Strong Women of Aviation: Getting your 'Mommy" rating doesn't have to mean you can't be a Pilot too!

10:22 AM

Natalie Hoover and the family Cessna 172 on her way to
Oshkosh in 2014. She thought nothing of making the trip
while being eight months pregnant.
By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

In another of my "Strong Women of Aviation" interview series, I introduce you to a high-time professional pilot who is clear evidence that for a female, having children does not have to mean your flying dreams stop about the time the diapers start needing to be changed.
The fact that only six percent of active U.S. pilots are female is a mind-bender for the aviation industry, and the reasons this percentage is not higher remains one of aviation's unsolved riddles. One of the things we hear often that might be keeping women from punching their pilot's ticket is that if they want to have kids - and most young women eventually do - it means there will be no time left for flying, and that the terms "mommy" and "pilot" cannot co-exist in our aviation world.
In her interview below, Natalie Hoover will point out that it is in fact possible to be an active pilot and also a parent of young kids. The interview is presented verbatim...and please share this if you know females who have demonstrated a passing interest in learning to fly. These answers are GREAT, and Natalie's experience has to be considered required reading for any young woman who is trying to decide between flying or starting a family. Because as she reports below, you can by all means have them both.

AIRPLANISTA: Please introduce my readers to yourself.

I'm Natalie Hoover and I fly in the Memphis area, out of Memphis International, and Olive Branch Airport, a small airport 5NM to the southeast. I do all things aviation, including flight instructing, corporate flying in a Beechjet 400A, aviation writing, and working as an FAA designated pilot examiner. I have 6,000 hours (4,000 as an instructor) and hold ATP, Gold Seal CFI, CFII, and MEI certificates. I'm assistant chief instructor at Air Venture Flight Center at Olive Branch Airport and the Lead FAA Safety Team Representative for Mississippi. I've also flown for the airlines and done some charter work. I’m the recipient of the Greg Laslo award for aviation writing contributions and also FAAST Rep of the Year 2012 for Mississippi. I currently own a Cessna 172 named Lola, that we lease back to the local flight school.  

AIRPLANISTA: Describe how you became interested in flying, at what age, and who was the person (or persons) that you can say made the biggest impact on you becoming a pilot.

NATALIE HOOVER: I am not one of those people who grew up wanting to be a pilot. My dad was a pilot, in the USAF and later for FedEx. He loved his job and the lifestyle it afforded our family but never tried to push me into aviation. After I completed my undergraduate degree in literature in the spring of 2004, I was all set to go to grad school in the fall for journalism. Out of sheer boredom (and maybe a little curiosity) that summer, I took a flight lesson and then another and another. I never went to grad school….

AIRPLANISTA: As a female, did any of the big aviation groups do anything that brought you into aviation? (Young Eagles ride, WAI conference, Ninety-Nines reaching out to you?).

There was one woman who reached out to me, June Viviano. She was a member of Women in Aviation and also an MD-11 Captain at Fedex. She continued to invite me to meetings and help me get involved in the local activities of WAI. She is one of those people who would do anything for anybody, and I continue to be grateful she took me under her wing. It’s so important to have good mentors in this business. So find someone you look up to and develop a relationship with him or her. Aviation is such a strange little world that has a set of rules all of its own. A trusted mentor can help you navigate and also help you avoid some of the mistakes that the books won’t warn you about.   

AIRPLANISTA: How has becoming a mother of two young children changed the way you schedule flying?

NATALIE HOOVER: I used to say yes to every flying opportunity that came my way. I flew seven days a week for anybody who would let me fly their airplane. I went from zero flying time to my first airline job in just under two years. Once I had that job, I bid the lines with the most flying hours per month. I just wanted to move up to the captain’s seat as fast as possible. Somewhere in there, a very patient man decided he wanted to marry me. That changed everything. For the first time, I started turning down trips just to get a little more time at home. Then I started to wonder why I was even chasing that airline dream so hard in the first place. My heart truly wasn’t in it anymore. I’m not sure if it ever was. Now that I have two kids, I am very selective about which flying jobs I take. I have learned to say no. I only choose the jobs that get me home in time for dinner. Dinner at my house might mean the three-year-old is crying because she doesn’t want to eat her peas and the eight-month-old might be laughing as he throws his peas across the room. But I don’t want to miss one single crazy, magical minute of it.  

AIRPLANISTA: Describe your support system as a mother (husband, parents, neighbors etc.) and explain how these people are essential to giving you the time to pursue aviation.

NATALIE HOOVER: I have been blessed with a wonderfully supportive husband. He works hard at his own job as a residential contractor, but also takes a lot of pride in my accomplishments. Whenever the mail comes with a magazine that has one of my articles in it, he stops everything just to sit down at the kitchen table and read what I wrote. We both have flexible jobs that allow us to pick up the slack at home when the other has a busy week. If he is starting a big project, I will schedule a lighter flying week, and vice versa when I have a lot of flying to do. He will cook and clean and run the kids back and forth. I cannot imagine being able to focus on my career without his support.

AIRPLANISTA: What would you say to young women who want to learn to fly but also want to start a family?

NATALIE HOOVER: You really can have it all, a flying career and a family too. I always thought when I had kids, I would have to hang up my flying hat. But that hasn’t been the case. I’ll admit that being eight months pregnant and still climbing in and out of an airplane will earn you some interested stares, but why should you have to stop doing what you love just because you are also someone’s mom? Aviation has so many varied opportunities. The airlines are probably the most common path, but there are lots of other flying gigs that will allow you the flexibility to be a mom and a pilot. You may have to make some sacrifices and turn down some jobs that don’t line up with your ultimate goals. But in my experience, life has a way of working itself out if you just remember what’s important. I never would have dreamed that the designated examiner deal would happen as soon as it did or that I would be offered a corporate flying job that allows me to be home every night. It may not be as exciting as some flying jobs. I’m not traveling to Europe and staying in posh hotels. But at the end of the day, I get to fly an airplane and have time with my family. Life doesn’t get much better than that. So stick to your priorities and be patient for the right opportunities to come along. 

AIRPLANISTA: How do you find time to write aviation features and any other writing you do?

I have to be intentional with my time. When the kids are napping, I lock myself in a room with my computer and I write. I know that would be a great time to get the laundry done and the house clean, but those things can wait. I think when I’m old and look back on my life, I’ll be proud of that decision. Who cares if the house was spotless? Writing makes me happy. It makes me feel whole. God gave me this one, short life, and I plan on filling it up with things that truly matter. 

AIRPLANISTA: Your oldest child is now three-years-old, has he or she shown an interest in aviation, and do you look forward to introducing your two kids to flying?

NATALIE HOOVER: As much as I would love for my kids to share my passion for aviation, I understand that we were all made differently. They will have their own interests and dreams and I plan on encouraging them to follow their hearts.

AIRPLANISTA: As a DPE, what is the one thing you see constantly that private pilot students do wrong in checkrides?

NATALIE HOOVER: Most applicants are not familiar with the Practical Test Standards. I tell them all when we make the checkride appointment that the exam will come straight from the PTS. There are no surprises! There is this wonderful “cheat sheet” that is freely available to all on the FAA website, so why not take advantage of it? For example, the PTS says that I must ask about all classes of airspace, including weather minimums and equipment requirements. It is a guaranteed checkride question. So why would you walk into the checkride without being able to rattle off those answers? Read the PTS cover to cover and your checkride should go much more smoothly.  

AIRPLANISTA: What is the best advice you can give to young females who have shown an interest in learning to fly?

NATALIE HOOVER: I tell all of my female students that confidence is the most important flying trait they can develop. Confidence passes checkrides. Confidence makes for successful job interviews. Confidence allows you to believe in yourself enough to fly out of a stressful situation in the airplane. Nobody wants to hear that their pilot is less than confident in her ability to handle the airplane. It makes people nervous. For some reason, we ladies tend to possess a high level of self-doubt, more so than our male counterparts. So, if there is something that makes you feel uncomfortable in an airplane, get some extra training or do some more studying until you feel sure of yourself again. Do whatever it takes for you to feel a very healthy level of self-confidence about your flying abilities. Once you have done that, don’t ever let anyone make you feel like you aren’t good enough. Remember, if you believe in yourself, others will too.  

AIRPLANISTA: As a part-time corporate pilot, what are some of the scheduling challenges you encounter in regards to balancing work and family?

NATALIE HOOVER: The corporate flying job actually found me; I didn’t go looking for it. Someone I once flew a trip with at the airline recommended me to his friend, the aircraft manager for the corporate job. When the manager approached me, I told him that the job sounded great, but that I may not be the right person to be flying around the CEO or the President of the company because my family comes first. He assured me that he understood my priorities and he has been true to his word. When I turn down a trip because it’s my kid’s birthday or because we don’t have childcare, he never gives me a hard time. I think as long as you are honest about who you are and where you stand up front, people are actually very understanding. 

AIRPLANISTA: This is a freestyle question, go ahead and tell a funny story, soapbox some topic important to you...anything you want to add that I did not ask.

NATALIE HOOVER: On my first day on the job as a charter pilot years ago, the passengers walked up and took one look at me and said, “I didn’t know we had a flight attendant on this flight.” When I told them that I was, in fact, their pilot, they came back with, “Sweetie, are you even old enough to drive a car?” Over the years, I have heard countless comments like those. I truly don’t think they are said with an ill intent or meant to be degrading. Most people just expect to see a man in that pilot seat, and if he has a little grey hair, then that’s even better. To passengers, that means wisdom and experience. I don’t think getting angry or offended is the proper response, nor is it effective. As a young female, I understand that the best thing I can do is earn their trust, one safe flight at a time. Changing public perception is a task I’m certainly up to for several reasons. First, I love flying. It’s a privilege that most people never get the chance to do. So if I have to put up with a little bit of ignorance and outdated notions along the way, it was still worth it. And secondly, I have a three-year-old daughter who may want to fly one day. Hopefully the world of aviation will be a much more accepting place for her because of the women and men who have helped to pave the way.

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