By on September 26, 2017

Enjoying the process. My interview with Carly Richardson.

My friend Max and I have known each other for 17 years now and he is one of the few people from high school that I still stay in touch with. He is one of my most favorite people. I knew the woman he would marry would be strong, determined and have a great sense of humor. What I didn’t know was just how special she was going to be. Carly Richardson is going to be marrying my dear friend Max in less than one month (!!!) and I couldn’t imagine anyone more wonderful for him.

There are many things that I love about Carly. We share an undying love for burritos, dogs and the relentless undertaking of getting winged eyeliner even on both eyes. But more important than all of those things, she is wildly intelligent and witty, contagiously passionate, and extremely thoughtful. This was my first opportunity to sit down with Carly and hear about her journey to becoming a commercial pilot. She is not only a total bad ass but is also hilarious and fun to be around. My friend Max is one lucky guy.

Steph: Alright fellow burrito lover, where’s your favorite burrito from?

Carly: Oh, Taco del Mar. Hands down.

Really? This is shocking. 

I do love Matador’s burrito, but I like the sauce more than the burrito. The burrito itself isn’t that impressive. Taco del Mar’s carnitas are awesome. Carnitas burrito on a spinach tortilla with guacamole, sour cream, pico de gallo, 2 scoops hot salsa, half scoop queso, cheese, lettuce and obviously rice. That is the best burrito you will ever eat. Matador is the runner up.

When did you know that you wanted to fly planes for a living?

I used to be terrified of flying planes. I had nightmares about flying until I was 18. My dad is a pilot and I could have gone anywhere I wanted for free while I was under the age of 21, and I always chose to stay home. Disneyland, New York, Boston – my sister went on all of those trips and I was like “Nope, I will just stay home with Grandma and Grandpa.” I always had a morbid interest in flying, I loved airplane crash investigations. My dad had a book called Air Disaster, which didn’t help my fear right off the bat. I used to watch shows about crashes with him and I liked hearing what he had to say about them.

I remember being at the host stand at the Keg one day and texting my dad “I wish I could find a job in aviation that would pay me enough to live the life I want without being a pilot.” At the time I was enrolled in school, but not always going and I didn’t know what I wanted to do. He said I should be an air traffic controller.

That night I signed up for the program at Green River. Long story short, that is how it all started, I wanted to be an air traffic controller. The first quarter I was really into it, I took two weather classes and private pilot ground school. Air traffic controllers have to take that class so they have some perspective on what they are dealing with on the other end. They had us do a lot of simulator stuff and I thought maybe I should get my private license to conquer my fear and it would look good on my resume. So I asked my dad to take me up. He took me up in a 172 which is what I am flying now. When we left the ground I was like “NOPE,” and was not into it. Then he let me fly and I was like “Okay, I get it” and when I was flying it wasn’t an issue anymore. I started pilot training after my first year. After my first solo flight, I was pretty much dead set on being a pilot.

What is the process to become a commercial pilot?

A lot of it is just building hours. The first license you get is the private pilot license, which is basically your license to learn and you can only fly in good weather. After that people usually get their instrument rating, which is what you need to fly in the clouds. Having your instrument rating requires being able to interpret what all of the gauges are saying so you know what the airplane is doing without being able to see. Next, you go onto your commercial, which is mostly just time building, and mastery of your plane. With your commercial license you work on your airmanship and being precise with everything that you do and also flying an airplane with retractable landing gear.

After that, most people get their flight instructor certificate because that is one of the few jobs you can get once you have your commercial. The commercial license is the license to get paid, but there are lots of restrictions on the jobs you can have with that license. You can tow banners, crop dust, be an instructor…there aren’t many options. While you teach, you typically get your multi-engine license. The time flying multi-engine is really valuable to build since that is what you are flying as a commercial pilot. Once you have your commercial license, multi-engine license, instrument rating, are a Certified Flight Instructor and have a decent amount of hours then you want to move onto the next level job, which is usually flying cargo planes or working for regional airlines. Once you are upgraded to captain at the regional airlines after about 1,000 hours or so, you can eventually switch to major airlines.

How old do you think you will be by the time you are applying for major airlines?

I’m shooting for 30.

What has been the biggest challenge during the process?

The strain that it can put on your relationships. It is a big financial undertaking. When you are going through all of your training and your licenses you can’t really contribute anything. That can cause a rift in anyone’s relationship especially since you aren’t around to pick up the slack in other areas. I worked two jobs for a while – working at the front desk at Galvin to get my foot in the door and as a waitress at the Matador. Late nights and early mornings made me pretty stressed and pissed all the time. I made great money at Matador but it all went to Galvin for flying.

Has flying planes taught you any important life lessons?

It has taught me to basically be a responsible adult, to be prepared and organized. You have to hold yourself accountable for knowing the information needed to fly. It requires a lot of planning ahead, and having a good work ethic. Flying the airplanes themselves has taught me to be assertive. The airplane is a machine, it isn’t going to do anything that you don’t tell it to do, and if it does, you need to make the adjustments necessary. You need to be like that in real life too.

Also, it has taught me just how short life is, when I go to work I know that anything can happen. There’s an old pilot saying: on the last flight of your life, you will either walk out to the airplane knowing it’s your last flight, or walk out to the airplane not knowing it’s your last flight. It has taught me to not take anything for granted, I don’t ever leave the house angry or without telling Max I love him.

It has also helped me to slow down and appreciate things more. This is a long career path, and if you spend the whole time focused on the time left until you are a pilot, you will miss out on enjoying the process. Time building is so fun, this year I have taken my students to grass airports, doing things that people were doing in 30’s, flying the airplane the same way it has been for a long time. I tell my students that every airplane speaks the same language, just a different dialect. If you know the language, it will make you successful no matter what plane you are flying. I have been enjoying taking my students in a tiny plane to an airport in the middle of nowhere, and getting a cheeseburger or piece of pie. It can be really rewarding along the way. It is easy to be so focused on the end goal that you can miss out on all of the stuff in between.

And lastly, a lot of people don’t think they can be a pilot. But they need to realize they can do it. You find a way, and just do it. Whatever you feel passionate about, you have to do it. Money doesn’t matter at the end of the day.


What is something reassuring you could tell someone like me who is scared of flying?

What specifically scares you?

Weather I guess? The worst flight I have been on was out of Las Vegas, people were crying.

Turbulence is just air. It can be severe and extreme. Vegas is like a little bowl – there is high terrain surrounding a valley. It is hot and you have all of this different air mixing together. You have lots of updrafts because of the heat rising. You would have to fly through some extremely severe weather to bring a plane down. There are so many precautions. Air traffic control wouldn’t let it happen. Pilots don’t want to fly through that. Between the dispatchers and air traffic controllers, there are people watching your flight making sure that it will get to the destination safely. You won’t just suddenly happen into a big storm. They will always have you turn around or divert, and the pilots aren’t going to be like “meh, I didn’t really like my wife and kids anyway, I would rather save some time.” As far as mechanical – a catastrophic mechanical failure on an American airline isn’t going to happen.


Your mentioned your dad is also a pilot, how has flying influenced your relationship with him?

It has made it great. I have always been really close with my dad. My dad and I have the same morals and views. We think the same shit is funny. My dad was 20 when he had me so he treated me as more of a friend growing up. Now that I am grown up and don’t need to be parented (Max might disagree with that statement) my friendship is really strong with my dad. With the flying coupled into that, it is really cool. He has basically taught me everything I know. I have had Galvin instructors teach me, but my dad has flown with me and taught me as well. He has influenced the way that I fly and the way that I teach my students. My dad and I got to do a trip a couple of summers ago where we picked up a plane in Chicago and had to fly it back here. It was 18 hours of flight time in 3 days. He had never done anything like that and neither had I so we were both kind of figuring it out together. It was an awesome experience.

I love dads.

Dads are the best.

Would you ever bring your dogs on the plane with you?

Paisley would poop everywhere, she gets terrified even riding in the back of the truck. A few weeks ago we were going to take the dogs to our friends’ house so they could watch them while we went camping. My car needed gas and the Miata was too small for all of us, so we were going to have to take Max’s truck. The windows to the Miata were down and we were getting Piper into the truck and we were like “Where did Paisley go?” We looked over and she had jumped through the window and was waiting for us in the Miata like she was trying to make a suggestion on what car to take.

What is something that really matters to you?

Family. That’s it. At the end of the day that’s really all that matters. Everyone goes through that phase where doing anything over hanging out with your friends sucks, but friends kind of come and go. You realize when you get a little older. I would hang out with (my brother) Levi over any of my friends. I love hanging out with my dad – he is like my BFF, we have more in common than most of my friends. When it comes to conversational stuff, he knows me more than anybody and we have the same sense of humor. And my mom is like a clone of me. No matter what, family is what matters.





Professional lover of stories, the harmonica, goats and burritos. Constantly daydreaming about living in the country, ice cream and decorating. Inspired by beautiful writing, the PNW, Beyonce and kindness. I'm guaranteed to have hearts in my eyes when the lighting is just right and am totally in love with my beau named Beau, who I found in the middle of fall, my favorite season. I sleep in my makeup, grew up on grunge music, embrace imperfection and am pretty excited about the gift of waking up every morning with choice to kick butt and love every minute of this wild ride.


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