Perfectionism, a blessing and a curse! Lol I had to contemplate what to share so that it may inspire some people in whatever situations that we may be challenged with.
I am a Boeing 767 and 757 Captain for a major U.S. airline. Previously, I was also a Captain on the 737 and also flew the Airbus A320. In my early professional pilot career, I was a Captain on the Lockheed L-188 (a civilian version of the P-3 Orion) and the Convair 580. I have written a book called “Remove Before Flight” for all air travelers to help remove their fears and concerns before their next flight. It is available through my website on CaptainLaura.com to Amazon, Lulu, and Kobo. Gratefully, I would love to hear review feedback from my fellow aviators and aviatrixes! “Lost and Found” is a manuscript I just finished about resilience and perseverance. We hope to make it into a movie or series soon so it can be shared with everyone! I am a national television/media spokesperson for aviation, am a guest speaker, and have built a blog full of amazing information and interviews to share knowledge and insight to help empower others. I am a wife and a mother to two incredible children!
My start in flying began when I was 15 years old, which feels like a lifetime ago. Back then, I had to decide whether I wanted to take Physics or Chemistry during my sophomore year in high school. Not wanting to take either, I realized I had better decide what I want to do in life so I don’t waste my time on classes I would never use. My requirements for an ideal job included travel, working with different people, operating in the outdoors, and being able to pay my bills. My list included park ranger, club med resort host, cruise ship director, and flight attendant. I was strong academically, so I also wanted to be able to incorporate my science and math brain too. I was not sure what to do when a friend had suggested “pilot”.
Never had I seen a female pilot. I had to ask “why have I never seen a female pilot? Does it really take a lot of muscular strength? Are we really not intelligent enough?” My career center counselor at school laughed and said “It is a bit like women doctors, they just don’t realize it is an opportunity for them.” I was told about two routes to take in order to achieve my goals – civilian or military, so of course I wanted to do both!
My parents were divorced and I was flying twice a year to see my Dad. I felt like I was a VIP, flying by myself, on an airliner. When I told them both I wanted to be a pilot, my Dad said “Women don’t fly!’ and my Mom said “it is just a phase and you will get over it”. I worked three jobs to pay for my flying lessons.
At age 15, I took my first flight and was instantly hooked! I wanted and needed this adventure and freedom! To fly high above everything and to see the little Lego-like houses below was so empowering. I could fly far and experience so much! My world became so much bigger.
One of my first instructors took me up for spin training which solidified my love for aerobatics. I wanted him to do it again and again! Another one of my instructors was a female and she was an amazing teacher, ingraining in me that women could be great pilots.
I found the local 99s Chapters in my area. These were the San Joaquin Chapter in Central Valley of California and also the Sacramento Chapter. It was so awesome to meet other women pilots and to be so welcomed by these extraordinary women. I found a place where I belonged. A few years later, I received the Professional Pilot of the Year award & scholarship to use toward my ratings. I felt so lucky and blessed!
I soloed at age 16 and earned my private pilot license at age 17. I started on my instrument rating at age 18, but I thought it may be a smarter choice to first do my multi-engine license. That way, I could go up with people who had twin-engine aircraft to really learn those types of systems and master them. Afterwards, I went on to my instrument rating.
I applied to the Air Force Academy and received a congressional nomination to attend. The recruiter and I chatted, so I asked, “you can guarantee that I will be going to flight training, right?” He chuckled and said, “No, we cannot guarantee that but sign here for your nine-year commitment”. I just could not roll those dice and take the chance that I would not be able to fly. I was crushed.
Next stop was Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU). I had been accepted and was living with a few other girls in a high crime area of downtown Stockton. I slept on the floor for two years and ate a lot of corn flakes, rice, and beans just to be able to afford to keep flying. The University would not give me student loan money, so I went to a local community college in Stockton to start my basic college courses. After a few years, I finally yelled, “If I cannot qualify for student loans, then WHO DOES?!!” They looked at my file and explained that my mother who I had not lived with for over 3 years was still claiming me on her taxes.
Finally, the university offered me full financial aid and I was able to go to the Daytona Beach campus of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University for my junior and senior year of college. While I was there, I was a competitor on the flight team and a member of the university 99s chapter. At the time, there was only three of us women pilots who would show up for the 99’s meetings. One meeting, quite unexpectedly, the president asked me to consider taking over. But I initially turned it down. During my early years at the university, I wasn’t feeling very empowered as a female aviator.
I had been through a third round of getting burned by the flight team advisor. I was the only female on a team of forty. My teammates were fabulous and supportive. Yet, after spending a year giving it my all to qualify for National competition, the advisor, in front of the entire team said, “There are only six rooms, two people per room, and 12 slots so, we cannot take a female”. Even though I made the cut and was also voted in as Vice President of the team, I could not compete. I quit, then agreed with the 99’s president that I would take over the university chapter.
I grew our 99s chapter from 3 girls to 60 girls over the following few months. We regularly had 30-40 pilots at our meetings. It was awesome! We sported pink jerseys with big 99’s logo on the back with our last names so that everyone would know who we were. We did lots of community and school projects. The camaraderie was incredible! I made life-long friends because of the efforts to bring us women together.
I had a job offer to teach as a flight instructor at ERAU, but I decided to come back to California to instruct all levels of flying at Tradewinds Aviation out of San Jose Int’l Airport. I loved teaching and enjoyed occasionally having to lower the hammer on the Silicon Valley CEOs and CFO’s who had not studied their chapters, getting tongue lashings from a little girl with braces and a pony tail. They were not used to that from anyone, but my job was to keep them safe! Being a multi engine instructor as well, I put flyers on complex twin-engine planes all around the Bay Area airports and had the opportunities to fly King Airs, Cessna 310s, 414s and 421s. I was always hustlin’!
I worked hard to build my leadership, professionalism, knowledge, and skill. I was then hired as a Navy contract pilot flying in the right seat of the Convair 580. Within a year, I quickly upgraded to Captain. We flew all over the U.S. as well working charters, ball teams, movie productions, casino routes, etc. Our upgrades were based on performance, reliability, leadership, and ability to handle tough situations. The president of the company personally called me three times asking for me to please consider upgrading to the left seat of the L-188. It was a fleet of civilian P-3s with operations for the Navy and, cargo contracts around the world. I was the only female pilot in the company and knew I would have to start from scratch, with completely different crew members, building their trust and respect for me.
My love for aerobatics stayed with me. One of my mentors was Julie Clark. She was beautiful, spunky, and outgoing. She had been one of the first women Navy pilots and then, was a Northwest pilot and Captain early on. In airshows, she flew a T-34 with patriotic colors and music. She told me, “Never take sh** from anyone, Laura! Believe in yourself and you will go far”. Eventually, I too flew aerobatics. I became an airshow director for Wanda Collins, who flew a red Pitts S2B. We worked the airshow circuit together for years while flying our main jobs and creating a mirror-image team with the help of our sponsors. We both wanted to become airline pilots and have families, so we hung it up and were fortunate enough to able to work for the major airlines.
My message in this is about fortitude and perseverance. One of my Chief pilots at the major airline would call me “the intrepid Laura Einsetler”, which meant that I had ‘resolute fearlessness’. As we all know, life can certainly throw us lemons. The only way to get through the onslaught is to pull together, mash the lemons into lemonade, and make some Lemon Drops! I am thinking now of all the people who used to think “aww, look at that little girl flying the Cessna, isn’t she cute?” Then, as I rose through the ranks in my career, those same people turned comments and actions into aggressions. Now, it was not so cute that she was, in their terms, “taking our jobs”. In GI Jane, one of my favorite movies, she says, “the more they f*** with me, the more it makes me want to gut it out!” I would not be where I am today, having done all that I have, if it were not for the amazing women who paved the way before me, the enthusiastic people who cheered me on, and the incredible men who have encouraged and championed me along the way.
Wishing you Blue Skies and Smooth Rides!