Tuesday, June 8, 2010
BARON'S AVIATION CAREER GOING IN CIRCLES
MANHATTAN -- For most people, birthdays are celebrated with cake and balloons. Janelle Baron celebrates hers with check rides.
On May 21, Baron, a recent Kansas State University aviation program graduate, celebrated her 23rd birthday by passing her Airline Transport Pilot check rides for both single engine and multiengine airplanes. The ATP is the highest grade certification a civilian can earn.
On May 21, 2004, she celebrated her 17th birthday by taking her check ride for a private pilot license.
"I really wanted to take the ATP on my birthday," Baron said. "It was like coming full circle."
Baron grew up in Colorado Springs next to the Air Force Academy watching F-16 Thunderbirds. During high school she babysat for a family who introduced her to flying when she was 15.
"The mom was a member of the Pikes Peak 99s. She paid for my first flying lesson," Baron said. Baron is now a member of the Pikes Peak 99s herself. "They drove me to the airport for my lessons because I wasn't old enough to drive myself and they let me borrow their books. They even gave me two scholarships to help cover my flight expenses."
She also worked for a dry-cleaner to make money for lessons. "I got paid every two weeks, so I got flight time every two weeks," she said. The job also provided an unexpected tie to aviation. "I got to clean a lot of pilot uniforms. When they'd drop them off or pick them up I'd tell them I was taking flying lessons."
Baron went from taking lessons to teaching lessons when she became a certified flight instructor for K-State in January 2007. "I've had students that started with me to get their private pilot's and we've gone all the way through to getting their Certified Flight Instructor-Multi-Engine Instrument rating," she said. "It's a little weird, but very rewarding."
Baron's aviation experience is about to come full circle in another way. She's going to fly the F-16s she used to watch as a child.
Baron will soon leave for officer training at the Academy of Military Science in Montgomery, Ala. From there she'll head to Pueblo, Colo., for Introductory Flight Screening.
"In Pueblo I'll learn how the Air Force does things," she said.
From there she will head to one of four possible locations to spend a year in Undergraduate Pilot Training in a T6 and a T38. She will continue to travel around the country as she goes through Intro to Fighter Fundamentals, Water Survival School, Land Survival School, and the F-16C Qualification Course.
After that, she'll head to Des Moines, Iowa, to serve in the Iowa Air National Guard.
"I'll spend two years there full-time," she said. "After that I'll either stay full-time or go to part-time depending on their needs and my career goals. I could definitely stay with them for 20 years or more."
"My family doesn't really have ties to aviation or the military, so they were a little surprised when I told them I wanted to fly fighters for the Air Force. They support me all the way, but when I first told my dad I wanted to fly fighters he said, 'And I want to be the lead guitarist in a rock and roll band. Sometimes those things never happen.'"
Sometimes they do.