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

PHD. MBA. MHS. Type rated on A350, A330, B777, B747-400, B747-200, 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. Fighting for Aviation Safety and Airline Employee Advocacy. Safety Culture and SMS change agent.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Captain Kathy McCullough

Retired and Still Flying Strong! 

My Friend Kathy McCullough is retired, but she is working harder than she ever has. But then again, I heard that about retirement. Pilots go to work to get a rest! 

Well, she's also enjoying life on the farm, still traveling the world, writing books, taking photos, and being an advocate for the lady pilots. We met Kathy as a Friday Flyer not too long ago. I asked her if she would join us today, and share her recent adventures.  

Kathy and Hubby Kevin


"Retirement is supposed to be relaxing, right? I joined a woman airline pilot group (ISA +21) because they were traveling to Rome, and I wanted to go. It was perfect, because now I had friends to go places with and they needed a photographer. Fast forward seven years.

Yes, I went to Germany, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Hungary, Netherlands, Canada, and Italy with a great group of women. But I also learned that problems in the airline industry for women are still as bad as they were in the early eighties, and back then it was pretty bad. Oddly enough when I was hired, I had excellent maternity leave. However, women today are being forced back to work six weeks after having a baby, even when the baby is ill. They have to make a choice between the baby's health and the means to pay for medical bills. Come back, or quit. I also know female captains who have been punished for assertiveness in the flight deck, speaking out about female concerns in private forums, bruising a male pilot's ego,  reporting safety issues, and many more ridiculous reasons they use to destroy a female pilot's career.  Times need to change. 

Kathy with Joe Sutter, Mr. Boeing 747 

I opened communications with the New York Times and a major airline in attempt to make a difference. Some policies were changed. Many US major airlines adopted a better maternity policy, and that was a start. But the fight continued as ALPA (a pilot union) didn’t want to push for “special” work rules for a "small number" of their members. That’s right, small. Because forty-plus years after the first women were hired (Emily Howell, Frontier, 1973) less than 5% of airline pilots are women. 

Come From Away (with ISA)

All that talk about diversity and hiring more women pilots appears to be rhetoric. The reason that less than 2% of the women pilots (at a particular major airline) make it to retirement, in my opinion, is due to this inappropriate treatment. There are many real problems that go unnoticed in the aviation industry. 

One of the worst offenders in my era was an instructor (also head of the union’s sexual harassment committee!) who put three degrees of rudder trim into a 747 full of passengers on my landing.  For non-flyers that would be like your kid reaching over and grabbing your steering wheel on the freeway. The landing was scary, to say the least. I couldn’t figure out what had happened until I started procedures while taxiing to the gate. I pointed to the rudder trim, and of course he denied it. And flunked me. I had to have a “final” ride with a hatchet man, an instructor known for busting out more pilots than anyone else with the airline.

Thankfully the hatchet man buried that hatchet and passed me. This decision would be career changer. We all knew I could fly, but the hatchet was out for one reason only, and my flying performance had nothing to do with it.

Want to know why he passed me?  
It’s all in my book:  Ups and Downs

That book is just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. (My travel book, To the Edges of the World, will be out in 2018).

"To the Edges of the World— Piloting a Boeing 747 around the world we joked about flying from layover to layover. Two and three days off in foreign countries seemed more like a vacation than a job. The other pilots I flew with laughed as I “hit the ground running,” and often came sightseeing with me.

As you sit in your living room reading a travel book, it should take you away. This one does. From Europe to Asia, Alaska to Antarctica, come fly with me!"

 You can check out my photo gallery HERE.

Kathy with Donald McMonagle (retired astronaut)

I tried to make Ups and Downs a positive account of my life’s adventures. My Novel, Breakfast in Narita, is on my editor’s desk. Novels are fiction... right? Well, let's just call this one "True-Fiction." It is a no-holes barred account of the harassment women airline pilots face. Stay tuned… I intend to blow the lid off what is still going on in this industry.

Speaking at Raytheon, Tucson
to a group native American kids

I talk to schools, juvenile facilities,
 teach STEM, etc. 

Without diversity this field continues to be headed downhill, 
like a snowball. 

At one airline the women don’t have to wear ties. Rumor is the men are incensed. Another airline has a restrictive hair policy. Yet if young women going into this field can’t look attractive, that’s one more reason less will choose it. Harassment, not family friendly, different standards, why would they fly? 
We must stop allowing our society to harass anyone. 

Women doctors who want to become surgeons face the same barriers. I’m sure many fields where women are working under bosses with sociopathic tendencies are the same. Men in positions of power are experts at bringing people down. There is no one to police them, and they seem to revel in it.

This is not men bashing, I'm just acutely aware of what is still happening in the aviation industry today. We should have moved forward with this. It's time to change the culture of some of our airlines. 

Commencement Speaker at
University of Florida Laboratory school
Kathy with mom, brother, and sister-in-law!

I also help to raise scholarship money for a 501©3 charity, ISA+21. The money goes to women who want to be airline pilots. They are the International Society of Women Airline Pilots, and these women have given away over a million dollars in ratings. Last year we gave over $60,000 out! I made them my Amazon Smile charity, and we have a silent auction each year at our conference to raise money. We know of at least 75 women who have won and gone on to be airline pilots, so that’s a start. Obviously it isn’t enough. How do we get to 50/50 in this career? Maybe we never will. But there is always hope!"

Happy Flying! 

Enjoy the Journey!
XO Karlene 


  1. Karlene, thank you so much for this post. I want to thank the thousands of great pilots out there who I've worked with over the years. I don't believe this is a male pilot issue. I suspect this is more of a management issue, a leadership issue due to corporate culture.

    1. Kathy, You are welcome! I agree, the line pilots are awesome! I am so looking forward to your Novel, as I know the truth within the pages. Keep up the great work and thank you for helping to make our industry better.


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