Overcoming Adversity: A Professional Aviator's Journey
Ever since I can recall, my eyes were always glancing toward anything that flew. Having grown up adjacent to the Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT), we were a big US Airways family. Half of my family members worked in operations or maintenance. When I think back to my first flight, which was a trip to Orlando, FL, on the Mad Dog (MD-80), my excitement for Disney World seemed microscopic when compared to my excitement for the flights there and back. After that first experience flying, my childhood was packed with non-revenue standby travel and visits to the flight deck.
I dreamed of flying for most of my life; however, there were several obstacles to tackle before I ever made it to a flight deck. One of the bigger obstacles was a birth defect that made me legally blind in one eye. Growing up with my condition made some things difficult, but not impossible. I was raised to laugh at things like this and push through barriers that this particular problem created. Having a good sense of humor was one important thing I am happy that I developed, because it is not only necessary to survive in this industry, but life in general.
Overcoming all the comments from doctors and career pilots alike was always difficult. “It’s cute you want to be like me, but you’ll never make it past your first solo.” Things like that were always hard to hear and made me think at times, “Wow, do I really need to grow up and NOT be a pilot?” However, as I continued to age through the hard times, I discovered that there were, in fact, great one-eyed pilots, like Wiley Post and Captain Carlos Dardano, who accomplished so much. After learning about TACA Flight 110, where Captain Dardano experienced a dual-engine flameout on a flight from Belize to New Orleans, I decided that if they could do it, I would have absolutely no reason to ever give up.
My first logged flight was in September of 2006, at the age of 13. After this flight, I asked for flight time in lieu of birthday or Christmas gifts. I had been bitten by the flying bug! After about five years, I logged approximately 25 hours of dual. Then, at the age of 16, I was getting ready to solo. These times were problematic, as I could not seem to get the landings down correctly. After several lessons, I ran out of money and was told to give up. Discouraged again, I focused on a possible military career. I spent seven years in the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) and focused on that during high school. Becoming Cadet Commander of the Pittsburgh Squadron was something I was most proud of at that time.
My first college semester was at Valley Forge Military College. My time in CAP served me well there, as most aspects to a military college life were not far off from CAP. My time at Valley Forge was short as the Army claimed I was unfit for any duties that the military could assign me. After trying 100 different ways to serve in the military, I went back to Pittsburgh after my first semester at Valley Forge and ended up at a local Pittsburgh community college.
If the military wasn’t going to let me fly, I was going to find a different way. I applied for my medical certificate and signed up for the Commun