On Becoming An Aviatrix: From Jumpseat to Left Seat (Part IV)

16 07 2010

At the end of my last post, Making My Way to the Front , I found myself in awe at an altitude of 24,000 feet in the flight deck for the first time. Who knew delivering a cup of coffee could be so life changing? As I walked back into the cabin and sat in my flight attendant jumpseat I could not get the experience of being in the flight deck out of my head. It played like a movie, and would continue to do so repeatedly. To this day I remember it clearly. A seed had germinated, and was about to go through its first rapid growth spurt.

What was the short term result of my experience in the flight deck? I became an excellent flight attendant of course! Not only is it in my nature to try and do whatever it is I do well (which I will add I accomplish to varying degrees), but I had one important extra incentive to do a good job and to do it quickly. Back in the pre-9/11 days, flight attendants were permitted to enter the flight deck during flights, unlike post-9/11 which allows them to enter the flight deck only under very few specific circumstances. So I learned to accomplish my flight attendant duties very quickly and efficiently, the reward being a short break up in the flight deck. This was no small feat. At American Eagle, being a regional airline, the flights were brief, most often under an hour and some as short as 20 minutes. It became like a game – literally.

One flight crew I was flying with for a month actually used to bet on how long it would take me to complete my inflight service and make my routine interphone call: “Anything needed in the flight deck?” That was their cue to ask me for something…anything. Even if they didn’t need anything my answer was always “Right away.”

That is how almost every flight possible I ended up in the flight deck jumpseat for about 5 to 10 minutes at a time. That was a lot of time considering our schedules included up to 7 flights each day, and our lines probably averaged about 70 hours per month. I did that for 2-1/2 years. Sometimes I would just sit and observe. Other times I would ask questions. Many of the pilots were very encouraging about my desire to learn to fly, and gave me short “lessons.” They let me shadow them on their pre- and post-flight aircraft inspections while explaining what they were doing and answering any questions I may have had.

Later on, after I had begun formal flight training, I even called in for the preflight ATIS (automated terminal information system, i.e. weather, airport notes, etc.) and IFR (instrument flight rules) clearance on the ground while at LAX.

It was June 4, 1998, just a little over three months after I had become a flight attendant that I took my introductory flight at San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport (SBP) on the California Central Coast. A good friend of my husband who was a private pilot highly recommended to me his CFI (certified flight instructor). I trusted this particular friend’s judgment, so I went with his recommendation and scheduled my first flight. I showed up to the airport having no idea what to expect.

No one that I was very close to was a pilot, so I was “green” in the true sense of the term. I remember thinking that he would probably do most or all of the flying while explaining to me what he was doing. How wrong I was! From preflight to postflight and everything in between he had me do everything.

The first of many surprises was how small the airplane was. It was two-place, Cessna 152. While sitting inside it felt smaller than any car in which I had ever been! But first things first: we would begin by inspecting the plane, simply called the preflight. I actually questioned whether or not he was pulling my leg when he told me to climb up on the strut to inspect the wing and then take off the gas caps and smell the gasoline…”Really?!,” I said. “Yes, really,” he said. That particular dialog happened repeatedly throughout the flight as he talked me through the whole experience, step-by-step. “I’m going to take off??? …..You want me to stall the plane?!?….Turn this steeply??? …..Do you really think I can land this?!?!” YES, I could do it, and I did it. When it was all over, I was back on the ground, but still in the clouds! Every pilot remembers their first flight, which is always a magical moment in one’s life.

For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return. — Leonardo Da Vinci

Next blog post: The logistics & challenges of learning to fly while juggling home life and working as a full time flight crew member.

Previously published July 7, 2010 at Forbes.com “Wheels Up”

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On Becoming An Aviatrix: Making My Way to the Front (Part III)

29 06 2010

At the end of my last post, Earning My Wings (Part II), I had just been hired as a flight attendant at American Eagle, the regional carrier for American Airlines. I graduated from my training class at the American Airlines Flight Academy in Dallas February 1998. I had “Earned my wings” as a flight crew member, however, it wouldn’t be long before I would be yearning to be seated at the front end of the aircraft. The following is the story of how it happened.

While I was at the flight academy I was very curious each time I passed the pilots who were in training in both a class room setting as well as small rooms with just two students, a pilot instructor and an aircraft panel which simulated the flight deck. Most impressive were the huge hydraulic simulators. The tension surrounding the pilots entering those simulators was always palpable as passing a check ride was necessary for keeping their job.

Having been what people jokingly refer to as a “Professional student” a good part of my young life, I was attracted to what appeared to be a very intense level of learning that was experienced by the pilots. On breaks during my flight attendant training I lingered in the hallways and observed the pilot training. I was more interested in what the pilots were learning then finding my perfect shade of red lipstick. (Those that are flight attendants know I’m not just making fun, but makeup is a real part of the training! Also, I am not intending to belittle the very important role flight attendants play as a vital part of the safety and smooth operation of a flight. I loved being a flight attendant; I was just more intrigued with being a pilot.)

The last part of my flight attendant training, before I was signed off to “Work the line” on my own, was my initial operating experience, a.k.a. “I.O.E. training.” This is when an I.O.E. instructor flies a first trip with a new flight attendant, and makes sure that they are ready to take charge of a flight on their own (pilots also go through I.O.E. training).

So at last, after weeks of training, I was finally working my first (I.O.E.) flight out of my home base, LAX. My earliest memory as a working flight attendant also happened to be the turning point where I really envisioned myself as a pilot. We had just reached cruising altitude of 24,000 feet when I got a ding from now retired Captain Jan Dungan. I picked up the interphone, and she asked me if I would please bring a cup of coffee to her. Of course I complied, and when I opened the flight deck door I think I must have gasped aloud. That view — I think it was the most amazing thing I had ever seen! Before me were big puffy clouds and an endless sea of blue. To say it was so beautiful would be an understatement. It’s hard to believe unless one has seen it, but the view from the flight deck is vastly different than the view one sees out a little side window as a passenger in the cabin of an aircraft. I think when one is in the front of an airplane it’s not merely a view, but an experience. No doubt the mind-boggling panel of instruments, gauges, navigational displays and radios enhance that particular experience. To me, flying is a marriage of nature and technology – right up my alley! The aviation bug bit hard & quickly. This is where I wanted to be!

Next blog post: Making the transition into the flight deck and my first flight.

Previously published June 28, 2010 at Forbes.com Wheels Up

NOTE: If you just started reading this story, please see the previous posts:

On Becoming An Aviatrix: Introduction: https://mctorresgrant.wordpress.com/2010/06/09/on-becoming-an-aviatrix-introduction/

On Becoming An Aviatrix:  The Seed Is Planted (Part I): https://mctorresgrant.wordpress.com/2010/06/14/on-becoming-an-aviatrix-the-seed-is-planted-part-i/

On Becoming An Aviatrix:  Earning My Wings (Part II): https://mctorresgrant.wordpress.com/2010/06/21/on-becoming-an-aviatrix-earning-my-wings-part-ii/





On Becoming An Aviatrix: Earning My Wings (Part II)

21 06 2010

At the end of my last post, The Seed Is Planted (Part I), my husband and I, after much deliberation decided that we were going to set down our roots on the California Central Coast with the aim of establishing an architecture firm. A big reason I was okay with the decision even though I was a little reluctant about living on the Central Coast was I had decided that as soon as we were financially able I would take up flying as a hobby,  and that would alleviate any negative feelings I might have about living in a small town. Besides visiting friends and family in both southern and northern California, I had dreamed of having fun adventures. Having inherited the travel bug through my parents, the idea of becoming a pilot was becoming increasingly appealing. There were other aspects of piloting that aligned with my interests besides traveling.

Since I was a young child I was always fascinated with maps. Growing up in a middle class family of eight people, finances dictated that there would be more road trips than flying trips. Because of my interest in maps, even though I was the third child, I actually ended up being the family navigator and trip planner.  My trip planning method is still the same today as it was back then: select a primary destination; study the map; plot out the best route taking into consideration available time and resources, terrain,  plus research places of interest along the way.

Hand-in-hand with my love of maps was the fact that I’m what you would call “a big planner.” All my family and friends know this about me. I’m all about keeping a calendar and making lists. Some people (the ones who are not planners) think that being a planner is restrictive when, in my opinion, the opposite is true. To me planning is about organizing one’s time to achieve goals. It’s also about setting priorities and allocating resources. My friends are often amazed at the sheer quantity of things I do, and yet I still find free time for hobbies, travel and other leisure pursuits. The irony of it is I actually block out time in my calendar for such activities. In other words, I plan when not to plan!

So while contemplating and thinking about my love of maps, travel, and planning, learning to fly started to become more than just a dream. It became a goal. How cool would it be to have a hobby that incorporated multiple interests and aspects of my own personality? But there were some major obstacles. The first major obstacle was money. Fact #1: flying is expensive, any way you slice it. Fact #2: We were recent college grads with very little income. I realized that during that time learning to fly was not meant to be. It would have to wait until a later time. Who knew when that would be? It would turn out to be a huge exercise in patience.

Fast forward 7 years to 1998: After struggling through the early post grad years and slowly emerging out of the recession, my husband finally was able to earn his architect’s license and start up our firm, LGA Architecture in Pismo Beach in 1997. I had been a housewife, the primary caregiver of our two small children. I was working at Pismo Beach Athletic Club as both a group fitness instructor and personal trainer. Why is this important to my story about becoming an aviatrix? Well, it just so happened that the head of flight attendants for Wings West was also a group fitness instructor and her name was Nanette. Wings West, which was based at San Luis Obispo (KSBP), was the regional carrier that was contracted by American Eagle, the regional airline for American Airlines.

One day, on a break during a staff meeting, I overheard Nanette talking about how she was recruiting a local girl to be a flight attendant, and that she would be flying out to DFW soon for training. That piqued my interest, and I began to ask Nanette about what it was like to be a flight attendant. Everything she told me sounded wonderful! She said, “Why don’t you apply?” I don’t remember thinking about it for very long before I decided I would do it! The next thing I knew I was flying out to Dallas to interview at the  headquarters of AMR (the parent company for American Airlines & American Eagle). In a blink of an eye I was hired, went home, and in a few weeks would return to Dallas for flight attendant training at the American Airlines Flight Academy. Soon I would have my wings, but I would still not be a pilot.

Next blog post: How I moved from the cabin to the flight deck.

Previously published June 21, 2010 at Forbes.com “Wheels Up”





“Aviation” : Newest Collection On My Flickr Photo Account

20 06 2010

I recently began a new collection on my Flickr photo account, “Aviation,” with the latest photo set entitled “Landing.” Between my flight training and fun flying I have (conservatively) logged 525 hours to this point in time, mostly between 2004-2005. Many of those hours in flight were documented in photos. Obviously what I’ve already uploaded to my Aviation collection on Flickr is just the tip of the iceberg. In the future I’ll be posting flying pix of my favorite sights, destinations and experiences (i.e. flying through clouds and other fun stuff). If you have any questions whatsoever or remarks about the photos and/or the flying destinations, please feel free to comment.

Catalina Island's "Airport in the Sky" ~ Avalon, California (KAVX)





On Becoming An Aviatrix: The Seed Is Planted (Part I)

14 06 2010

Picking up where I left off on my introductory blog post on my story of how I became an aviatrix I will now begin to answer the question “What happened that caused me to want to become a pilot?”

As I mentioned previously I had been intrigued with aviation and in awe of pilots and flight crews in general since I was a small child. My first aviation memory must have been when I was about 4 years old, and my dad had to live temporarily in Michigan for a work assignment. I remember flying in a “Jumbo jet” with my mother and sisters out to visit him. To me, everything aviation related: the airport, the plane & even the food, was fantastic and larger than life! Being from a large middle class family of eight, the relatively high expense of airline tickets meant there were very few flying trips. This infrequency of flying, I believe, only added to the specialness of flying.  I would say this keen intrigue of all things aviation was the “Seed”  for the idea of becoming a pilot.

So just as a seed may lay dormant in the earth for many, many years until the conditions are just right for germination, my “Seed” of flying lay dormant for years. Until I was 21 years old to be exact. It was then that I had moved from Orange County in southern California to San Luis Obispo on the Central Coast to transfer into the School of Architecture at California Polytechnic State University, a.k.a. “Cal Poly.” Fast forward three years later and I was married with a son and another baby on the way. It was 1991, and my husband, Leonard, was about to graduate from architecture school. The question came up: “Where will we live after graduation?”

Having an architecture firm, which was always the goal, benefits from carefully selecting a location to set down roots, network, and build your reputation.  It isn’t simple nor is it easy to relocate as an architect. With that in mind we contemplated staying in San Luis Obispo. Being my husband’s hometown, he would have a head start in networking. His parents were active in the community and had a large social network. His father was on the police force, and his mother owned a popular gourmet kitchen shop in downtown San Luis Obispo. Leonard was a graduate from San Luis Obispo High School, and was fairly popular in his class. Additionally, anyone who knows anything about San Luis Obispo knows it’s quite the charming, idyllic college town. Many more graduates desire to stay than are actually able, and on top of that 1991 was smack in the middle of a recession. There were building moratoriums throughout the county to boot caused by severe drought conditions.

The other factor we considered was whether or not I would be happy living in a small town. Coming from a large suburban area it took me several years to actually adjust to what locals call “The SLO life.” I probably drove back down to Orange County once every month just to get out of SLO and feel like I was living life at a faster pace. Then I remembered that my father-in-law was a pilot. I had learned this fact before when I first met Leonard and thought it was cool, but never really thought of flying myself. I began to think, “What if I learned to fly?!” Then that could solve that cabin fever, living-in-a-small-town-feeling I thought I would have. Living in a small town wouldn’t be bad at all if only I could fly out as I pleased. Easier said than done….. I decided I wanted to become a pilot, but that is not the same as believing I could be a pilot. At this point it was only a dream.

Next blog post: The events that led up to believing I could actually be a pilot.

Previously published June 14, 2010 at Forbes.com “Wheels Up”





On Becoming An Aviatrix: Introduction

9 06 2010

When people initially find out that I’m a private pilot I often get similar responses. First there is a general look of surprise: slight gasp, widened eyes, raised eyebrows, followed by a long “Reeeaaally???” In fact, I often feel the same amazement that I am, indeed, a pilot! The next question I usually get is “How is it that you became a pilot?” What follows is an introduction to the long answer to that question.

Being able to pilot an airplane is a dream for me. Even though I’ve been a certified private pilot since December 2003 and obtained my instrument rating in October 2004, I feel excited every time I get in an airplane whether I’m the pilot-in-command (PIC) or a passenger. Of course the biggest thrill for me is piloting the plane myself. It’s a head trip to be able to actually operate a flying machine. Ever since I was a child I was intrigued by stories and movies involving flying. While traveling commercially, as a passenger, I was always in awe of the entire flight crew with their spiffy uniforms, and professional demeanor. There was a certain magic quality about them, and a special pedestal was reserved for the pilots. They were like gods! The thought never crossed my mind back then that I could be “One of them” someday. As to why that may have been the case I believe is a cultural/gender issue. This idea is touched upon by professional pilot Dottie Norkus while answering the question of “Why are there not many female pilots?” on the web site allexperts.com:

Personally, I think that even in this new millennium there are so few female pilots as the career is still considered a ‘male’ career. It is not that is it any ‘harder’ becoming a pilot for a female but I think being a pilot is still not really encouraged as a possibility to girls in school. There are still cultural and gender stereo types that affect what young girls aspire to be.

So what happened that caused me to want to become a pilot, as well as believe I could be one? I’ll begin my saga about becoming an aviatrix in my next blog post. See you there!

Previously published June 9, 2010 at Forbes.com “Wheels Up”





Hello world!

9 06 2010

Welcome to my new blog, Michelle’s World. I’ve just begun putting this blog together as a form of self-expression, and as a way to communicate with others anywhere in the world. People often ask me why I do the things I do (and I do a lot of things as you will find out if you don’t already know!), so I will try to provide the reasons behind my being here. Also, my decision to blog was influenced by the fact that my friends, family, and even strangers often ask me for advice and my recommendations about most of the subjects on which I’ll be blogging about. Why do they ask me for advice? Probably because they know I’m pretty intense about anything that interests me, and they know I often do a thorough job of researching and contemplating before I make my decisions. I think of myself as the “Planner” type ~ I even plan when not to plan!

My blog posts will be about all aspects of my life which include, but will not be limited to, these subjects: aviation, food & wine, travel, architecture, hiking, the virtues of Native Plants both in nature and in the designed landscape, movies, music, life with a 6-pack of Pug dogs, and life in general. Please check back soon for updates. For my daily babble follow me on Twitter.








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