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"We are the protagonists of our stories called life, and there is no limit to how high we can fly."

Type rated on A330, B747-400, B747, B757, B767, B737, B727. International Airline Pilot / Author / Speaker. Dedicated to giving the gift of wings to anyone following their dreams. Supporting Aviation Safety through training, writing, and inspiration.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Brad Tate

Friday's Fabulous Flyer

Brad Tate

Patience is a virtue and Brad is in every definition of the word, a captain. I had a great time reading his most recent post on his blog, Airline Pilot Chatter, and whether he is flying right seat or left, battling broken planes or challenging weather, or dealing with mergers he has made his dreams come true. Determination, and a passion for flight got him to where he is today. His attitude is what will keep him strong during the many challenges the industry will bring. Being a captain is not a seat position, it's all about the person.

Please welcome Brad Tate~

The most common question I get from readers of my blog is "How did you become an airline pilot?"  While there may or may not be a shortage of pilots on the horizon, there never seems to be a shortage of young men and women out there searching for the best answer to that question.  I've always enjoyed interacting with new and young aviators.  Everything is both fresh and new or still to come and they seem to desire nothing more than to soak up every ounce of information and experience they come across.  On selfish grounds, interaction with pilots so excited about the profession helps to keep my internal fire burning.

The "how to" question can be difficult to answer due primarily to a seemingly infinite number of possible paths.  Should I attend an aviation university?  What about the military?  Do I need an aviation degree in college?  Do I even need to go to college?  I could gain time as a flight instructor, banner towing, small freight, pipe-line patrol, corporate...the possibilities are endless...and my answer is usually to walk through every open door and take advantage of every opportunity.  I almost never said no when I was building flight time and I suppose that strategy paid off.

Of course, it's important to have a plan.  Walking the path to professional pilot requires a significant investment in time, effort and money and the process isn't something anyone should enter lightly.  The story about how I got to where I am today is one filled with twists and turns, some unexpected and others I saw coming.  It's been a long journey and it's far from over, but I hope shining some light on the footprints I left behind may prove helpful to some of those trying to find their way along the same path.

My mother's father was a private pilot.  He was a banker in western Oklahoma and got his kicks flying around in a V-tailed Bonanza during the 1960's. My father's father was a WWII era B-25 Crew Chief stationed at Greenville Army Air Field in Greenville, SC where he helped train the Doolittle Raiders.  My own father flew OV-1 Mohawks in Vietnam and spent 32 years as a pilot for Delta Air Lines.  But as surrounded by aviation as I was, a career in the skies was never pushed on me or even encouraged until I began to show interest of my own.

I was a student at J.J. Pearce High School in Richardson, Texas when that finally happened.  The school offered an Aviation Science class that basically turned out to be a Private Pilot ground school course.  A former Braniff pilot visited our class on a regular basis and offered to take each and every one of us up in his own airplane, a beautiful 1966 Cessna 172.  He had a love of aviation and a passion for teaching young people to fly...the flight was his personal gift to our class and cost us nothing.

1966 Cessna 172 - N4664L

We went up three at a time and each got about fifteen minutes at the controls.  Some loved it, some hated it, some got sick and a few showed some natural ability and a desire to take the next step.  After flying with everyone who wanted to go, one person out of the class was chosen and taught to fly for free.  Really it was more of a trade…one hour of his time for one hour of the student’s.  He chose me and I spent the summer mowing my instructor's lawn, washing his car and learning to fly.  It was a good trade.

First solo...July, 1987.

Unfortunately, I moved off to college before I got started on my next license.  Money wasn't growing on trees, and the added expense of a flight instructor meant I had some saving to do, so  I got a summer job at a local FBO working as an assistant to two mechanics.  They put me to work and trained me in many of the less glamorous jobs around the hangar.  I spent most of my time changing brakes and tires, cleaning spark plugs, tearing down air frames and sweeping the shop floor in the sweltering summer heat of north Texas.  The guys knew I was trying to build time so they often came up with reasons for me to go out and “test fly” an aircraft after they were finished with repairs.  These flights were usually unwarranted, and we all knew it.  Technically speaking, this was the first time I was paid to fly an airplane since I was on the clock earning minimum wage at the time.

Using the money I earned during the summers and with the generous assistance of my parents and grandparents, I earned my Instrument, Commercial and Multi-Engine Ratings before graduating from college.  I graduated in 1991 with a Liberal Arts degree in hand, 750 hours in my logbook and an ignorant belief that I would walk through the doors at the local airport and land a job flying airplanes.  I really didn't care what or where I would be flying or how much it paid.  I just wanted to fly.

Instrument Checkride – 1991

Back then, one of the easiest ways to gain flight time was transporting cancelled checks.  I know this might sound crazy to some of the younger people reading this, but there was a time when people actually paid for things with a little piece of paper called a check (sarcasm intended).  Since the person you wrote the check to wanted their money fast and the bank was often half way across the country, small freight companies were paid to pick up the checks and fly them to a central bank for processing.  It was a difficult job for the pilot who usually flew all night, single pilot in an old, run-down airplane with no autopilot or radar. 

The company I eventually worked for had a sign over the door to the flight line that read "Don't be late, penetrate," referring to a direct line of flight through whatever nasty weather you encountered.  There was a long line of pilots willing to take the flight and the job if you refused, so the pressure to go was immense.  If they didn't quit or die trying, "freight dog" pilots emerged from this line of work with fine tuned instrument flying skills and valuable FAR Part 135 experience for their resume.

What I didn't know was that a pilot could not get such a job without at least 1,200 hours total time and 200 hours multi-engine…and I didn't have it.  Plan B meant getting my CFI, CFII and MEI certificates and teaching others to fly.  I got my ratings, landed a job at Monarch Air at the Addison Airport in one of the suburbs of Dallas, Texas and gave 780 hours of flight instruction in nine months.  That’s a lot of flying in a short amount of time, but I was hungry and I wanted to move on to the next stage of my career.

In my ninth month of instruction, my buddy Lee and I decided to start our own Part 135 operation.  We still didn't have the flight time needed to get hired, but we figured we could hire ourselves.  It came to our attention that the school we worked for had, at one time, operated Part 135.  So with permission from our boss, we got all the old books and manuals and went to the FAA for help.  We were assigned a Principal Operations Inspector and with his assistance, we managed to get our little business flying in relatively short order.  The week we opened our doors for business, the FAA grounded all the aircraft belonging to one of our local competitors, which presented a huge opportunity for our little freight company.  We were in business!

The only problem was that we were flying two airplanes, a Cessna T210 and an F33 Bonanza.  Both were single engine aircraft and we needed to gain multi-engine experience if we had any hope of moving up to a job with a corporate flight department or a regional airline.  So three months later, after our competitor had finally gotten all their planes back in the air, they hired us both to fly twins.  We happily accepted the jobs and handed our company to the next set of flight instructors looking to build Part 135 experience.

Then, as I was walking out the door for my first day on the job, I got a call from Atlantic Southeast Airlines in Atlanta, Georgia.  I had interviewed with the company two months earlier, but hadn't heard anything since and assumed I hadn't landed the job.  Turning in my two week notice on the first day was not fun or well received, but I couldn't turn down the job with ASA.

Three weeks later, I was in new hire class at ASA where I spent six years as a regional airline pilot…two years in the right seat of an EMB-120, two years in the right seat of an ATR-72 and two years back on the EMB-120, this time in the left seat.  By the time I had finished my first month at ASA, I was already applying for a job with the majors.  I only applied to the airlines I really wanted to work for, and I decided I would take the first job that was offered to me and never look back.  I submitted applications with American, Continental, Delta, Northwest, United and Southwest but only interviewed with American and Southwest.

Then, in the summer of 1999, while sitting in a hotel room in Long Beach, California preparing for what would be my last EMB-120 check-ride, American Airlines called to offer me a job.  I was ecstatic with the news and wanted to celebrate, but I still needed to pass that last check-ride.  As you might imagine, I found it incredibly difficult to concentrate.

Taken by my First Officer on my last day at ASA

Later that same day with the check-ride successfully complete, the phone rang again. It was Southwest Airlines. My two top picks offered me a job on the same day and presented me with an unexpectedly difficult decision. At the time, American paid more, had a better retirement plan, flew bigger, more exciting airplanes and flew them around the world. American Airlines Captains were receiving yearly bonus checks large enough to purchase new cars and Southwest just seemed like a better paying regional airline job. At least that’s how I rationalize my decision today. I always said I would take the first job I was offered and never look back, so I stuck to my plan and accepted the job at American.

I’m in my 14th year at American now and I still have trouble with the whole not looking back thing.  It hasn't been the career I thought I was signing up for, but I love what I do and wouldn't trade a minute of my experience for anything else.  It is all too easy to lose sight of all the great things in life, clouded by what could have been better. I am thankful for a great job and I am thankful that someone is still willing to pay me very good money to fly airplanes for a living. I love the airplane I fly and no one could claim to have a better office view. The feeling of a well flown approach or a smooth landing in difficult conditions is one that cannot be duplicated in another other line of work. I enjoy the people with whom I work. I visit cities all over the country and will someday fly all over the world. 

Is the job of an airline pilot as good as it used to be?  Will it ever be as good as it once was?  Maybe not, but I think my friend, author and fellow blogger Karlene Petitt put it best when she said  "I guess it depends if you are flying for the end goal, or the journey."

I'm here for the journey."

Thank you so much Brad. And thank you for your patience and my temporary (I hope) senility. For all of you who have enjoyed Brad's story... please follow him on Airline Pilot Chatter for much more. 

Enjoy the Journey...Brad is!
XO Karlene


  1. Thanks so much for posting this Karlene and Brad.

    I've really enjoyed getting to know you through your blog and over email Brad, and it's excellent getting to see and read a little bit more about your beginnings. As I expected, you began getting into aviation from a very early age and through your blog, you've inspired dozens of future aviators (like myself) who want to follow in your footsteps.

    It's really cool to read a full story about what you did in your early years to get to your position at a major airline today. It's especially good for people like me to read up on how others have done what we can only aspire to do.

    The posts on your blog are so informative and funny, it's great when a new one pops up. I found you recent post, "the last flight curse," incredibly interesting to read. The universe was definitely telling you it was time to move on to the next adventure.

    Can't wait to see more posts on your blog, happy flying (or training for you), and congratulations on your 737 upgrade soon,

    Swayne Martin

    1. Swanye, Thanks for your comment. I could not have said it better. Brad is definitely an inspiration to all of us. Especially me!

  2. That is a great read - thanks Brad - and Karlene for posting it!!

    1. Thank you for stopping by Mark! As always we appreciate you!

  3. I love Brad's blog and have been following it for some time now. It is very interesting to read about the dynamics within the industry and how the pilots, the human factor in all of it, has to adapt.

    Thanks for sharing this great Fabulous Friday Flyer :)

    1. Thank you so much Cecilie! He is definitely a fabulous flyer. And... his blog is awesome too. I should have known you had found him.

  4. I love that Brad quoted you, and such a fitting quote! A wise man, that one. I hope he enjoys his journey. :)

    1. Heather, Thank you so much for the comment. In the end, it really is all about the Journey. And following our true north.

  5. Karlene, I didn't know if I should comment on my own story or not, but I just couldn't resist. I feel so honored to have a place on your blog. I have read and enjoyed your writings here, on twitter, facebook and of course in print. You are a gifted writer and motivator and aviation in general owes you a debt of gratitude. Thank you for all you do.

    1. Mark, Absolutely you should comment. Seriously the honor is all mine, and I appreciate your kind words more than you know. We are all in this together and your optimism and passion is what fuels the rest of us, especially me. And I can't thank you enough for your support... It is so very much appreciated.
      Fly safe and keep that blue side up!

  6. A great Friday Flyer. And thanks for steering me to Brad's blog as well, Karlene.



    1. Thank you Owen! And... stand by, we'll be lighting up the night i two days... on the 17th!

  7. Thank you so much Karlene for sharing this....I cant really explain to you how this helps and i a using this to talk to some college student about choosing a career as a pilot....You are a true inspiration.More grease to your elbow.

    1. You are so welcome! Now is the best time to become a pilot for career opportunities. It's amazing! There is a huge connection out there like Brad. We're all here to help. Thank you for the grease. I need it!!!

  8. It has been an honor getting to know Brad over Twitter and his blog. Training to be a pilot is hard especially when you have bills to pay and have to work overtime just to make the money to make a dream come true. Brad is sets a the example of what it takes not only to become a good pilot but an excellent pilot.

    My side note to you brad is this: keep learning with your training partner about the role of the left seat because I want and will see you soon as my Captain on the 777300ER.

    Thank you both Karlene and Brad not only for such a great Friday Flyer but also your support.



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