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  • Michelle, Friend of Hera Aviation Group

Troubleshooting Life

Finding the right road to take comes with many obstacles and detours. I always knew I wanted traveling to be part of my career, but didn't know in what way. My father was an airline captain for 14 years but being a pilot was not something that spoke to me, yet. I grew up in a small town in Virginia. I was an artsy tomboy of a kid and spent my days head in the clouds or in books about far-away places. I started learning Japanese at 12 then Spanish at 15. I spent one semester at Virginia Commonwealth University studying Spanish Translation and said “nope.” So, I packed my bags, found a job as an au pair (a live-in Nanny) at 19 and spent the better part of four years in Europe. I am now fluent in Spanish and French. I also know enough Japanese to converse with a five-year-old.

Fast forward to when I landed what I thought would be my forever job at JetBlue. I worked in the frequent flyer department as a supervisor for customer service. If you wanted to talk to a supervisor when you called regarding your flight points it was probably me, at home, in my pajamas, drinking my third espresso. It all changed when I worked at the training facility for almost a year.

I met a lot of pilots and some of them even knew my father. Some asked me if my dad was a pilot why didn't I become one… I honestly never thought about it! Did I think it wasn't for me? I thought I was too old, at 28 and at the time married, could I make a career change? All it took was for one female pilot at JetBlue to tell me, “If these guys can do it you definitely can.” She also told me she made a career switch in her 30’s. From this one connection I was inspired and empowered. Isn't that what our aviatrix community is about?

I booked a discovery flight within the week, and fell in love.

So, you want to be a pilot. Now what? I was going to be self-sponsored and flight training is beyond expensive. JetBlue had a cadet program that was $120,000 and that was too much for me. As I spent about a year figuring out research and still traveling standby to Japan, my dream started to just be that. In November 2019, I left my job and turned 30. I thought since I am starting over might as well do it right!

While I figured out how to pay for flight training myself I knew I still wanted to be in aviation. I applied for a job at a Part 141 and Part 142 school and thought what the heck why not? When I heard they offered discounts for employees for training I knew it was meant to be! I got the job and started working on February 27, 2020. We all know what happened after that - the world shut down. We remained open the entire time. I spent all of April doing ground school for my Private Pilot License and took my written exam in May before I even started flying. I wanted to be sure I could pass it before I started flying and to prove to myself I could handle it.

Now that I passed my written exam and am ready to fly the finance problem creeped back up. I started a budget plan and I was making enough money to fly once a week, but it was simply not enough. Something had to change and loans for flight training were not being approved. My biggest expense was rent and utilities. I became defeated. How was I going to afford this? Well, have you ever heard of a tiny house? Turns out it's not as easy to live in one as you may think. There are many ordinances against them and many RV and Campsites won’t allow them.

So, my boyfriend and I bought a camper and turned the inside into a tiny house.

But when I say a camper I really mean a condemned camper that I ended up gutting to the fiberglass outer shell and removing the roof. I felt like we belonged on an HGTV show. I worked on it as a lockdown project for three months after work and on weekends from July to October 1st 2020 when I had to move in. We now live in our 28ft camper on a grass strip airpark and plan on staying until I complete my commercial license. Then my boyfriend will be a stay-at-home dad to our rescue dogs, Moose and Hera.

I am saving enough money to fly twice a week and studying as much as I can and I am currently working on soloing. The goal is to be done with my ratings when the world is ready again. This is definitely the road less traveled but it’s my road and I am making what I want out of it, even if it means building a completely new road that I watched a YouTube video on how to build.

Always remember, gravity is a relatively weak force!

Michelle Willoughby

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1 Comment

Allen Carter
Allen Carter
Apr 09, 2021

Stay at it. I spent 50 years in the Aviation Business. General Aviation, Airlines(passenger, International and Cargo). It is a great life and no boredom.

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