Perspectives: Michael Orensteen
Written by Michael Orensteen   
My name is Michael Orensteen and I am a pilot for United Airlines flying the B737-300. Becoming a pilot was a goal I set when I was a child and this is my story. I graduated high school in June of 1985. Immediately after graduation, I enlisted in the Navy for 5 years. I had one of the better enlisted jobs, which was to fly in the back of the S-3A Viking and use sophisticated computers to track enemy subs. The front seat of the jet is where my heart was but since my vision didn't meet Navy pilot requirements, I had to learn to fly on my own.

While based in Jacksonville, Florida went to an airport in town and signed up for flying lessons at North Florida Flight Center to earn a private pilot's license. I became a private pilots in about 6 months.

US Navy S-3 Viking

A few months later, my commitment to the Navy was complete in June of 1990 and headed back home to Minneapolis. I plan was to find a part-time job, learn to fly and begin college.

Within a couple weeks, I got a job at a flight school in Minneapolis as a dispatcher. The dispatcher answers phone, schedules rental aircraft, and billing for customers. I also enrolled in school at a community college that offered a 2 year degree program in Aeronautical Science. I went to school in the evenings so I can work and continue with the rest of my flying lessons.

By July 1991, I became a Certified Flight Instructor and the flight school I had been working at for the past year, hired me on as a CFI. Our flight school also had a contract with a local radio station to fly a traffic reporter around in the morning and afternoons which I was involved in as well and that was 4 hours of flight time a day. The downside to all this is that I overloaded myself. My day began at 4:30am so I can be ready to fly at 6am for the traffic report. I had students from 8am until 5pm and then off to night school from 6:30pm until 9:30pm, Monday through Friday. But it all paid off. After about 1 year of flight instructing, I had 1,200 hours total time and 151 multi-engine.

Mesaba Airlines Saab 340

With the help of some friends, who had written letters of recommendation for me, I was hired by Mesaba Airlines/Northwest Airlink in December of 1992. I flew a Fairchild Metroliner III which is a 19 passenger turboprop. After flying as first officer for 2 1/2yrs, I upgraded as captain in the Metroliner and got my first type rating!!

A year later, Mesaba Airlines began phasing out the Metros and I was retrained as a captain on the Saab 340 and earned another type rating! The flight time you receive flying as a captain (turbine PIC) are some of the things major airlines look for when screening resumes. Like every other pilot, I applied to all the big named major airlines as well as some of the smaller ones.

After about 5 years with Mesaba, I was hired by America West Airlines in Phoenix flying my first jet; the B737! It's true what they say, they get easier to fly as they planes get bigger. The big difference between flying a turboprop and flying a jet, is that a jet doesn't slow down and descend simultaneously very well. You have to learn to stay ahead of the plane. Landing is the easy part!

America West Airlines Boeing 737-300
I spent 2 1/2 yrs at America West Airlines before I was hired by United Airlines. While America West Airlines was a great place to work, they didn't have the earning potential and retirement plan I was looking for to make it a long term career. All that will change with future contracts between the pilots and company. I started at United Airlines on April 24, 2000. I finally made it!! The reception at United Airlines was nothing less than spectacular! They flew my wife down to Denver, first class, for the winging ceremony and pictures.

Later that night, United organized a very nice dinner for all of the new pilots and spouses. I was very impressed! My class consisted of 26 new hires. Experience ranged from retired military pilots, corporate pilots, freight/cargo pilots, commuter airline pilots and pilots from other major airlines.

United Airlines 737-300

Not everyone was hired into the same airplane. It is all based on seniority. I was number 5 out of 26 pilots in my class, so based on the airplanes that had openings, I chose the B737. Other pilots chose flight engineer or first officers on the B727. In a class prior to us, they actually had a few new hires assigned to the B757/B767. Flying for a major airline is everything I expected it to be. I couldn't imagine doing anything else!

Michael Orensteen

United Airlines