Happy Friday! I hope everyone is staying healthy and safe during these turbulent times. I thought this would be the perfect time to bring back Feature Friday. In case you don’t know, Feature Friday is usually an interview segment where we get to know a little more and behind the scenes of a traveller, travel blogger, or in this case – a pilot! How cool is that? I met Victoria years ago through competitive swimming. We swam on the same club team and the same high school team. Now, Victoria is a certified pilot and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to share her journey with you!
1. Hi Victoria! Welcome to Life with Larissa and thank you for being a part of Feature Friday! Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself?
My name is Victoria and I am 26 years old. Currently, I am a flight instructor at Middle Georgia State University, from which I graduated. I was born in New York, but I grew up in Georgia since I moved when I was four. When I was five, I started my swimming career. Growing up I thought swimming was going to be my life. Once I was a junior in high school, I gave up competitive swimming but I continued on my high school team through senior year. After that season was over, I hung up the swimsuit and goggles. Then I went to college and pursued my career in aviation.
Outside of flying, I love hanging out with friends. Some hobbies I have grown to love being in the south would be fishing, going to the shooting range, and traveling. One place I just love traveling to is the beach. When I am not at school or traveling with friends, I can be found at home. I have grown up in a loving family, and family means more to me than anything in this world. My family has supported me through it all. I wouldn’t be half the person I am today if it wasn’t for them. I give them all the credit for molding me into the pilot I am today!
2. How did you become a pilot? Was it something you always wanted to be, or did you discover your love for it along the way?
Ever since I was a little girl, I always knew I wanted to be a pilot. I grew up in an aviation family and had the privilege of traveling. No, neither of my parents are pilots, but both of them work/worked for an airline. When we lived in New York, my mom worked for TAP, which is Portugal’s main airline. My dad currently works for Delta Airlines in the Operations and Control Center.
When I was in first grade, before the tragedy of 9/11, my mom, sister, and I were traveling on TAP from Newark, New Jersey to Portugal. My sister and I decided to make paper airplanes and write “get us there safely” on them. Knowing the captain and one of the flight attendants, my mom asked the flight attendant to take it up to the pilots. Moments later, the captain came back and asked my sister and me if we wanted to go up to the cockpit. Of course, we said yes. It was the middle of the night; we were over the Atlantic Ocean; and all we could see was the full moon shining down on the dark water. Right then and there, I knew I wanted to be a pilot.
When I was a junior in high school, my dad asked, “do you still want to become a pilot”? and of course I said YES! Him and I sat down and started researching universities that offered aviation as a degree, as well as the opportunity for flight training. Now, I know I could have started training outside of a university but I wanted to wait and also get my degree in something I was already passionate about. That is when I stumbled across Middle Georgia College, which turned into Middle Georgia State University by the time I graduated, but that’s another story for another time. My dad and I toured the school and I absolutely fell in love with everything! Yes, it was in the middle of nowhere and a bit of a culture shock compared to where I grew up, but that didn’t matter because I would be living right on an airport. When my senior year of high school came around I made sure I applied and BOOM, I WAS ACCEPTED!!
3. What is the process like to become a pilot? The training?
My training process was pretty grueling, but so rewarding at the same time. At my university, you have to take a ground school class in accordance to the rating you’re working towards. The first rating you work on is your Private Pilot’s License. Secondly, you work towards your Instrument rating, where you are trained to fly solely by the instruments through the clouds. Next, you receive your commercial license which means people can hire you to fly or you can work for a company. Then after that you work on your multi-commercial license where you learn to fly a plane with two engines and lastly you become a certified flight instructor.
First day of class freshmen year, I was in Private Pilot ground school. I remember the chief pilot of the university walking in, introducing himself, and explaining how everything would be going that semester. He mentioned after the first two weeks of ground school, we would be meeting our instructor and starting our training. I remember being filled with joy knowing that I would be starting my training that soon. When I met my instructor, he told me that he would be scheduling me three blocks a week to train and that I needed to make sure to study as much as I could to stay on top of everything. He gave me a packet of the maneuvers and procedures I needed to learn.
The ground school classes are designed to teach us all we need to know about flying on the ground and I truly enjoyed every single moment of them. Just like every normal university class, quizzes, tests, and a final at the end of the semester compose these classes. Lessons are given that correspond to each flight block with your instructor. As a student pilot working on becoming a private pilot, your “test” is to go and fly solo. ALL BY YOURSELF! This, if I may say, is THE BEST FEELING IN THE WHOLE WORLD!!! Once you have gone through all your lessons and tests, you have your final in the end which is your Check Ride. What this means is that you go to what we call a Designated Examiner and you have an oral test and the practical test. The oral test consists of questions the examiner asks you and the practical test is the flying part. The flying part is everything you have been working towards with your instructor. Once you have passed all of this, you become a PRIVATE PILOT! Yay!! This continues with all the other ratings I mentioned as well.
4. Do you remember your first flight? Was it nerve racking? Did you feel confident? Can you walk us through that?
Don’t think I could ever forget it. It was a beautiful September afternoon. I met my instructor in dispatch where he showed me everything I needed to know about checking out the airplane I would be flying. Once the plane was checked out, my instructor took me out to the plane and taught me how to do my very first preflight. What is a preflight you ask? A preflight is inspecting the aircraft inside and out to make sure everything is good for the flight. I had a smile ear to ear while taking in all the new knowledge. Once the preflight was complete, it was time to start the aircraft up. Again, nothing but a smile on my face. He walked me through how to start the plane, how to taxi and then it was time for the take-off.
Even though my instructor was at the controls, the adrenaline was just rushing through my body. The moment those wheels left the ground, I knew I belonged in the sky. I know that sounds corny, but it’s true. Just watching the blue sky and looking at the ground and everything just getting smaller and smaller underneath me was the coolest things I could think of. Once we were at cruising altitude at our practice area, my instructor asked me if I wanted to take the controls. Turning to him, I smiled and just nodded my head. Putting my hands on the controls as he let go of his, at that moment, I truly knew flying is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
5. What is the most challenging thing about being a pilot?
Personally, the most challenging thing is being in my own head. For as long as I can remember, even when I was a swimmer, I would always compare myself to others. In swimming, I would see someone getting better and faster and there I was, just falling behind. Same thing in flying, especially during my instrument training, with learning so many new procedures in a short amount of time. You’re constantly doing things in the airplane to set up for approaches into different airports, as well as reading charts; listening to air traffic control; and most importantly, flying the airplane. I always caught myself getting down on myself when I wasn’t picking it up on the first try. I would ALWAYS be studying at my apartment and watching YouTube videos to try and familiarize myself. I also wanted to receive different perspectives on what I was doing.
My instructor would constantly reassure I was doing great and was right where I needed to be during my process. One day, everything just clicked all at once – all of a sudden, everything just made sense and I was performing exactly the was I was being tuaght. Not just in instrument training, but throughout all of my training. There were small bumps in the road where I would perform maneuvers and not understand them at first. That is the best thing about learning and training is that we are not supposed to be perfect on the first try, so we work hard and study. The best thing about training at an aviation university is that I was always surrounded by other students who were training for the same rating I was working towards, and we would study together. We would be there for each other for moral support, and share tips and tricks with one another. Watching us all succeed was such an amazing feeling.
6. How long are your flights usually? Do you have a preference for length?
Each week instructors work with their students’ class and work schedules to arrange 2-3 flight blocks a week. Each block is for at least two hours. Each student will show up in dispatch about 15 minutes before their blocked time to fill out their sheets and check out their airplane. Once that is done, they will go out to preflight the aircraft and then begin their flight block. We hop in the plane together, go out to the practice area, and start their training. Every flight has a lesson plan the instructor follows. Lessons can be an hour, or even two hours, long. There are even times they go longer. Every rating and lesson is different, and it really depends on the lesson the student is on.
Personally, I believe lessons should be no more than two hours long. When they go longer, students start to become distracted or frustrated when doing the same few maneuvers over and over again. It is my job to keep the student focused and calm during the flight lessons and sometimes it can become difficult when lessons are too long.
7. What is the best thing about being a pilot?
Spending your time in the sky. I find so much joy in just flying around and looking outside at the beautiful scenery. You never really appreciate how beautiful the great outdoors are until you see them from the sky. I also love the ability to travel wherever I want, just to visit. One evening I traveled with a student, during one of his cross country flights, from Eastman, Georgia to Charleston, South Carolina. Once we landed, we decided to drive into town and grab dinner at a local restaurant. Other fun places I have flown to are St. Simmons Island; Asheville, North Carolina; Charlotte, North Carolina; Knoxville, Tennessee; Pensacola, Florida; Auburn, Alabama; and a few other cities. The best feeling in the world is knowing I am able to safely get myself, or even train my student, from one airport to another and back.
8. What is it like teaching other people how to fly? Biggest challenges? Greatest rewards?
I love sharing my passion of aviation with others, especially when it comes to learning how to fly. Everyone learns differently – some students learn better by reading; some learn better by watching videos; and some learn better by doing. The biggest struggle for me is explaining maneuvers and procedures that adapt to each student’s learning style. The greatest reward though is when every one of my students start picking up and understanding the material the way I taught them.
9. If someone wanted to become a pilot, what advice or tips would you give them?
Study as much as you can. During our quarantine, I told my students to continue studying at least once a day to not forget procedures. The more time spent studying on the ground, the easier things will be in the air once we’re back flying. Another tip – start social networking because it is huge in this industry. If you start now, you’ll be set along your career. There are many different organizations pilots can join, such as Women in Aviation, Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals, and so many more. All the organizations also offer scholarships which really help pilots financially. Money can be a reason why some people don’t follow their dream in aviation, but these organizations help others in more ways than one. When following your dreams, nothing will ever get in your way or pursuing them.
10. Is there anything else you’d like to share about your journey that we haven’t covered?
I have over 400 hours of flight time and I have truly enjoyed every single second of it. I will never give up on something I love and neither should anyone else. No dream is too big or too small to chase. It is never too late to chase your dream. Go for it full force and never look back. I know I didn’t! I want to thank Larissa for always being my cheerleader through my career. You can never have too many cheerleaders in your corner!
Thank you so much Victoria for sharing your aviation journey with us! It was so cool to learn about your experience, and I hope someone who is considering a career in aviation reads what you shared. I appreciate you taking the time to answer these questions and share your pictures! I know I learned a lot about what becoming a pilot entails.
Did you enjoy what you read? Get to know more about Victoria!
Victoria is a female aviator and flight instructor. She is honored to be paving the way for future aviators. Connect with her on Instagram!