Updated: Feb 13
An airline pilot…how did you get into that career? That is by far the most common question I get asked. In fact, I had somebody ask me this just the other day. It has a simple answer: I decided I wanted to do it, so I did it. But I didn’t become an airline pilot overnight. It took years of studying and hundreds of hours of flying. I know many people wonder what it takes, so here is a glimpse into my experience of becoming an airline pilot.When I was 17 years old, I found out that girls could be pilots. I’d always thought flying was cool and traveling sounded fun, but up to that point, it never occurred to me that I could be a pilot.
A few months after that first flight, I started my flight training. I thought my instructor would just fly me around that day, but he let me take the controls and fly wherever I wanted to. An hour of pure joy- I felt like a kid on Christmas morning. I was excited about aviation before this day, but flying that little 2-seater airplane for the fist time solidified that. I was hooked.
A few weeks after that was my next big moment in aviation: my first solo. I had less than 20 hours, but my instructor said I was ready. You think letting your teenagers drive a car at 16 is scary? Think of letting them fly an airplane solo when they are only 18! But I wasn’t nervous- I was excited. And it was exhilarating- landing and taking off that airplane all by myself. Who’d have thought that me, of all people, would be able to do something so incredible? I had found my wings!
Time flew by over the next three years. I earned my Private Pilot’s License, Instrument Rating, Multi Engine License, Commercial License, and then my Flight Instructor Certificate.I only needed 250 hours to get my commercial license, but no airline can or would hire a pilot with such littler hours, so I decided to become a flight instructor to build my time. Talk about a fun/scary/adventure of a job that was! I had to be on my A-Game 100% of the time because students are unpredictable. After years of flight instructing I had enough hours to apply for the airlines. Not a major airline such as Delta or United, but a regional airline that does the shorter flights for the majors- the small jets.
A new job is always intimidating, but starting a new job at the airlines brought that intimidation factor to a whole new level for me. I went from flying a 1,200 pound airplane to a 26,000 pound airplane and later onto a 50,000 pound airplane; from flying around 1- 3 people to up to 76 passengers. It was a huge jump, but one I will never regret.
Initial training at the airlines was about 3 months long, and I felt like there was still so much for me to learn once I completed it. There was a month of ground training, about a month of simulator training, and a month of training in the airplane.
I remember feeling like such an impostor on my first day of work at the airlines. But, as I have learned, I acted like I knew exactly what I was doing- like I was a seasoned pilot just going through security for the millionth time- and walked through the airport with confidence.
However, it was the most nerve-racking/exciting day for me. I flew a commercial airplane with actual passengers all over the west coast. Wow! That first 4-day trip went by in a blink of an eye. I flew with the most fantastic crew, and had the time of my life. That was the beginning of my airline career, and a trip I will forever remember.
Maybe I don’t look like the traditional pilot, but on the inside, I am just like the rest. Becoming an airline pilot was certainly not the easiest career for me to choose, but it has been the most rewarding. So why did I get into this career? Because I was born to fly!
Written by: Julie Hafen
About The Author
I am anything but ordinary. Reaching only a mere 5’ tall and 100 pounds, when I was 17 years old I decided I wanted to be an airline pilot. I was told numerous times it wouldn’t work out for me- not just for my size, but also because I was a woman. I tried to change my mind, but that didn’t happen. At 18 years old I started my flight training and worked towards my bachelor's Degree in Aviation Science. Because I come from a large family (my amazing parents had 14 kids… I am number 10), I knew I had to pay for everything myself. With the help of student loans, scholarships, and a lot of hard work, I paid for my entire degree and flight training all on my own. I worked as a flight instructor for 5 years and now have my dream job- working as a pilot for the airlines. My career is crazy and fun and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I am passionate about finding what I love and going for it, no matter how hard it is. Life is too short not to enjoy every minute. I am Julie Hafen… let’s fly away together!