A Lady in the Cockpit

By Natalie Gagliordi

        Breakfast in Atlanta, lunch in Miami and dinner in the Bahamas, all in a day’s work for local pilot Kristin Gonzalez. For the last two and half years, the 26-year-old Tampa native has loved her job making holes in the sky.

        A career as a pilot is a dream for scores of sparkly-eyed, ambitious children. Gonzalez saw herself on a different path. Rather than studying engineering and physics at her University of South Florida alma mater, Gonzalez majored in exercise physiology.

        “I thought I would be happy in a career as a personal trainer,” Gonzalez said, “and it wasn’t until I was training at Lifestyles and I met my first client when I realized I wanted to do something more.”

        That client was Swedish born Tuula Mastomaki, a UPS captain who had been flying Boeing 747’s for more than twenty years.

        “Tuula was totally my inspiration,” Gonzalez said. “After that first day talking to her I decided that I wanted to go into aviation.”

        Gonzalez wasted no time. That same week she enrolled in the Delta Connection Academy Career Path Flight School. In the accelerated program, which trains pilots to fly for regional airlines, Kristin flew solo after just eight instructional flights.

        “I first flew a Cessna 152, a two-seater with 140-horse power of pure love,” Gonzalez joked. “It was a bit embarrassing though, I bounced the plane the whole way down the runway.”

        Since earning her pilot’s license, Gonzalez has worked at Peter O. Knight airport on Davis Island in South Tampa. There she flies both private and instructional flights throughout the state and surrounding areas. She instructs both military trainees and private citizens seeking their pilot’s license.

        Gonzalez’s close friend, Matt Heyer, applauds her for her ability to handle the heavy responsibility.

        “She just seems like one of the busiest pilots,” Heyer said. “Mornings she will be instructing two or three students, and then in the afternoon she will fly sometimes two clients to different cities.”

        Such a loaded schedule raises the risk of encountering trouble, Heyer said.

        “Kristin is always prepared for her flights, but she has told me of some pretty scary instances,” Heyer said.

        Over the last two years, Gonzalez has had her share of close calls. In a three-part flight, Gonzalez was scheduled to fly from Orlando to Jacksonville, and then onto Naples, all as a solo pilot.

        “On the way to Jacksonville I lost one radio, and managed to use the backup to land,” Gonzalez said. “After that was fixed I departed in the middle of a rainstorm, and 45-minutes into the flight my instruments started blinking and smoke filled the cockpit.”

Gonzalez was forced to make an emergency landing on a grass strip, approximately 40 miles north of Tampa.

“It was pouring rain. I was in the middle of nowhere,” Gonzalez said. “I walked a mile and a half until I saw a woman on a riding lawnmower, who must have thought I was some kind of alien coming through an open field. I walked up to her and told her I would pay her five-dollars for a beer and the use of a telephone. She thought I was pretty funny.”

        It is that very sense of humor that has enabled Gonzalez to survive in the male-dominated industry of aviation. Her skill as a pilot only gains so much respect. Her way of handling the sarcasm and criticism is usually what stops the nay-sayers in their tracks.

        “From the beginning, I told Kristin that it takes a strong-willed female to survive in aviation,” Mastomaki said. “But I could see right away that her personality was perfect for the job.”

        Gonzalez figured that out herself very quickly.

        “You are constantly being reminded that it is a man’s world,” Gonzalez said. “It’s usually men, either other pilots or students, that try to come at me with some remark of how women aren’t smart enough or strong enough to fly a plane. I’ve grown a tough skin, but sometimes you just gotta let ‘em have it.”

            Women in aviation are, indeed, a minority, but in Gonzalez’s opinion it is not a matter of intelligence, but rather responsibility.

“A successful career in aviation is a long road,” Gonzalez said. “Most women eventually want to have a family, and they just can’t be gone 20 out of 30 days a month.”

However long that road may be, Gonzalez is ready to travel it. She has garnered enough hours to test into the airlines, her ultimate goal.

“One day it will be my voice coming from the cockpit telling you to fasten your seatbelt.”

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9 Responses to “A Lady in the Cockpit”

  1. usfadvancedreporting Says:

    Great story! Horray for women pilots!

  2. usfadvancedreporting Says:

    This is a professional story, I think you did an excellant job. – Court H

  3. Aaron Says:

    I love the anecdote about the beer and the woman on the lawnmower. The story show the woman’s determination.

  4. usfadvancedreporting Says:

    I liked this story, good use of quotes. You really don’t hear much about women pilots. I liked your lead as well.

  5. usfadvancedreporting Says:

    I love ypur story. You did a great job.

  6. usfadvancedreporting Says:

    Really long. I kind of got bored with her stories, but I would’ve liked to hear more about aviation school how much it costs and other things.

  7. Christine Says:

    Good story, interesting, good use of quotes.

  8. randy Says:

    Tuula is actually from Finland. To us American’s it’s probably no big deal to say she is Swedish, try telling that to a Fin or a Swede!!
    Kristin rocks!!
    Go Gonzo you dirty Nole!

  9. singles vacation packages Says:

    Wow great blog, I was looking for something else on ask but found your site on page 1 so thought I would pay a visit and now have bookmarked.

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