Dan O., Future Professional Pilot
Written by Dan O.   

Well, I was going to wait until I, at least, got hired by an airline before writing this. This way, my perspective would seem "worthy" of being here with all of the other ones. However, I was persuaded to write this now because it was thought that this would inspire people whether or not I make it to an airline. Therefore, consider this a "living" perspective, since it'll be updated many times as I continue to progress through my journey.

When I was born in Yugoslavia, the war was just beginning there. I don't remember much of it since I was so young. We lived on a farm, more or less, and didn't really see much in the way of violence like this. My father would leave occasionally to go and help with the war effort. We would traverse the country frequently to see relatives and other family members. Still, we managed to stay away from the majority of the violence that was tearing apart the rest of the country.

It's difficult to pinpoint exactly where my interest in aviation began. As long as I can remember, I've always loved machines (especially those of the transportation kind) and would constantly draw trains, buses and cars. One evening, when I was playing outside, I looked up and noticed lines across the entire sky. Some of the lines were being created by silver dots. I asked my dad what those were and whether or not there were actually people up there. He told me that those were airplanes and that it was some people's job to fly them. A job?! I just couldn't believe it. Clearly, I needed to learn more about these things.

As it turned out, there were a bunch of books laying around inside the house about airplanes. My dad brought one down, opened it up and showed it to me. Flipping through the book, he eventually got to a page that had just a picture of what I think was a Tupolev Tu-95. It took up two pages, and my dad put his thumb on the page and told me that that's how big a person would look when standing next to this thing. That is one laaaaaarge machine… forget about trains and buses!

From an economic standpoint, things were starting to deteriorate. My parents were not receiving any money because it was all being spent to fuel the war. We could no longer afford to sustain ourselves, therefore, the only option that we had was to leave the country. With some clothes and money that we saved up, we traveled up north to Hungary and continued on to Budapest. We stayed at a hotel for the night and left for the airport the next morning. I was really excited to be there, near the airplanes, and couldn't wait to get on the flight. It was a direct flight from Budapest to Cleveland, Ohio on the Boeing 767.

The moment I sat down in my window seat, my eyes were glued to the outside world. The feeling of being pushed back into my seat as the airplane accelerated down the runway was incredible. Once in the air, I loved the opportunity the I had to look down upon everything from high up. This was the moment when I realized that I wanted this as my job, and that absolutely nothing was going to stand in my way from accomplishing this goal.

Once in Cleveland, we had trouble finding a place to live. We've been in and out of a few places, but eventually settled into an apartment in the east side of Cleveland. This was the ghetto and the poorest part of the city. During this time, Cleveland was also one of the poorest cities in the country (somewhere in the top three, I believe). My dad found a job as a welder in some factory, and my mom started working as an accountant for a small company. I spent the majority of my time, inside, drawing airplanes and wishing that I could just fly one.

This was the start of a new life. Then, one day, my dad left and took all of our money, leaving my mom to raise me and my brother all by herself. He came back about a month later, stayed for five months, then left again for the final time. As a result, my mom had to start working longer hours. I worked harder in school and got A's and made the Honor Roll several times. I picked up on the English language quickly and helped my mom learn it and improve so that she could become more proficient and try to upgrade within her company. This is the way that things remained for a while, and I didn't let the fact that my dad left destroy my desire to achieve my goal of becoming a pilot.

Eventually, we moved out of Cleveland and into a suburb on the west side after I finished the Fourth Grade. I made new friends and continued to do well in school, getting A's and, once again, making the Honor Roll a bunch of times. In my Freshman year of high school, I tried to, somehow, get involved in aviation and look for opportunities to go on a discovery flight. There was a flying club that was starting up at the school, and I attended a few meetings, but after about the third meeting, the club was no more. I got a job at a grocery store, instead, so that I could get money to pay for car insurance when I started driving. I absolutely hated working at this place, but I stuck it out because I needed the money.

In the Tenth Grade, I continued exploring more opportunities to try to fly. After considerable deliberation, I decided that I wanted to fly in the military and, thus, worked even harder in school. I earned a 4.0 GPA in every quarter because I was trying to get the AFROTC scholarship. I ended up joining the Civil Air Patrol, which is the United States Air Force Auxiliary. I joined them because I thought that this would look good for the scholarship, and I would get the opportunity to go on a discovery flight. I still needed to learn more about aviation, and I thought that a good place to start would be to learn about the industry. I wanted to know things along the lines of what the typical airline pilot workday is like, what the pay is like and, most importantly, how to become a professional airline pilot. One night, while I was trying to find this information online, I stumbled upon the Web site jetcareers.com. This site was a huge help, and I was glad that I found it because it had just about everything that I was looking for and answered my questions. I read all of the perspective articles on the Perspectives page and told myself that, someday, I would write an article there and try to help other people and to return the favor.

Jetcareers was (and still is) an exceptional networking tool for me. I needed to learn more, and a lot of the people at the site helped me out tremendously. A large majority of those people are professionals in the industry and have already "made it" and achieved the goal that I am trying to achieve for myself.

Eleventh Grade was different from all of the others, academically. I was still getting paid a minimum wage at the same job, even though I was working harder, my CAP squadron was really good at not following through when it came to getting things done, and their promise of a discovery flight was never fulfilled. However, we did get the opportunity to take a ride in a Bell UH-1 and a C-130, along with other squadrons. This was really fun, but it just wasn't enough. My knowledge of the aviation industry was growing, and I started to rethink my decision about flying for the military. I started slacking off in my schoolwork, as well, and I gave up on the scholarship and decided that I wanted to take the civilian route to becoming a pilot, instead of the military route. I knew that this was going to take money that I didn't have, but I was determined to figure something out. Although I had fun in CAP and made the most of my time while I was there, I eventually decided to leave after being a member for about two years… never having the opportunity to go on that discovery flight that they promised.

During the Twelfth Grade, I still had that same job, but eventually quit in late February after three years and three months of working there. Altogether, I made slightly less than $5000, but this was going towards car insurance and college. I started looking at colleges to see which ones had aviation programs and, also, what the costs of attendance were to see whether or not I could get enough loans to pay for all if it. This was also the point where my peers were receiving letters from various colleges across the country. I never received a single letter from any college or university… just the military. I applied to only one university, and that was the University of North Dakota. I was accepted two weeks later. The reason why I chose them is because I didn't hear anything bad about their aviation program, and they were cheaper than most of the other universities with comparable aviation programs. I heard about UND's summer flying courses and left for North Dakota the day after my last day of high school to begin flight training. I never made it to Commencement, even though I graduated.

Finally, after over thirteen years of waiting, on June 11, 2009, I got to pilot a real airplane. Just being able to look forward at the surroundings, instead of sideways out of a window, while flying and to be able to take the airplane wherever I wanted to go was amazing. The feeling of leaving the earth's surface for the very first time in a machine that I was controlling is one that I will never forget. On June, 23, 2009, I soloed at the age of nineteen. At this time, I had 10.9 hours of flying time. For some reason, the solo flight seemed like any ordinary flight to me. It didn't seem like the big deal that everyone always makes it out to be. I was a lot happier when I was able to fly an airplane for the first time in my life. On August 3, 2009, I earned my Private Pilot Certificate with about forty-six hours of flying time.

Currently, I am still a student at the University of North Dakota, and I'm working towards earning my Instrument Rating, Multi-Engine Rating, and Commercial Pilot Certificate. I am paying all of this off, by myself, through the use of loans. I'm wrapping up my Freshman year and will, hopefully, resume flying again this summer. Despite all of the challenges that I have faced and overcome in the past, and all of the challenges that I continue to face, my goal of becoming a professional airline pilot is still something that I really look forward to accomplishing some day. When I think about it, I really don't have an excuse not to because I know that hard work, dedication, and perseverance will go a long way and, as long as I still have my health, this goal is well within my reach.