Corporate Pilots in The 99s
I was born in Riga, Latvia, and spent my formative years in Sweden and Argentina before immigrating to the United States in 1957. I started my flying lessons in a Meyers 200 at Hawthorne, California, at age 20 and rapidly progressed through Commercial, Multiengine, Airline Transport Pilot, Instrument Flight Instructor and Ground Instructor.
In 1965, while studying computer programming at Orange Coast College, I was also teaching at an instrument ground school. One of my students, the president of a Newport Beach electronics firm, decided that instrument flying was for the pros and hired me to fly company executives and clients in a Cessna 182. I mostly flew to military airfields with some recreational visits to Mexico. With a paid professional pilot, the company began using the airplane up to 80 hours a month and within a few months a Cessna 310 was purchased.
For the next 10 years, my corporate flying career was diversified and adventurous. It included flying for John Wayne during the filming of the movie, Cowboys, in New Mexico and for a Newport Beach Volkswagen dealer where the flights were to numerous auto races throughout the U.S. I also flew race horse owners, veterinarians and jockeys to Ruidoso, New Mexico, and other race/training sites.
By 1971, I was type-rated in a Learjet 24/25 and during the next four years, I made eight Atlantic crossings in a red Lear with home bases in Europe and California while flying for Volkswagen/Porsche magnate John von Newman. Passengers include many people famous in the entertainment business.
The 1970s were not easy times for women in professional aviation and I chose to return to college for a career change to dental hygiene. I look back at my flying days with a sense of satisfaction after two successful careers. I am now retired in Europe and California. My hat's off to my female colleagues who persevered in aviation and are now retiring from flying careers.
I fly for the Ford Motor Company. We have two Fokker 70s that are configured for 48 first class passenger seating. They are used mostly as an employee shuttle between Detroit and other cities such as Cincinnati and Cleveland, Ohio, Louisville, Kentucky, and Santa Ana, California. For executive travel, we have five Gulfstream Vs. The GVs go all over the world, but are also used for domestic flight. I'm a copilot on both airplanes.
There is really no typical week, but on average, three trips a week is what I fly. Since I'm from Detroit, I really worked hard to get this position with Ford. Networking with other 99s was invaluable. With the help of another pilot who was flying with the company at the time, I was able to learn about hiring plans, names of key personnel and what qualities they were looking for in an applicant.
Although I wasn't their first choice in the hiring wave, I continued to build my time flying charter in a Learjet. Persistence paid off. I was hired in November 1999.
I've wanted to fly since childhood, and began my flight training in conjunction with a college degree. I graduated from Letourneau University in Longview, Texas, with all my flight training through CFII. That's how my flight time began to build.
Flight instructing in the beginning, followed by flying cargo in a Convair 640. After that company went out of business, I was fortunate to get a copilot position on a Learjet for an air taxi service.
Now, I'm exactly where I want to be in my career. The job allows me to be home more than any other working mom I know. I have three children, ages 8, 6 and 3. They are my top priority - and I still get the pleasure of flying for a living.
"The seas are low, the boat is big," he said. "It will be an easy landing. Just approach it as a pinnacle and you'll be fine." What he didn't tell me was the fact that just above the boat the turbulence would be horrifying. At 50 feet off the deck, I thought I was settling with power. I started to make a go-around when my captain came on the controls and said one thing, "This is normal" -and we placed her on the deck together. That was my first off-shore landing. It was to a seismic boat about 120 miles off the coast of Louisiana.
The company I work for is involved in many types of operations: Part 91, 121, 133 and 135. My assignment for the next year is as the first officer of an IFR Bell 212 on contract to Unocal Oil off the shore of Kenai in Alaska. We transport all their personnel - from the executive to the janitor and haul all of their daily supplies, from multimillion dollar parts for the rig to groceries. We are even responsible for their medevac.
This type of corporate flying isn't usually what comes to mind when people say "corporate" flying. But here it is in all of its glory. We have a set schedule for the week and stand by for the unscheduled needs. We have two day crews and one night crew. We work a 14-day hitch - 12 hours a day - and have 14 days off. We alternate day and night shifts every other hitch.
The job is straightforward with very little in the way of surprises. The boss is a phone call away if we need him, but we hardly ever hear from him. The flights mainly consist of leaving the heliport and going out to an oil rig. We might fly out to one rig and then jump from one to another for several rigs before heading back to the heliport. It entails taking off and landing and very little straight-and-level. No time to get complacent, bored or lazy.
Our uniforms are of necessity and not of fashion. We don a flight suit and a bright orange survival suit that is very warm. The water up in Alaska is never warm and a person will not survive for very long with or without a survival suit.
It might not seem glamorous. We usually go home smelling of jet fuel, the flight suits fit and feel like pajamas, and we have the same level of responsibilities that any other Part 135 pilots have with one additional factor: We get to do it in a helicopter in what the locals like to call "God's country."
I obtained my Private Pilot certificate in April 1989. A friend of mine told me about The 99s and had someone with the Dallas Chapter contact me. I was invited to a meeting and one of the members offered to give me a ride. I went to the meeting and in December 1989, I joined The 99s. I wasn't making a lot of money at the time and had to watch my spending. The member who gave me the ride to my first meeting also loaned me the money for the annual dues for my first year.
If it had not been for the kindness of that individual, I might not have been able to join the organization and would have missed out on a lot of wonderful experiences and new friendships. That member has become a very good friend and after I received my CFII several years later, I taught her son to fly.
I have been fortunate to have been awarded two Amelia Earhart Scholarships from The 99s for my CFII and ATP ratings. After getting my instrument rating, I think I knew that I wanted to fly professionally but also knew it would take a lot of time, money and motivation to get the ratings and flight time required to be competitive in the aviation industry. I continued to fly as much as possible and gave flight instruction during the evenings after work and on weekends.
In December 1995, a fellow 99 was instrumental in helping me to get hired as an administrative assistant for Business Jet Solutions. I worked in that capacity until June 1997 when I was hired into the right seat of a Lear 31A Business Jet Solutions' fractional division, Flexjet.
This was my first real flying job and I was thrilled to have finally been given the chance to fly such a wonderful plane. I didn't think things could get much better, but they did. I am currently a Challenger 604 captain for Flexjet, fly all over the world and love my job. It took a lot of hard work and creative financing but it paid off in a big way. This is my second career and I plan to fly until retirement.
I am grateful to my good friends and fellow 99s, Sue Lewis and Pat Schroeder, for their friendship and encouragement. I also greatly appreciate the Amelia Earhart Scholarships I received, without which I probably would never have been able to reach my dream.
To all of you out there who are wondering if you have what it takes to get that flying job, I say, "Reach for the stars." Don't let anyone convince you that you don't have what it takes. If you want something bad enough, you will find a way to reach your goal.