Karlene Petitt, Airline Pilot, Novelist
In this, part 2 of my interview, Karlene Petitt tells the story of her career as an airline pilot and of her aviation novels and popular website. The tumultuous airline business can make for a roller coaster career for pilots. Pilots striving for an airline career won’t want to miss her story, one that has spanned eight airlines and includes layoffs, bankruptcies, training, line flying, and career choices. Karlene also tells us about her published and planned aviation novels, her website, airplane shopping, and public speaking.
- Airlines: Evergreen, Tower Air, Braniff, America West, Guyana, Northwest
- Karlene’s website: Flight To Success
The podcast audio has been retired. Below is an excerpt. Please go here to get the full transcript. full transcript.
Dave : You’re flying the A330. You started out as a student pilot at some point. How did you get from there to here?
Karlene : Everybody says, “If you want to achieve success, find somebody who’s successful and do what they do.” That is not true necessarily.
I actually started flying in high school. The only reason I started flying was I was told when I was 9 years old I couldn’t do it because I was a girl. My friend and I got into a big argument over this. Because I was stubborn enough, I said that.
When I was 16 years old, I took myself out to the airport, went for my introductory flight. I said, “Wow! They’re going to pay me to do this?” I was hooked. I ran back to career counseling and said, “I want to be a pilot.” She said, “Well, I don’t have to tell you that girls can’t fly in the military.” I was one of those teenagers who rub my eyes and think, “Okay. I’ll figure it out.” I just did. I went the general aviation route. I got my hours.
Here’s the thing. I had my whole career planned out. In college where I was building my flght time, get my job, then get married and have a family. But I met somebody–we’ve been married 33 years now–but he’s 21 years older than I am, so our window of having a family kind of shrunk. I thought, “I have to do my career backwards.” I thought, “Sure, we can have our kids while I’m going to school. Then, when they’re in grade school, I’ll go out and get that big career.”
That was my plan until I was offered a job at Evergreen when my kids were like 2, 3 and 4. When I was offered that job, I was over at night, on my own time, I was getting my engineer ticket. They were training in the center and I asked him if I could observe a flight. He said, “Sure.” So I observed him for 3 nights.
On the fourth night, a new crew came in. They said, “Sure. You’re welcome to join us.” We have a professional flight engineer. He didn’t show up so they were going to cancel training. I raised my hand and said, “I can do it, let me. I don’t have a rating, but I can read you the checklist because I did the watching the last three nights. I know what he was doing.”
We did that. It turned out one of the chief pilots were in there. They called the [training] center to see if I had my FE (flight engineer certification) ticket. The problem at Evergreen, they normally required 5,000 hours of time, minimum. But what was happening is they were getting pilots who were excellent pilots but they couldn’t get through the ground school because their ground school had professional engineers.
They put their pilots through that ground school. So you had to have an aptitude on drawing the electrical system, knowing where the molecule of air hits the engine and where it goes. It was really complex …so you know, if you’re not used to that type of stuff at school.
They figured I could pass screening at the ground school. They sent me to the training center to check if I could fly. Bo Corby, who owned the training center, he said, “Karlene, come on out I’m going to teach you how to fly a jet.” That he did and we got in a 727. I spent an hour a day for three days. He taught me how to fly a jet. He taught me some really good principles that carried me through life.
Evergreen hired me. The big crew move was Braniff. After Braniff, when they shut down and all the pilots were on the street, I went to the training department of America West. They asked me if I had any experience teaching, which I did not. But I told them I had 3 small children and 2 Newfoundlands (dogs) and if I could teach children and animals, I should have no problem with pilots.
Dave : You certainly know how to seize the moment, I give you that.
Karlene : They laughed and they hired me on. The thing is when I did that, I found out I enjoyed teaching. I actually have an aptitude for teaching. During that time, they type rated me on the 757. I think I came down with a 737 type rating already so I was dual qualified and I instructed for 4 years. Then they got a contract with Guyana as far as the SIM portion.