|Perspectives: Doug Taylor|
|Written by Doug Taylor|
When I was very young, whenever we'd go on a trip, my parents liked to leave in the early morning before the sun rose in order to beat most of the traffic. In my home town, anything more than a few cars on Highway 99 constituted a major traffic jam. Ahh, the simpler days.
One of my favorite parts of the trip was looking out of the window as we drove along the highway to look for airport lights and beacons that were illuminated in the early morning. Something about aviation just really fascinated me and I constantly drew pictures of airliners, airplanes, airports and would trace the diagram of a simple jet engine that was in the pages of the encyclopedias my parents kept in the hallway by my room.
I would fly from Visalia, California to San Francisco on United Airlines to spend the summers with my cousin and once, I can't remember if it was a 727 or 737 (way back in the "Essential Air Service" days), but the flight crew invited me to the cockpit before we departed and showed me the gauges, controls and dials. At that point, I was absolutely sold on the idea of being an airline pilot. Pilots, to me, were like rock stars.
Whenever I'd go to the mall, I'd head straight for the transportation section and look for books on aviation. Of course there were very few, but enough to keep my attention while it was too rainy or foggy to ride my bicycle down to Mefford Field in Tulare, California. In fact, whenever I'd ride my bicycle to school, I'd imagine that I was flying an open air cockpit Stearman and when I'd turn, I'd imagine myself turning and banking the aircraft around the sky.
The Turning Point
My interest in aviation grew as I got older and most of the papers that I wrote for creative writing were always aviation-related. Probably the pivotal point while I was in high school was when I wrote a paper about becoming an airline pilot for my high school English class. My high school counselor really couldn't provide a lot of guidance on the subject, but she had a friend who had a husband that was once a commuter airline pilot. I spent a few hours interviewing him over the telephone about the industry, reading countless books in the Tulare Public library and writing a few airlines about information about my paper.
I talked to Navy pilots at Lemoore Naval Air Station, dug through countless books at the public library, old flying magazines, everything I could get my hands on. I felt like I wasn't writing a paper, but the script of my life.
I got the shock of my life when my English teacher gave me an B on the paper however, in the same critique, suggested that I pick a more realistic career goal that I could have a "viable" chance of succeeding at. I asked what she meant after class, but she suggested that I look into being an auto mechanic, work in a local factory or something more reasonable.
I was dismayed and quite angry. Well, to be honest, I was pissed off and hurt -- but I just used that negative energy to do all I could to prove her wrong and pursue my dream of being an airline pilot. In fact, I took the paper (and my anger), stashed it away in my closet when I got home and forgot about it for years. It wasn't until a few years into college that my family discovered this critique my English teacher wrote on my paper and needless to say, they were livid at that one particular teacher.
At Tulare Union High School, some teachers were supportive, some weren't, but I didn't let that stand in my way. When I'd talked about wanting to become an airline pilot with my parents, they assured me that I could be anything in the world that I wanted to be.
I guess I still carry a lot of anger about that to this day when I reflect on the past. But that's one of the reasons why I created this web site to help people realize that if they want to reach a career goal bad enough, don't let anything or any person stand in their way - but you've got to be truly motivated -- there is difference between wanting to attain something and possessing the motivation to do what it takes to reach a goal.
On May 10, 1988 I earned my private pilot's license.
I applied and was accepted to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona where I went from being a private pilot and advanced to becoming licensed as a commercial pilot with multi-engine privileges. I was active in the Theta Xi Fraternity and was the social chairman.
During college, I met a corporate pilot named Dennis Conner that I'd correspond with via email and ask questions about the industry. He flew a Beechcraft King Air C-90 for Valley Grain Products in Madera, California. During those days, there were a lot of failures in the airline industry, most notable Pan Am and Eastern with industry-wide pilot furloughs. He helped me keep my "head up" and provided a lot of extra motivation by taking me for a ride in a ex-Air Force T-34 when I'd come home during the summer between semesters.
I graduated from Embry-Riddle in 1993 with a B. S. in Aeronautical Science.
My First Break
After graduation, I had a very brief (and I do mean brief) stint as a corporate pilot for "Full-View Industries". After things didn't germinate too well, I eventually earned my Certified Flight Instructor certificate at Ahart School of Aeronautics in Livermore, California. Ahart wouldn't hire me, even though they needed instructors and I passed my CFI and CFI-Instrument check rides at the San Jose FSDO with no problems and a FAA pilot examiner who promised me a letter of recommendation about my performance during the check rides.
I didn't let that hold me back. I shined up a pair of dress shoes (with a gaping hole in the right toe), threw on a shirt and found a tie that I wore to fraternity meetings in college and hit darned near every flight school in the San Francisco bay area from as far north as Vacaville down south to Hollister, California. There's nothing more empowering feeling than cranking out resumes out of the laser printer at the Pleasanton, California Kinko's Copy Center at 11:30pm with a lukewarm cup of Mobil Gas Station coffee! I'd make sure I always saved enough to pay for a Taco Bell bean burrito for lunch the next day while job hunting.
A few months later, still looking for work, I was canvassing resumes at flight schools in San Jose, it was about 4:30pm on a Friday afternoon and about 90% of the resumes I handed to the chief pilots were handed back to me with a "Sorry, we're not looking for instructors". There was one last flight school that I hadn't given a resume. I figured that it was no use because if all of the other flight schools weren't hiring, why waste the time and get stuck in rush hour on highway 680.
I straightened my tie, walked in and introduced myself and asked to speak to the chief pilot. The guy behind the desk asks me a few questions about my education, aircraft experience and asks if I was able to start the very next morning with a 68 year old Chinese gentleman. I got hired on the spot at Wings Over California in January 1995.
At Wings Over California (now Wings International), I taught students ranging from executives from Silicon Valley to Korean military pilots gearing-up for careers as airline pilots. I flew my butt off because I wanted to build enough flight time in order to get noticed by a cargo or regional airline.
I got an enormous amount of guidance from the Organization of Black Airline Pilot's Professional Pilot Development program. They taught me cockpit resource management, how to think like an airline pilot and provided me with a mentor, Capt. Gould, a B-747 captain for United Parcel Service.
Captain Gould would drill me in a Frasca 141 flight simulator that I rented across the airport and teach me how to fly 140 knot approaches, call out checklist items and was the best friend in the world for a guy looking to move up in aviation.
On March 4, 1996, I became employed at Skyway Airlines "Midwest Express Connection" in Milwaukee, Wisconsin as a Beechcraft 1900 first officer. I upgraded to captain in about a year and kept my resume updated religiously.
I was based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Marquette Michigan and Rockford, Illinois. Flying in the Midwest during the winter was a lot more challenging than the sunny skies of California. My first day as a first officer, I logged more actual IMC and saw more airframe icing than I had seen in all of my previous flying.
Flying as a regional pilot is extremely challenging. You have short "turn times" (or time between flights), fly long hours, operate at both major and uncontrolled airports, and generally work your tail off. You spend a lot of nights where you'll get home late, completely worn out and dehydrated, only to have to turn around and do it all again the next four days before your next day off.
Don't let the flight school ads with smiling regional pilots fool you, it is a very challenging profession and is not easy by any means.
One day while riding the jumpseat on a flight from Cincinnati to Orlando to see Kristie, I met an MD-88 Capt. Bailey that suggested that I apply for his airline since they were hiring.
In those days, conventional wisdom was that they only hired former military pilots so I thought I had no chance of even getting recognized. I talked to Aaron and he suggested that I apply anyway. A few months later, I received a letter inviting me to interview at their World Headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia.
I successfully interviewed and cheerfully accepted a job offer and started as a B-727 second officer in January 1998 based in Atlanta, Georgia. I spent a about 18 months as a Boeing 727 flight engineer before transferring to Orlando, Florida to fly the 737-200 on Express Routes before transferring to Dallas/Ft. Worth to fly the McDonnell-Douglas MD-88 and MD-90.
I guess the morale of the story is that there are always going to be obstacles for anything you want to do. Some of the obstacles are real, while other obstacles are simply perceived, but if you truly want to succeed in aviation, don't take it personal, keep smiling and charge full speed ahead.
And here is the the "Golden Rule": If someone helps you along the way, always return the favor by helping another aspiring pilot.