Mike is a graduate of Auburn University (B.A. '76 in Aviation Management) and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (M.S. Aeronautical Science '84), and served six years as an Air Force pilot (USAF HH-53 pilot/instructor pilot.) Five years as a corporate pilot~ Flight department manager and pilot for a regional hospital management company with a fleet of eight and ten pilots. He spent 21 years as a commercial airline pilot for American Airlines flying the F-100, B727, B737, B757, B767, MD11, and retired from American Airlines as a 757/767 captain.
He’s an author too!
His first novel, “Flight to Paradise: was released May 2010; his second novel “Flight into Darkness” (a sequel) was released November 2011; his third novel in the Flight Trilogy, “Flight to Freedom” is scheduled to be released in 2012.
Mike has graciously offered to give away to one of our readers one of his books. Just leave a comment and you’ll be entered for the drawing. The winner will be announced on Valentines Day, February 14th. What a better day for a gift from the heart. After you read his interview, you’ll agree—Mike Coe is a man with a heart.
His struggles, challenges, and continued successes, speak volumes for what a person can do when they don’t give up, have a lot of faith, a solid relationship and good friends to encourage them along the way. Mike’s an experienced pilot in so many ways, and reached his dream of becoming an Airline Pilot for American Airlines. But that success doesn’t end there. He’s doing something so many of us only dreamed about. Please enjoy the journey with Mike Coe~ It’s a heck of a ride.
Karlene: Mike, I love to discover when and how pilots became interested in airplanes. Did someone or something inspire you?
Mike: "I first recall becoming obsessed with airplanes at the age of five (1959) when my grandparents began taking me to our local country airport on Sunday afternoons to watch Eastern Airlines and Southern Airways DC-3s and Martin 404’s land, taxi up to our little shack-like terminal building, deplane and load passengers, fire up the smoky radial engines, taxi out and take off. There was something magical about standing at the fence (previously used to keep cows in) watching the relatively quick operation (less than 30 minutes). I was twelve years old (July 31, 1967) when Southern Airways retired their fleet of DC-3s with the last flight being from our little country airport (Dothan, Alabama) to Memphis, TN.
A year later (1968), I took my first roundtrip airplane ride in a Southern Airways Martin 404 from Dothan to Atlanta. Seated in a window seat on the left side of the cabin adjacent to the wing’s leading edge, I had the perfect seat to study the big 18-cylinder Pratt & Whitney 2,000 hp radial engine. I was hooked."
Karlene: I often wonder at the power of that first observation as a little boy with airplanes. I can see you standing at the fence looking in. I took my grandson to Boeing field during an air show, and at 15-months old he hung on the fence and stared in awe. Powerful experience. So you’re hooked. From 12 to pilot, how did that happen?
Mike: "My 19-year pursuit to earn my living as an airline pilot was a bumpy “flight” filled with deviations, near misses, and plenty of emotional ups and downs. With the relatively few numbers of available airline jobs (approximately 2% of the U.S. population are pilots, but only 10% of pilots are employed by airlines) and daunting competition for each job, my pursuit often appeared hopeless.
First, I obtained all the necessary licenses and ratings as quickly as possible, but building time—good quality time—was difficult. I rode shotgun on countless numbers of oddball trips for the chance to log a few minutes; I flight instructed; I served as a helicopter-only pilot in the Air Force; I flew corporate—all good but not good enough to land an airline job during the severe economic recession that hit much of the developed world in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. The effects of deregulation in 1978 had ushered in a turbulent period for commercial aviation."
Karlene: You were a military helicopter pilot? Amazing experience. You had quite the resume. But we know that timing is everything in this career. Despite your vast experience, I’m sure those doors weren’t opening rapidly. What happened?
Mike: "After 16 years, 5,000 hours of flying time (civilian, military, corporate), and practically every possible license and rating (except glider and lighter-than-air), I was 32 years old (1986). I had grown weary and determined that my dream of becoming an airline pilot had slipped away (very few airlines were interested in hiring pilots over the age of 30 unless they had a logbook full of jet time). With a wife and two young children, my focus had shifted from chasing the uncertainties of an airline career to the growing demands of my family."
"I had given up completely on the airlines and was planning out a new career when an old Air Force buddy called (late 1986). He had recently been hired by American Airlines. In 1984 American implemented a B-scale pay plan for new hire pilots and planned to become the largest airline in the world. My friend encouraged me to give the airlines one more try."
Karlene: That’s what friends are for—to support and encourage. I think there is encouragement and messages all around, if we’re willing to listen. It appears you took your friend’s advice.
Mike: "If it had not been for my friend (and many others along the way) reaching out to help me, I might never have given it “one more try”. I am constantly reminded that everyone who achieves much success does it with the help of others. The world-class motivational speaker, Zig Ziglar, put it this way: “If you help enough people get what they want, you’ll get what you want.”
Karlene: I love that statement. I too have had a wealth of support along my journey. So when did you actually get hired at American?
Mike: "I joined American Airlines in November 1987 (33 years old) and retired in December 2008 (54 years old). Looking back, I am forever humble to have been given the opportunity to enjoy the greatest career ever and blessed with a wife who has been my greatest encourager during the entire journey."
Karlene: You worked hard for the opportunity, and you took it. Your motivation and inner strength amazes me. Where does this come from?
Mike: "From my first flying lesson in a Cessna 150 on November 30, 1970 (16 years old), to my checkout as a Captain for American Airlines on May 11, 2000 (46 years old), there is one quote that best sums up the motivation for my persistent journey."
Karlene: I love that quote, and your inspirational attitude toward life is woven into your words. Do you have a most inspirational flight?
Mike: "It was in 1988 and I was based at DCA with American Airlines. We were in the last few minutes of boarding passengers in El Paso for a trip to Chicago when the flight attendant came to the cockpit and mentioned that there was a first-class passenger with whom she was having difficulty communicating. She said the passenger was deaf.
A little background: My wife graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Education with a specialty in Deaf Education. After moving to Virginia (DCA) with American Airlines, I began learning Sign Language. After becoming fairly proficient, I joined my wife and volunteered to work with the deaf in our local church. In addition, while on my trips with American, I was always sensitive to passengers who were deaf and found many opportunities to interpret for a gate agent or flight attendant.
On this particular flight, I offered my help to the flight attendant. She said that would be nice as she was not certain of the man’s drink request. I excused myself from the cockpit to go visit with the deaf passenger. After a few minutes of introduction, the man signed to me, “Where did you learn Sign Language?” I explained how I had learned through a class in my local church. He signed, “No. What book did you use to learn?” I stumbled trying to remember the exact title of the book and tried to explain what it looked like. He signed, “Did it have a white cover?” I signed, “Yes!” He signed, “I wrote that book.” I signed, “Then that makes you my teacher. How exciting to meet you.”
The man’s name was Terrence J. O’Rourke and the book was the best selling A Basic Course in American Sign Language. T.J. O’Rourke graduated from California School for the Deaf, Berkeley, and Gallaudet College (where he later taught English for eight years). He was author of two of the nation’s all time best-selling sign language texts; national director of the National Association of the Deaf Communication Skills Program, president of the American Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities; and founded T.J. Publishers for the purpose of publishing deaf-related books. It was in January 1992 when I learned of Mr. O’Rourke’s passing.
As one of my mentor’s, meeting Mr. O’Rourke was an inspirational and encouraging moment. I continued my work with the deaf to include teaching classes to the deaf in my church, interpreting, and conducting mini Sign Language courses for flight attendants and pilots at American Airlines.
In my second novel, “Flight into Darkness”, one of my characters is deaf and will be a key character in the final book of the Flight Trilogy, “Flight to Freedom.”
Karlene: Wow. What are the chances that that man was on your flight? An amazing story—definitely on top of anyone’s inspirational list. I’m sorry for your loss of such a mentor, but he carries on in your work. I’m curious as to your greatest life challenge.
Mike: "By late 1986 (prior to being hired by American Airlines), I had accumulated debts totaling nearly $700,000 (personal and business). Through a series of circumstances and a lot of prayer, it became clear that we needed to get out of debt. After learning of Christian Financial Concepts, a nonprofit organization started by Larry Burkett dedicated to teaching the biblical principles of handling money, we surrendered our financial lives to God, set up a budget and began our journey towards financial freedom. By 1996, we were totally debt free (including our mortgage).
In 1996, I founded the non-profit teaching ministry, Christian Oriented Education, Inc. Through the trials and experiences of our lives we are better equipped to help others as they walk through their dark time. Again, as Zig Ziglar said, “If you help enough people get what they want, you’ll get what you want.”
Karlene: From rags to riches, you’ve mastered success. But it wasn’t easy, and many steps along the way you could have given up, and you didn’t. That speaks volumes. What was one of your greatest moments in your career?
Mike: "While living in Nashville (based at BNA with American Airlines), I was fortunate to have been mentored by Dave Ramsey (best selling financial author, talk show host of The Dave Ramsey Show aired on the Fox Business Network). From 1993 to 1997, I worked as a part-time counselor and seminar instructor for Ramsey’s company, The Lampo Group, Inc.
I recently published the first of a three part series on personal finance titled: Solving the Money Puzzle. Part 1 is available as an e-book from Amazon and other online book retailers for .99. Once I complete the entire series, I plan to combine the three parts into a paperback. My website, FINANCIAL FREEDOM, offers free education and budgeting tools for anyone interested in personal finance."
Karlene: That’s a great offer to get free education on budgeting. I’m sure in today’s world we can all use a little help. Now tell me about your writing. As you know I just wrote my first Flight novel. What inspired you to write fiction?
Mike: "Pilots are typically logical, sequential, rational thinkers—“left-brained”, while artists are typically random, intuitive, creative thinkers—“right-brained”. Although broad generalizations are often made in popular psychology about a person being predominately left-brained (logical) or right-brained (creative) these characteristics in fact exist in both sides of the brain.
I believe my desire to write was born from my love for stories—stories being the essence of life’s deepest desires and experiences. I am particularly interested in stories about the human experience—the struggle to find satisfaction in life. I believe fiction presents the perfect platform for the transfer of these experiences. The fictional stories I write are derived from the real world—where we all live—stories about the world as it is, strange and real, yet full of grace.
The material for stories is found all around us. As one author said, “I find my greatest ideas for stories when I ask, what would happen if...?” During my twenty-one years with the airlines, I observed and listened to the life stories of many pilots and flight attendants. Many of these stories inspired me to write the Flight Trilogy.
As individuals, we are unique works of art, but within our human experiences—successes, failures, and heartaches—we are connected by a common thread. It is my goal that each story I write entertain, evoke emotion, and leave my readers with a message of hope for a better tomorrow—stories for the head, heart, and soul."
Karlene: Mike, your words on this page speak volumes of your eloquence with the craft. Thank you for the wonderful interview.
Now for the readers—I read the first of Mike’s stories. Flight to Paradise. Well, I almost finished it. My last fatigue-induced flight, with a 0130 wake up followed by a flight to Haneda, Japan, I was snuggled into the bathtub enjoying his story. Then, after a quick seven-hour nap and a 6 p.m. wake up call for a midnight departure, It wasn’t until I was on the bus headed to the airport that I’d realized I left it in the bathroom. My loss is someone else’s gift.
I did find the concept of Mike’s book fascinating because of the subject and the man behind the writing. At first glance, one might think that this tough male-military pilot would write about death and violence. And the mother/grandma, who is a romantic at heart who bakes cookies, would write romance—our first two books are just the opposite. Don’t be mistaken, this book is for all those who love the journey of life, intertwined with the desire to live the passion of aviation.
As I said, Mike is giving away one of his books… so let me tell you a little bit about them.
Flight To Paradise
Eighteen year old Keri Hart’s life was turned upside down when her Southern high society mother insisted, “Now Sugah, I think it would be best if you ended it with Ryan Mitchell…” only days before his leaving Atlanta to attend the United States Naval Academy.
Fast-forward nine years, Keri is a Miami-based flight attendant; Ryan is a Navy fighter pilot based near San Diego and soon to be airline pilot. In hopes of reviving a love once lost, Ryan writes to Keri. Before the letter is posted, Rex Dean, Ryan’s laid-back, self-absorbed roommate, intercepts and alters the letter—the beginning of a deviously concocted plan that blindsides the hometown hopefuls, thrusting them into rebound relationships.
With Ryan’s marriage a train wreck and Keri engaged—her wedding only weeks away—fate arranges a coincidental New York layover. A morning stroll through Central Park awakens their undeniable love for each other, forcing them to question everything they thought they knew.
Flight To Darkness
Fifteen years have passed. It’s July 11, 2002. Ryan Mitchell is living in Southern California with his wife, teenage son, and five-year old daughter when he is thrust into his deepest, darkest hour—a nightmare of gargantuan proportions.
Samael Janus, a delusional lunatic, travels from Istanbul, Turkey, to Southern California on a personal mission of revenge. All that stands between Samael and the success of his twisted plan is Captain Ryan Mitchell’s willingness to sacrifice his life in exchange for the lives of his wife and children. As Samael puts it, “If you do exactly as I instruct, your family will remain safe. Otherwise, they will all die, starting with your youngest child.”
Flight into Darkness Is a story of struggle between fear and faith—evil and good—and how love can empower the human spirit with divine strength. A flight filled with suspense and surprise that promises to thrill. Welcome aboard and buckle up as Captain Mitchell takes off into turbulent skies asking readers to “please, remain in your seats with your seatbelts fastened”, have faith, and pray.
Mike Coe, born and raised in Dothan, Alabama, currently resides in Southern California with his “wonderful” wife, Sue Marie. These two high school sweethearts recently celebrated their 35th anniversary—January 2012. Mike says, “she is my “Paradise”. Their daughter, 25, lives in San Clemente, CA., and their son, 30, lives in Austin, TX.
Mike and Sue
When I asked Mike if he had any words of Wisdom for the American Airline employees he said,
“Our lives are not defined by our jobs and the companies that employ us, but by the people in our lives—our families, friends, and fellow employees—never forget. We live in a broken world. Tough times allow us to see the needs of others more clearly. Giving ourselves to others almost always takes our mind off our troubles. It might only take a smile to brighten a person's day. We need each other more now than ever before. What often appears to destroy us is what eventually defines us and takes us to a better place.”
I couldn't have said it better!
Thank you, Mike, for the incredible interview and the lesson in patience yesterday. Your story is amazing and you are an inspiration to all. Tomorrow I'll be heading to Austin to babysit my grandson for a night, as my youngest lives there. Maybe one day I'll meet your son during my journey.
Enjoy the Journey!