I Get Paid For This

Erika Armstrong

Although she has lost her medical in a car accident, Erika Armstrong continues to work in aviation by teaching the next generation of pilots. 

How did you get into flying?

I became a pilot by accident! Working two jobs while attending university, I still couldn’t pay my rent so I was looking for a third job. The front desk of an FBO at the Flying Cloud Airport had some weird hours that fitted into my schedule. I started learning about business aviation and finally took a flying lesson to see what it was all about. One lesson was all it took to get me hooked!

Tell us about your job?

I’m the VP of Business Development and Director of Instructional Design at Advanced Aircrew Academy. Currently, I’m developing eLearning pilot training curriculums for Part 91 and 135 flight departments.

I also teach new studies coming into the aviation industry, such as Aircraft Systems and Propulsion, Aviation Fundamentals, and Commercial Operations. The best part of my job is years after teaching a student, they send me a picture of their first day on a flying job!

Many of my students are adults. I love having a three-tour veteran next to an 18-year-old beginner in my classes, they have so much to teach each other. The industry is facing a shortage and inspiring the next generation is key. 

We used to be able to hang out at GA airports, until 9/11 locked everyone out. I now use social media to share the spirit of aviation: 500,000 aviation enthusiasts are following A Chick in the Cockpit.

The students who’ll end up as commercial pilots don’t always get straight ‘A’s. Being a pilot is about having a deeper connection with your surroundings. Self-discipline, being able to work with any personality, and humour are important. Flying is the easy part. 

Learning 1,400 pages of the FAR/AIM is what makes most pilots wash out. It’s not as glamorous as it seems, so you must deeply love it. You can’t separate being a pilot from the rest of your life: you literally become a pilot.

What training did you have?

I went from PPL, Instrument rating, CPL, Commercial Multi-Engine to Airline Transport Pilot. I also received my Seaplane rating, Aerobatic endorsement, and Flight Engineer. I got my first 600 hours by volunteering for the Red Cross. Afterwards, I flew Part 135 charter, air ambulance and Part 91 corporate jobs for about 10 years. When I had 2,200 hours, I got hired as a Flight Engineer at Northwest Airlines/Champion Air.

What’s been your favourite flight?

The first time I flew to Telluride, Colorado. Flying between mountain tops, and when I saw Telluride’s Box Canyon, I couldn’t pull my eyes away. I grew up in Minnesota and had never seen mountains like this. Thankfully I was the co-pilot and running the radios. I was distracted by the beauty, my situational awareness was zero! I eventually moved to Colorado because of that day.

And your favourite airfield?

While flying corporate jets, I had access to 4,000 airports, including some private airports no one else gets to see. Out of all of them, Telluride is my favourite. I used to fly there almost every weekend.

How much do you miss flying?

It’s a daily heartache, especially since my house is on the arrival into Denver Airport, with constant reminders flying overhead. I know I could probably lie my way through a flight physical because I don’t appear to have any issues. However, I put respect for safety over everything else. In the crash, I lost most of my hearing in my left ear. Also, that ear can’t adjust to pressure anymore and the alignment responsible for equilibrium and determining our three-dimensional situation was thrown off track. Aviation is 360°… I can still function as a human, but not as a pilot.

What is your most valuable career advice?

It’s a tough, long path to the sky, so don’t be afraid to find a mentor and ask for help. Networking is very important.

Register with LinkedIn and connect with local pilots who are willing to share their story.

Flying CV

After many years of flying as a Captain for airline and business jet operations, author of the book A Chick in the Cockpit, Erika Armstrong has turned to developing pilot training curriculums at Advanced Aircrew Academy and teaching at MSU Denver’s Aerospace and Aviation Department.

Started current job November 2016
Now flying A desk… “I got hit by a drunk driver March 2019 and lost my medical. It’s a reminder to all the up-and-coming pilots to always have a back-up plan: your life can be turned upside down in a split second.”
Favourite aircraft Boeing 727-200. “I love it because it’s a pilot’s airplane. The perfect balance between performance and passenger mobility.” 
Hours Approx. 6,000
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