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.
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.
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.
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.