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Most passengers don’t realize the varied backgrounds of the people in the cockpit. Your pilot might have been a Blue Angel, or someone who has spent significant time as a civilian flight instructor, or someone who flew experimental aircraft.
As for me, I went to Navy flight school after graduating college and then flew F/A-18 fighter jets. I saw combat in four different theaters and eventually became a Navy test pilot.
The dynamic nature and complexity of those military ops prepared me to be a commercial pilot, but not the way you might expect. The problems we work through are different. Sometimes a mundane decision like holding a plane for a few extra minutes can have a huge impact for 10 delayed passengers. I embrace the challenge of navigating turbulence or a line of powerful thunderstorms. For me, that’s what I love: being in positions where you’re making strategic decisions that have a positive impact on the lives you are responsible for.
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In the Navy, that pressurized decision-making came into play whenever I landed on an aircraft carrier. Or the time I helped a wingman who lost oil pressure over Iraq. On a commercial flight, you don’t get too many off-script opportunities. Your job is to provide a safe and predictable flight. But stuff happens, and you can lean into that wisdom of experience.
Similar to Williams, Air Force Veteran Tamaron Nicklas re-entered the cockpit as a commercial pilot 25 years after retiring. Here is her story: