By Captain Jessiy Bartley

Have you ever showed up to take a test, after studying countless hours, feeling really prepared, rested and ready to crush it, then you overhear someone who is taking the same test talking about something you never heard of? You get a pit in your stomach and your head starts to spin and you start doubting all of your preparation. You begin to think that you might actually know nothing at all and you are doomed to failure. Welcome to my early years in aviation, and it is a story that is not unique.  

I have encountered several peers along the way that have faced these same challenges not only in aviation, but in other career choices that do not have a large female presence. It can feel overwhelming, scary, and sometimes too great of a hill to climb. As someone who has made that climb, the view is great and it is definitely worth it. But let me be clear: It is not easy. 

In the message below, you’ll learn about my personal journey through aviation and the opportunity that we have to grow our community of women trainers and leaders.

Finding aviation

I started my path as a pilot in a very unusual fashion. I had chosen marine biology as my major and selected a university with an incredible program. In my freshman year, I failed animal biology. Yikes. I had never failed a class before and now the career I had planned was gone. I was lost. My younger sister was laser-focused on becoming an astronaut and started flying lessons as a high school student to help towards her vision.

During my time of transition, I decided to take a flight lesson. I was hooked. The power, the freedom, the joy I found in the air was unparalleled.

At first, I didn’t actually think I would do it as a career, merely a hobby. I did not know one female pilot, therefore I didn’t think I could. 

Identifying advocates

And here is where fortune plays into my story: I had parents that believed I could become a pilot. I realize not everyone is afforded that advantage, and that situation could be one of the biggest obstacles right out of the gate. The first big mountain that is too big to climb. What I have come to understand is the power of the community. It can be someone inside your family, a close friend, or even your dog. We have a huge community of fellow aviation enthusiasts that are supportive and more than willing to help towards women’s goals of becoming airborne. 

The power of community

Women in aviation is an even smaller community, but we are mighty. We understand the potential of so much untapped talent, we want to do anything in our power to increase the awareness that an aviation career is possible, and we want to help provide the tools to get there. We want to help build the road to climb that mountain.

What we can’t do is build you a car to drive up that mountain. You have to climb it the old fashioned way, loads of hard work.

You’ll need hours studying fuel systems, hydraulic systems, and flight control systems. It involves getting up at 5 a.m. to fly before a snow storm rolls into the area. It is countless hours of drinking coffee waiting for an airplane to be fixed. 

Jessiy_3_800x600.jpgImage credit: VTR 

Maintain your strength and courage

During these periods, you will encounter people who do not want you to succeed. I have found it futile to determine why these people don't want you to succeed. It always seems to happen when you have felt you have tried your hardest. When you stayed up late studying for an oral exam and for some reason you forgot an engine oil limitation when the examiner asks. An easy two-digit number! 

You fly a four-hour flight and land to get more fuel to finish the remaining two hours and the fueler asks to speak to the pilot. “I am the pilot.” Followed by a look of disbelief then being mansplained about the type of fuel I should use.

“Just fill me up, I am trying to take off before this line of thunderstorms rolls in and I am stuck in this tiny town until tomorrow."  

Teaching a class to 30 men over the age of 50 about the importance of communication and situational awareness to avoid flying a perfectly good airplane into a mountain, and having the feedback from one of the participants be: “Honey, leave the flying to us, these types of conversations should be saved for the hot tub.” Every time there is an experience that makes that mountain grow, there are ten more helping hands that want you to climb it. It just takes courage to ask. 

Build and exponentially grow the community

The more women we have in teaching and leadership positions that provide an encouraging and safe environment to grow and learn, the successes will multiply. Those mountains become manageable, one step at a time.

Technology is giving us additional tools to climb these mountains. Advances in simulators and virtual reality (VR) allow expanded learning opportunities.

A major reason I joined Visionary Training Resources (VTR) was to infuse a STEM discipline with aviation. VTR is led by an incredible woman in our training community, one who is using technology to help us all succeed. 

The best part about our community is that once you have tackled your mountain, you have this amazing option to become the helping hand to someone tackling their mountain. You will help build the road to their success. It can be as small as going over limitations, immediate action memory items, or non-normal procedures. It can be as big as an interview for someone’s new aviation position. The feeling of helping someone else confront their mountain is more rewarding than your own climb. Be available, reach out when you see someone needs a helping hand.   

Luckily it has been awhile since I have had that feeling in the pit of my stomach that I am not prepared. Because now I am the one giving the test. Happy climbing, the sky is not the limit, just the view from my office.