Susan Patterson is a former pilot currently based out of Arizona and joins us this week for Weekly Woman!
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Listen to the interview here:
Read the interview here:
Alice: Great, cool. So, hi everyone! I’m Alice, the social media manager for Jubilance and I’m talking with Susan Patterson today. Susan is a former pilot currently based out of Arizona. So, welcome Susan, thank you so much for joining us!
Susan: Thank you! Thank you for having me, I really appreciate it.
Alice: Yes. I just want to start off with some like more fun questions. What is your favorite dessert?
Susan: So, I’ll say blueberry muffins.
Susan: Yes. I’m not a big sweet person. I know it’s a weird thing but if I have a sweet tooth, it’s more like a muffin kind of thing.
Alice: Okay. Those are really good, yes, what are you currently watching on TV?
Susan: So, currently, I’m not really up to date with television but I’ve been watching The Vampire Diaries series. Have you ever seen it?
Alice: It’s so good. I’m so in love with Damon.
Susan: I know! I mean at first, you’re like, “Who is this guy?” And then as time goes on, you’re like, “Yes, he’s like the best character.” So, I’m on about season four right now.
Alice: What is the other one’s name? Stefan!
Susan: Stefan. Yes, as time goes on, you’re like, “Oh, I’m over him.” Yes.
Alice: That’s really funny. What is your must-have essential item in your purse?
Susan: Okay, so must-haves. Chapstick, number one. Hair tie, number two. And I don’t think I have a third, those are my go-to’s, yes.
Alice: Okay. Those are really important.
Susan: Those are important. Yes.
Susan: Girls need hair ties for sure.
Alice: Can you talk about where you’re living now in Arizona and what made you move from there, are you from there originally?
Susan: No, I’m originally from Ohio and I’ve been in Tucson on and off for probably a good 15 years now and Tucson is awesome. Right now this time of the year is when we’re just now getting really nice and so fall time here, we don’t get much seasons but this is when it finally goes from 100 – 115 degrees. We finally start getting like our nice 70-degree, 80-degree weather. And so, right now everybody’s opening their windows and starting to show up out hiking and outside in the middle of the day, which just doesn’t happen in the middle of summer here.
Alice: That’s amazing.
Alice: What’s your favorite thing about Arizona?
Susan: I mean, honestly the weather, the weather. Some people would say they would prefer cold and some prefer warm, I take the warm any day.
Alice: Yes, I completely agree. I’m from San Diego originally and so–
Susan: Oh! Okay
Alice: –whenever winter strikes here in New York, it’s just horrendous.
Susan: Yes, I totally understand, like living out in Ohio, I lived in Milwaukee for a while–
Alice: Oh, my God.
Susan: –and the snow effect was five feet, four feet of snow sometimes.
Alice: That’s horrible.
Susan: So going from Arizona to that, and then I moved back to Arizona. It was a big relief not dealing with the snow but I love it every once in a while. So, like a good vacation and snow is great.
Alice: Oh, that’s nice.
Alice: So, you have like more of a typical fall then, because you’re getting like kind of summer-ish weather, do you have?–
Alice: That you guys still do?
Susan: You know, I have– I’m not one that does a whole lot of like traditional stuff, when I was a kid we did and we did the Halloween and I don’t have any kids, and so therefore some of that kind of falls out the window, but it is kind of a time of celebration where everybody does start coming out of the woodwork so comparable to the east coast it’s when you guys hit summer and you guys are all like rejoicing, you’re like, “We can finally come out with our shorts on!” and so, we can finally come out without the sun just like burning us to death.
Alice: Oh my gosh.
Susan: Yes, so not really anything formal but it is a cause for celebration once you hit that mark.
Alice: Yes, that does sound awesome. Can you talk to me about where you got to where you are? You are and were a female pilot. That’s pretty amazing. Can you talk about that?
Susan: Yes. So, it’s funny, I never viewed it as anything all that different until kind of after the fact of starting it and even in the midst of doing it, I never thought of it as something very different. I grew up doing swimming, which is a coed sport, so a lot of practices and a lot of training is coed. And I went to a college that was a pretty liberal college and all the dorms were coed. So, I never thought a whole lot about gender and I think that it’s maybe just a personality thing that I’ve had, so getting into it, I can say the only thing that sparked it was, I finished college, my dad had gotten his private pilot’s license, which is the very first license you can get for a person to jump in a small little airplane all by themselves, and go, like kind of piddle around in the sky.
And so, I had finished coaching a swim team for the summer after I graduated, and my dad simply suggested, “You know, why don’t you take some flying lessons?” And it just opened up a whole can of worms, and I was in Ohio at the time. And so, the circumstances as you know, on that side of the country, the weather is really hit or miss.
And when you’re first learning, you need clear skies, it’s a lot easier when it’s like, just sunny, there’s no rain, there’s no clouds, that’s how you have to learn. And so, I started learning how to fly just a single engine, tiny little four-seater airplane, and I did it on the weekends.
I quickly realized doing it just on the weekends, you get some overlap. So if you only do it once or twice a week, you have to kind of go backwards to relearn some of the hand-eye coordination and stuff like that. So I was doing that for a while and realizing that I was just kind of going through money, I wasn’t really getting anywhere. And I tend to be like a goal setter, like “go big or go home” kind of person. So, I started looking on the internet, I found like a really big flight academy that was well known out in Arizona, jumped in my car, took a road trip out to Phoenix, and checked out the flight school and it was as simple as I just signed up.
So, it was like a full-time academy, and so I went to a full time academy there, I went to a few other schools in between and you have to go through a series of getting different licenses. And so, you have to learn how to fly a single engine, and then you have to learn how to fly a twin engine, so for two engines. You have to learn certain powered airplanes. And then you go through a process of learning how to get your precision good enough to get what’s called a commercial license.
So, I did all of that out in Arizona and various different flight schools. And then I did a– it was an opportunity to go out to New Mexico and do some jet training. So I learned how to fly a jet. That was all in simulators, though, so I wasn’t really in a real jet at that point. But I was out in Farmington, New Mexico for a while doing this program, real small program, but it was really cool because it set you up to fly a jet which is totally different from the smaller airplanes. And long story short from there, I came to Tucson, and I got a flight instructing job. And so I taught people how to fly airplanes.
Susan: And so, this is kind of a fast-forward through about maybe three and a half years or so maybe four. And then I taught people how to fly for about two and a half years, and then from there, which is an awesome thing to do and it’s really common for pilots to do that, they use teaching as a stepping stone to gain hours. So, you want to gain hours to get to an airline. Does that make sense?
Alice: Do you need a certain number of air hours then?
Susan: Yes. So, to get to the air airlines they want you to have a certain amount of time in a twin engine, a small airplane, it doesn’t have to be a jet, but it can be a small twin engine, and just a certain amount of hours in general. And so, I did that through Fly Instructing.
Susan: And that was quite an experience, teaching people how to fly. And just from there I went to the airlines and I was at the airlines for a few years.
Susan: Yes, all a really awesome, interesting experience. And it all just started with my dad saying, “Why don’t you just take a few lessons? Keep your mind and your body busy.” And so, he just opened up a can of worms, you know.
Alice: That’s amazing.
Susan: And that’s how I ended up in Arizona, long story short, yes.
Alice: What airlines did you fly for
Susan: So, I was with Skywest Airlines. Sometimes you see it on your ticket and sometimes they advertise but they are what they post-share. They’re an airline that flies for Delta and for United. And sometimes that changes, so it’s all kind of politics on who they’re fly under but they are basically a commuter airline that flies these jets that are– they’re not the really big ones, they’re the ones that have like two seats on each side of the airplane.
Alice: Oh, okay.
Susan: So, those smaller–
Susan: If you’ve ever flown in– and there’s two in there’s two and two, as opposed to like two seats, and then three and then two, or like two seats, and then like three on the other side. So, they’re a little smaller, but the industry converted to those a lot because it was just efficient, they could fill up airplanes easier they weren’t flying really huge jets around the country that were only half full. And so, it became a really popular thing and it still is to this day. So yes–
Alice: Oh, that’s really interesting.
Alice: And it really seems like when I poke my head into, like, the pilot’s cabin.
Alice: There are the– the two pilots. How does that work?
Susan: Yes, that’s a good question, there’s a few misconceptions about that. So, a lot of times people ask, “Which one is the pilot?” so, the truth of the matter is they’re both pilots.
Susan: And one’s just in charge, so, one’s kind of the boss of the flight. And then the– the other one is the– okay, when it comes to an emergency or when it comes to certain procedures, we each have our job, but the person on the left, so, if you’re walking then the person on the left is the captain, and the person that is– I’m trying not to cover my camera, sorry.
Susan: And then the person on the right is the first officer. And so, I was the first officer the whole time.
Susan: I ended up getting an injury and never promoted to being the captain. But essentially, the difference is if you have an emergency, the captain takes over, or when it comes to kind of delegating, “Who’s gonna do the airplane checks? Or who’s going to be doing all the paperwork?” He’ll delegate it, which is usually actually for the first officer. [laughter] While he sits there and relaxes, yes.
Alice: Oh, okay!
Susan: So, I was always the first officer but what you do is you switch off so in a jet, it’s a two-man crew. So, that means that it is required that two people must be flying the airplane. There’s jobs for non-flying pilot and for the flying pilot in an airline. And so you have to learn the role, whether you’re a first officer or whether you’re a captain, you have to learn the role as the flying pilot or as the non-flying pilot. And then so, every flight you do we switch on and off. And then some captain, a lot of times the captains will be the ones that pick which flights they want to do or which ones they prefer. And it depends on who you fly with, some of them will– will leave it up to me and say, “Hey, which flights do you want? Do you want this one, that one?” and so, it totally depends on who you fly with, and so, your roles just get reversed when you’re either the flying pilot or the non-flying pilot. So the non-flying pilot will run the radios and run other various little procedures here and there, while the main role of the flying pilot is to just focus on the airplane. Just focus on the flying, focus on all the digital autopilot, the mapping, if need be the hand-flying skills, the non-flying pilot is typically who coordinates and talks to the person to the flight attendants and back and to all the– sometimes you listen to–
Alice: The radio announcements.
Susan: Yes, and the radio announcements of like, “Hi, welcome to wherever we’re located. Welcome to Austin today!”
Alice: Oh, cool!
Susan: So, that’s the non-flying pilot’s job is to run all that work. And so, that’s kind of a little bit of a misconception that people don’t understand.
Alice: Yes! That’s really fascinating I didn’t know anything about that.
Susan: Yes, it’s a kind of a secret world, that’s part of what I got so fascinated with. When I wanted to be a pilot, I kept seeing these planes up high, these jets and I thought, “I just wonder what it’s like up there?” Like, “What are they–?” and when they shut the door I’m like, “I want to know what they’re doing!”
Susan: “What are they doing up there?” So, that’s like a little insight to it.
Alice: Well, that is so cool. Thank you for sharing.
Susan: Yes, it is a neat kind of hidden world that a lot of people don’t really know how it goes.
Susan: Yes, so that’s the just of it.
Alice: Thank you. Can you talk about being a female in a male-dominated industry?
Susan: Yes, like I said, I grew up in such a such a coed environment. And I wouldn’t say I was I was ever involved in like the typical segregation of like male versus female identity. And so, I think every female could probably give you a different answer on what it was like but I will say that in some ways it was just completely easy and I didn’t realize there was any difference between me. And there were some other females too. And we definitely– there was a unspoken code for sure that we stuck together, we all had each other’s back, we all made sure we were okay, we took care of each other and we became friends. And so, there weren’t very many of us, and so when there were some of us, it was a really cool thing.
So, I had a lot of reasons why it didn’t bother me at all, one thing I did notice is I did feel the need to overachieve a little bit? Because there are a few male opinions out there that are naysayers this day and age, you know, it depends on the individual, you’ll always find it, you’re going to find the most open of characters and you’re going to find the most closed-minded of characters and you never know which guy you’re going to fly with that day. [Chuckles]
And so, you have to be prepared, and so I definitely prepared myself in a way to make sure I was always above and beyond, crossed my T’s and dotted my I’s just to make sure I wasn’t even just average. I wanted to be really, really conscientious to be above and beyond, because I wanted to make sure there was no stereotypes put there. The biggest hurdle I think was– I was treated with respect, which is great it was awesome I never had issues with a lack of respect.
Sometimes I could tell in a male-dominated industry they’re so used to flying with other men that I always say, “Don’t hold back, I’m just like everybody else you can treat me the same as anybody else.” And they would definitely mind their P’s and Q’s more.
I’m like, “You can talk to me like any other li