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ATP Flight School: AOPA Pilot December 2009
Nationwide Flight Academy
Holding short of the active runway, Erika Thompson
calls for the Before Takeoff checklist in a level, professional voice.
As the pilot flying, she
sits in the left seat of the white-and-blue Piper Seminole.
flight partner-the pilot not flying-responds by reading the checklist items for Thompson's action and acknowledgement.
"Before Takeoff checklist complete," he
After clearing for traffic, Thompson taxies onto Runway 12 at Marana Regional Airport in Tucson, Arizona; lines up with the centerline; and smoothly applies full power to the two Lycoming O-360s.
At 8:20a.m. the density altitude at the airport, elevation 2,031 feet msl, is already 4,200 feet.
The Seminole is quickly airborne and headed back to Phoenix on the return leg of a cross-country trip to build pilot-in-command flight time for Thompson, a student in the Airline Transport Professionals (ATP) Airline Career Pilot Program.
, 30, of El Paso, Texas, never set out to become a pilot.
first airline job was actually as a flight attendant-and even that was accidental.
was in her
last semester as a psychology major at California University of Pennsylvania
, eating with her
parents at a TGI Fridays, when they asked her
planned to do after graduation.
told them she
wanted to enroll in graduate school.
"They asked me, 'How will you pay for it?'" she
"I said, 'Oh, I'll be a flight attendant.' It just popped into my head at that moment.
I'd only flown a few times in my life.
Growing up, family vacations usually were by car.
But Thompson had been attending a martial arts class with a woman who was a flight attendant for US Airways, and their conversations gave her some insights into the lifestyle and travel that would be required.
"Travel always appealed to me.
I don't mind living out of a suitcase," she
sent applications to several airlines.
Comair called first, and she
trained in June and July 2003.
After she'd been working on the line about three months, however, something happened.
"I really liked life on the line, but I wanted to know what was going on up front."
On one flight, the captain offered to take Thompson
for an introductory flight lesson in a Cessna 172.
took him up on the offer, and soon was flying straight and level, turning, climbing, and descending.
said, 'Hey, you've got the hang of this!' " she
found a flight school in Cincinnati, earned her
private pilot certificate in December 2004, and was working on her
instrument rating when the school closed abruptly.
"The school closed down on me in April 2005," she
"Fortunately, I didn't lose too much money."
Meanwhile, things had slowed at Comair, and Thompson
was relegated to a schedule on reserves.
Wanting to continue her
flight training, she
took a voluntary furlough and finished the instrument rating at another school in Ohio.
"I tried to take out money for my commercial [certificate] and the bank's, like, 'You're done.' "
But the sky still beckoned, so Thompson
took a flight attendant job at United Airlines
found it appealing because the carrier was merging its domestic and international reserve lines, and new flight attendants could get lots of interesting international experience-which she
"I was extremely lucky but I wasn't happy, because I wanted to finish my ratings," she
husband, Robert, when both were training at United.
was only a flight attendant for four months-and he
was spending all his
international flight breaks in the cockpit, learning new stuff," she
Also determined to fly professionally, her
husband researched flight schools and his
findings all pointed to Airline Transport Professionals.
In September 2007 he entered ATP's Airline Career Pilot Program in Phoenix; from February through July 2008, he worked as a flight instructor for ATP in Phoenix; and then he was hired by ATI Jet in El Paso where he flies charters in Learjets.
left United to be with her
husband in Texas, but the nagging desire to complete her
flight training remained.
"It was just killing me, every time I took a break from my flight training.
In May 2009, she
started ATP's career pilot program in Phoenix.
Back to school
Thompson decided to repeat her private pilot and instrument training at ATP, because she had not been exercising those skills and because she questioned the quality of the training she received from a school that had been misappropriating student deposits.
"I was rusty and wanted to start over with a school that had a good reputation," she
first solo flight was her
most memorable training experience.
The cross-countries and crew procedures are what set ATP apart," Thompson
cross-country PIC flying Thompson
got to fly east to Florida.
"We got all the way to Fort Lauderdale," she
recalls, with stops in El Paso and San Angelo, Texas; Monroe, Louisiana; and Pensacola, Tampa, and Jacksonville, Florida.X "Then we came back a little different way.
flight partner made use of Flight Watch and worked with ATC
to avoid weather.
won't have to wait for D-JET deliveries to begin building turbine experience, however.
training at ATP
accepted an offer from ATI Jet
in El Paso, Texas, where she
is qualifying to fly Learjets as a first officer.