Today marks an exciting celebration in aviation! April 26th is World Pilots’ Day – a day where we celebrate the many contributions of pilots around the world. In honor of World Pilots’ Day, I had the pleasure of interviewing Hannah Freepons, a pilot who took her first introductory flight at Blue Ridge Aviation and graduated with her Airframe and Powerplant Certificate and an Associates Degree in Aviation Maintenance from Blue Ridge Community College. Here’s more about Hannah’s inspiring journey to becoming a pilot.
Q: Where did your passion for flying come from?
A: My passion for flying comes from my passion for adventure. I’ve always been curious and interested in seeing new places, learning new things, and understanding how things work. I also enjoy seeing God’s creation from a different perspective. There’s nothing like seeing the sunrise over a layer of clouds or watching shooting stars on a clear night to make you keep coming back for more. My passion for flying is driven by adventure and beauty.
Q: What sparked your interest in becoming a pilot, and how did that path unfold?
A: I was born in Darlington, South Carolina and lived there until I was 6. My Dad’s best friend was a pilot, and he took me up in a small plane while we were living there. I vaguely remember that moment, but I do remember going over to his house and listening to the radio while he tuned into the local airport tower. I remember being so intrigued by that. We moved to Harrisonburg, VA in 1998, and I went to Turner Ashby High School.
I think it was my junior year when the military came to our school and asked me what I would want to do if I joined the military. Without hesitation, I told them I would want to fly jets. The answer kind of surprised me because up until then, I was planning to be a teacher. However, I quickly realized teaching wasn’t for me and started exploring other options. Not wanting to join the military, I began looking into different schools but didn’t want to go into that much debt. I ended up doing a year at a Christian college in Virginia Beach, VA, when my parents bought me an introductory flight at Blue Ridge Aviation. I took that flight on my Christmas break, and as soon as I took off, I knew that it was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I decided to leave school and move back home to work full time and pay my way through my flight training. While getting my flight certificates, my instructor told me about an aviation maintenance program at the hanger next door that I might be interested in. So I looked into the program and decided that it would be good for me to not only learn how to maneuver the airplane but also understand how it works. So I enrolled in Blue Ridge Community College and earned my A&P Certificate and an Associates Degree in Aviation Maintenance. During that time, I also became a certified flight instructor and started teaching at Blue Ridge Aviation Flight School. After I finished maintenance school, I moved to Washington State to work as a flight instructor at Bergstrom Flight School and shortly thereafter achieved my Bachelors in Aviation Maintenance Management online through Liberty University. After 2.5 years of teaching, I finally reached my hourly requirement to apply at the regional airlines. After multiple interviews, I accepted the job with SkyWest Airlines, where I currently reside. It has been a very good career choice, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Q: What kind of training did you complete to become a pilot?
A: I completed most of my flight training with Blue Ridge Aviation Flight School and worked to get my Private Pilot’s License, Instrument Rating, Multi-Engine Commercial Certificate, and my Single-Engine Commercial Certificate. I then went to a flight school in Fort Collins, CO, to get my Flight Instructor Certificate and also my Flight Instructor-Instrument Certificate.
Q: What did it feel like the first time you flew solo?
A: The first time my flight instructor got out of the plane and told me to go do three landings by myself, I was terrified and excited at the same time. I knew that he wouldn’t have gotten out if I wasn’t ready, but I still felt this overwhelming burden that I now had to get the airplane safely back on the ground by myself. It was definitely a memorable moment, but after the sweating and three landings were over, that overwhelming burden became overwhelming pride.
Q: What advice would you give to other people that want to become pilots?
A: I would say that becoming a pilot is not for the faint of heart. It takes a lot of time and money to get to the finish line, and it rarely happens quickly. There are a lot of moving parts such as your schedule, the instructor’s schedule, the changing weather that cancels your flight, or the maintenance that grounds the airplane for two weeks just when you’re ready to take your check ride test. Yes, all of that happened to me and more. Flight training is not always as predictable and quick as you’d like it to be, but for me, it was worth every second of waiting and every dollar thrown out the window. If you know that you want to be a pilot without a doubt in your mind, you can make your dreams come true with that determination as your motivation. My advice would be to dream big, keep striving to reach your goals, and have fun on the journey no matter what you want to do career-wise.
Q: Do you have any words of wisdom for girls and women that want to become pilots?
A: Aviation definitely has a spot for women! I have had nothing but positive things to say about this career, and although the airline world is majority male-dominated, I’ve always felt heard and seen as a professional in our field. Most of the guys I fly with have daughters or sisters or moms they all look up to, so more times than not, I get asked to take a picture with them to encourage their loved ones that they can be anything they want to be, and if that isn’t empowerment, I don’t know what is. I am now to the point in my life that I will be starting a family soon. I don’t know exactly what that will look like for me in the future, but I can tell you whether I stay in the airline world or not, you can bet I’ll always be in an airplane. I encourage those that want a career in aviation to do their research by finding a mentor in the field you want to get into in order to understand the demands that job may have on your life and family. Work life and home life balance have been the hardest for me to juggle, but my husband and I find a way to make it work. I want my future kids to see that their Mom made her dream come true. If I can do it, anyone can.
Q: What continues to make you excited about your profession?
A: My favorite part of my job is being able to visit so many different places. It’s fun to fly to a city I’ve never been to or explored yet. Sometimes I may only have a few hours there; other times, I have a whole day. I love being able to get out of the hotel and explore downtown or go on a hike to see the area a little better. I also love the scenic views. I love seeing the sunrise, sunset, shooting stars, and all the different types of clouds. It’s also cool flying over national parks, seeing different mountain ranges, and flying along the coastal waters.
If Hannah’s story has sparked your interest in flying, there are several ways to pursue your pilot’s license. The Blue Ridge Community College Aviation Program, in partnership with Blue Ridge Aviation, offers Commercial Pilot Certification along with other aviation career courses and certifications. You can also take private lessons with Blue Ridge Aviation directly.