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ATP Flight School: AOPA Pilot December 2009
AOPA Flight Training Magazine February 2011 Article | AOPA Pilot Magazine December 2009 Article | Erika Thompson | Read the full article » | Plane and Pilot Magazine September 2009 Cover | Read the AOPA article » | Watch The Video of the AOPA Pilot Story | Read the Full Article »
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. Her flight partner-the pilot not flying-responds by reading the checklist items for Thompson's action and acknowledgement. "Before Takeoff checklist complete," he concludes. 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. Making plans Thompson, 30, of El Paso, Texas, never set out to become a pilot. Her first airline job was actually as a flight attendant-and even that was accidental. She 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 what she planned to do after graduation. Thompson told them she wanted to enroll in graduate school. "They asked me, 'How will you pay for it?'" she recalls. "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 adds. Thompson 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. She took him up on the offer, and soon was flying straight and level, turning, climbing, and descending. "He said, 'Hey, you've got the hang of this!' " she recalls. Thompson 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 explains. "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.' " Perseverance But the sky still beckoned, so Thompson took a flight attendant job at United Airlines. She 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 did. "I was extremely lucky but I wasn't happy, because I wanted to finish my ratings," she recalls. She met her husband, Robert, when both were training at United. "He was only a flight attendant for four months-and he was spending all his international flight breaks in the cockpit, learning new stuff," she says. 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. Thompson 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 says. Thompson says her first solo flight was her most memorable training experience. The cross-countries and crew procedures are what set ATP apart," Thompson says. During her 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. Thompson and her flight partner made use of Flight Watch and worked with ATC to avoid weather. Erika Thompson won't have to wait for D-JET deliveries to begin building turbine experience, however. After she completed her training at ATP, she accepted an offer from ATI Jet in El Paso, Texas, where she is qualifying to fly Learjets as a first officer.
ATP Flight School: Press Coverage of ATP's Programs
AOPA Pilot's December 2009 issue featured the story of Erika Thompson, an ATP Airline Career Pilot Program student who pursued her dreams with ATP.