Becoming a Pilot
If you ask any pilot how they got into aviation, you will hear a love story. Everyone is different and we all come from different backgrounds. However, aviation is a large and accepting family and we all got here through many different routes. Whether you were born into an aviation family (I am jealous) or you stumbled into like myself, this community has a place for you.
I got started in aviation when I went to school at Suffolk University in Boston, MA. Living in the city got very expensive and I needed money to pay for rent, school, and extra curricular activities. I got a job working at Men's Wearhouse and slowly realized measuring inseams was not the part time job I was looking for. The pay didn't cut it, hours were sparse, and customers were brutal. Growing up in the small, farming town of Southwick, MA and working on a tobacco farm for many summers, I became used to physical labor and hard work. I could not find any part time job in the city that would fit this model until I came across a few jobs at Boston Logan International Airport. This was perfect! It was a short commute from downtown and how cool is it to work at an airport!? I quickly became accustomed to safety and security rules and worked the midnight shift at a cargo facility. My company received shipments from all over the world on many flagship carriers. From Atlantic Cod to flowers from Ireland to clothing from the Philippines, I slowly realized the importance of aviation in our global economy.
I moved out of my college dorms and realized I needed to pick up some more money to pay the bills. My boss at the time offered another part time seasonal job with our sister company deicing airplanes. For those of you that don't know, deicing is a required process to remove any contaminants from an aircraft's surface. We do this while in a large truck with an even larger boom to spray a type of propylene glycol solution (similar to windshield washer fluid) on the airplane. The shifts were long but rewarding. I was a small part in a precisely choreographed dance to get people from one side of the country to another. This is when I began to realize this is a industry I will never want to leave. I spent the days at school, ran over to the airport to start my cargo shift. During snowstorms or various weather events, I'd be in a lift, 20 feet in the air over an airplane filled with eager passengers traveling to vacations, business trips, or to see loved ones. When we finished a plane, I got the best view of the Boston skyline. These were long days, but the sense of accomplishment and the path it put me on made everything worth it.
I worked both of these jobs for about a year and half before I decided to get my foot in the door with a major airline. I saw this as a great way to get to know an airline and allow me to progress in the industry once I got my degree. The business sector is very competitive as a lot of people are trying to fill an already saturated job market. It is a lot easier to hire from within. Although, there was a flaw in my plan; the airline I worked for required full time commitment with no flexibility with my school schedule. Being the youngest crewmember in my class, I was last in the seniority list and was awarded the schedule that no one wanted: 10am-6pm. This made juggling school and work impossible and required a quick decision. Do you take a risk on a low wage job with hopes to progress within the company? Or do you remain in school and obtain a degree? The answer for almost anyone is the latter. Sometimes, it just makes sense to listen to your gut and block out all logical reasoning. I felt at home at the airport and felt a sense of community like none-other in my life. I'd rather be at the airport than at school. It just felt right. I dropped out of school to load bags and service airliners at Logan.
There was a lot going on in my life at the time (clearly) and I spent a lot of time on a belt loader watching planes take off and land. In between my airplane turns, this was my favorite spot to sit back and reflect. Did I make the right choice? I was uncertain with the decisions I made until one day... The sun was setting and all the lights around the airport started to flicker on. The air was warm and moist enough to collect on your skin. The roar of jet engines slamming into reverse thrust combatted the subtle spool up of those taking off. I closed my eyes to take in the moment. It took me back to when I was younger. My hands gripped the airport fencing with eager anticipation of the next set of landing lights to come through the sky. I was begging my parents to stay at the approach end of runway at Bradley International Airport to watch one more plane come in. They reluctantly agreed and here I am 15 years later doing the same thing. It is kind of funny where life takes you. The screech of a baggage tug skidding across the ramp snapped me out of it. The hairs on my skin still jump up on my skin whenever I think about this moment because this is when I realized I wanted to become an airline pilot.
The next day I called the local flight school to schedule and introductory flight. I hopped on the commuter rail to get off in Norwood, MA for a quick 30 minute walk from the T-Stop to the airport. I met up with my instructor Valerie and she explained what we would do throughout the flight. I was a bit nervous but my excitement far outweighed the anxiety. We walked over the Cessna 172 and did a thorough preflight. She explained what every part of the airplane was, how it worked, and what it did. Finally, it was time to saddle up in the left seat. I ran through the checklist items, listing words that I didn't even know what they meant. Magneto? The X-Man? Okay, I guess this thing has one of those... We continued through the items until it was time to start the engine. I then heard the words that every aviator knows and loves: "CLEAR PROP!". The crank of the starter struggled until the engine finally caught. A whirl of wind rushed over the airframe as the plane nosed over a bit and the propeller disappeared in a circular haze in front of us. "Norwood Tower, Cessna 2459Y, at the main ramp, ready to taxi with Oscar" crackled through my headset.
We taxied over to the active runway, did an engine runup, and finally got cleared for takeoff. Valerie let me mirror the controls on takeoff and she did all the work. We lined up on the runway, she looked over, "are you ready?" I was so excited I just nodded my head and she pushed the throttle all the way in. We accelerated down the runway. "Engine gauges normal, Airspeed alive, 60 knots, rotate" echoed between my ears. I felt my hands moving towards my body on the yolk and the nose slowly lifting up. I felt my weight digging ever so slightly in the seat underneath me as I saw the ground disappearing. Weightless. We continued the climb above the airport and I can only remember thinking: "There is nothing in the world I want to do more than this everyday." We continued out to the southeast and once we got to a safe altitude, she gave me control of the aircraft. I rolled the plane on its side and we started turning. I pulled the yolk to my chest and we started climbing. The freedom I felt on this first flight deeply confirmed I made the right choice and I never looked back.
Over the next 2 years, I worked an average of 60-80 hours per week to be able to pay for rent, groceries, utilities, and at least one flight lesson a week. I ran out of money too many times to count but it was all worth it when my Designated Pilot Examiner handed over my temporary Private Pilot Certificate with a firm handshake. Little did I know this was just the beginning. I moved back home to work on my instrument rating and progress into my commercial training. Time building took me from the New England, to Florida, then to Texas and back up the to Massachusetts with many stops and countless stories in between.
Some roads are convoluted and take you far away from your goal before launching you towards it. Becoming a pilot has been such a rewarding experience with many friends met along the way and seemingly endless experiences and views. Flying teaches you to look at the world in a whole new perspective. Many issues seem so large on the ground but slowly fade as you take in a bigger picture from the sky. It has built a large amount of self confidence, intuition, and molded a proper decision making process that translates to all facets of life. Whether you want to fly with friends and family, travel the country in your own airplane, or make this your career, learning to fly will introduce you to a tight knit community of people that share the same mindset. If you have a dream, there is always a way to accomplish it. It may take longer than those around you, it may not be the most effective path, but you can do anything you set your mind to.