, I promise that what EP said is very true. No one cares about the internal plumbing that came standard in the human body as long as that human body can operate the aircraft properly.

    I wish her all the very best and in many ways being on the other side my time of the adventure, I am jealous and would do it all over again in a heartbeat. Every day for her will be an adventure until it isn’t. When it isn’t a fun challenge any longer, then it will be time for her to move on to an airline career. Until then, there is nothing as exciting as strapping a 165,000 pound C-130 to your back with 5 of your best buddies and traveling all over the world terrorizing the natives. It is just plain good fun.

    Great read!

    rob

    Like

    • Tara Tona says

      What a great comment Rob!! It makes me so happy to read that, I can tell that you still have a passion and love for that world. I myself am far outside of the world of aviation and have never served in the military before, so for me it was such a great experience talking to E.P. about what she does. My great-great grandmother was a racing pilot back in the early days of flight, in California, and I think because of her life I hold a space in my heart for aviation. I can’t imagine what it must feel like to operate a machine as big and grande as a c-130!! Amazing.

      Like

      • Tara,

        I must also thank you for the warm and very kind comments. I do feel a passion and love for that world, especially since I have made my career doing something I was made to do. So amazing to hear about your Great-Great-Grandmother and her exploits. Her life must have been so rich with experiences and especially during a time where women were encouraged to stay home to make babies and cookies. I think she would be a great subject for either a fictional story or a non-fiction study.

        As impressive as I tried to make driving a C-130 sound, I think it is important to keep it in perspective. Imagine a typical yuppie, soccer mom school morning drop-off where there is a continual procession of mini-vans, SUVs, and import sedans. Mixed in the line is a 1984 rust bucket pick-up truck holding six of the wildest, knuckledragging, bugger eating kids whose mission in life is to make the lives of the prim and proper teachers miserable. That is how Air Force pilots view the C-130 community. EP will be a proud member of that club, I know this for a fact because she has figured out that nothing is better than wearing a bag with rolled up sleeves and she cut off the pencil cover. Ask her and she will know what I am talking about. Fighter pilots don’t roll up their sleeves, they never modify their flight suit and they think C-130 pilots are wildcards that cannot be trusted to fly a jet. The C-130 pilot retort is “Jets are for kids.”

        Once again, I really enjoyed this interview and I admire how you ladies are attacking and destroying the image of a woman being a frail and weak vessel. I say give em hell and turn the world upside down. With your permission and at great risk of leaving man smell on your site, I would like to become a follower.

        rob

        Like

      • Tara Tona says

        Haha! What a great interpretation of the c-130 life! It makes me like that airplane (and those pilots) even more. And that thought about sharing/publishing my g.g. grandmother’s life is something I have thought of.. now you’ve put it back into the front of my mind and I’m happy for that. Thank you for your genuine and fun comments, we would be delighted to have you as a follower of Project:Women!! Cheers, Tara 🙂

        Like

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