They say truth is stranger than fiction, and our next author meticulously captures the oddities of reality in the aviation world through her writing. Karlene Petitt is the author of the best-selling self-improvement book, Flight to Success, a series of aviation fiction novels, and a children’s book. She flies full time for a major airline, and when she isn’t busy flying or writing, she’s either working on a Ph.D., giving back to the community through various volunteer projects, or spending time with her children and grandchildren. This woman does it all!
Karlene has mentored hundreds of young pilots who have gone on to fly for the military, for regional and major airlines, or as Certified Flight Instructors. Her love of aviation is demonstrated in every facet of her life. This week, we catch up with Karlene to see what makes her tick.
And while we’re at it, we’re going to give away a signed box set of her books to one lucky member of our email list! A winner will be chosen on 21 November 2016.
If you’re not part of our list, you can join below. When you sign up, you are automatically entered for all of our giveaways. Don’t worry, we hate SPAM as much as the next person, so you won’t receive too many emails throughout the year…mainly during giveaway season! Contest details can be found here.
Q: Karlene, can you tell us a little about your career path to becoming a pilot for a major airline? What got you started in aviation?
I actually got started in aviation because, when I was 9 years old, I was playing a game with my girlfriends called Careers, and life was not allowing me to have my way. Careers was a board game where you spun the wheel, advanced along the board of life, and earned a career. Career options were a nurse, schoolteacher, model, librarian, and hostess (pre-flight attendant). Yes, a totally sexist game. My friends and I all wanted to be hostesses, and they reached their dreams. For me… I could not get on the spot and finally said, “I don’t want to be a hostess anyway. I’m going to be the pilot.” One of my friends said, “You can’t be a pilot! My dad is a pilot and he say’s girls can’t do that.” I said, “Yes, I can!” She said, “No you can’t.” Feet stuck firmly in the ground, until they could be in the sky, I decided that I would become a pilot. I began babysitting, mowing lawns… you name it I did it to earn money for flying lessons. Then I took an intro flight when I was sixteen, and thought, “Wow! They’re going to pay me for this?” I was hooked! That was the most incredible experience and the rest is history.
Q: You have been a prominent figure in the aviation blogosphere since you launched your website in 2010. Can you tell us what made you want to start blogging? Where do you get your energy to keep it up?! (Seriously, and where can I get some of that energy?)
The blog was actually the product of writing my first novel. I was told that all writers needed a social media presence: a blog, a website, twitter… etc, or no publishers would accept our books. I had no idea what a blog was in 2010, (or twitter). As you know, working, family, writing, and add then add college into the mix, it’s hard to find time to do anything extra. But, what happened was, I learned this was a great place to educate, share the love of flight, entertain, and help others with their ventures.
Being a wife, mother, pilot, and author… you can imagine there is something for everyone. While attending A330 training, I wrote everything that I learned to conceptually educate how the systems worked for better understanding. As it turned out, the Airline’s instructors began sending students to my blog. I flew with a captain who took me out to dinner, because he had vowed that if he ever flew with me, he owed me that for helping him through training. So… the blog grew. But working on my PhD, while writing the fourth novel has been a time challenge. Yet, I will keep it alive. This week I posted photos of painting project with the grandkids, and shared a story of a pilot I flew with at Northwest. Message to all… when you have a lot on your plate, as life sometimes throws your way, always take time to do something fun that doesn’t take brainpower to do, that brings joy.
Q: I know you have been a powerful advocate for women in the aviation world. Can you tell us about some of your work? How are you inspiring young women to seek careers in aviation?
When I became a pilot I did not join 99’s, Women in Aviation, or ISA +21 (International Society of Women Airline Pilots). Why? Because early on, a captain said, “Oh, do you belong to that female club?” It was as if I had to make a choice. Thus, I determined that I wanted to be a pilot, not a woman pilot. I wanted to dissolves those walls of gender, as we are all pilots. The reality is, there was so much support that could have been available to me—especially being a mom, too. So now I have joined all the “Aviation Girl Clubs” to help those who come behind, I speak at conferences, and willing to help anyone. But more than that, for the previous ten years I have been hosting flying events to open the skies to young ladies to experience their first flight. I wanted them to experience what I did during my first flight—if you are born to be a pilot, that’s all it takes. But, I also mentor many young men, thus… I’m about sharing the love of flight with all. Still hoping for that gender wall to disappear!
Q: Can you tell us about your safety background? How have your flying/safety experiences transferred to your writing?
I fell into an instructor job, as the side effect of not having enough flight experience to become a line pilot at America West. But I learned that I had aptitude and ability to teach. This was the beginning of my safety interest. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s the values, processes, procedures, and decision-making skills, that we as pilots take into the sky, that will determine safety. We can all learn what buttons to push from a manual, but how do we learn discipline, organization, the essence of standard operating procedures, ethics with safety, respect for regulatory compliance, and how to have the confidence to shutdown an operation in the interest of safety? Most of that comes from our instructors and the lessons we learned from others.
Then I began hosting flying events and many of those young ladies who took their first flight and were inspired to fly, are now in college pursuing the flying career. An overwhelming sense of responsibility, to ensure they have a long, secure, and productive career, where safety is not shortchanged for the dollar, became a passion. The CEO’s fiduciary responsibility is to the stockholders. Yet, employees are stockholders. And our responsibility is to humanity and safety.
We as pilots also understand the challenges of the media covering an accident, where expertise and experience may be lacking, and many of the statements are often just flat wrong. And retired captains who join the discussion, may not have knowledge of fly-by-wire, NextGen, SMS, or current operations. Not to mention, that random regulations have been imposed that may have been better thought out, and the threat of cameras in the flight deck and cutting back the numbers of pilots… We have nobody with the education, experience and understanding to advocate for the future of aviation and the pilots.
Thus, my mission to improve safety is to educate myself, and become an advocate for the industry and create a job worth having while improving safety. How does that apply to writing? I write true fiction. The elements and plot points within the novels are true. The industry issues are true. The events are true. Basically, the fiction is the murder, the sex, and the names were changed to protect the guilty. But there is also something to learn in each book for those aviation fans. Most write to entertain or to educate, I write to do both.
Q: You have quite an impress list of aircraft qualifications. Which has been your favorite aircraft to fly and why?
The Boeing 747-400 is my favorite. She is a combination of a traditional stick and rudder, cable controlled, aircraft, but with the glass technology. The B747-400 flies like a plane, one where we can utilize our piloting skills to fly her, yet the flight management computers offer the support of technology to improve safety. And when they say size isn’t an issue? Well, when it comes to a plane it just might be. It’s pretty darn cool flying a plane of that size. There was not a day that passed, that I as I walked around her during a preflight that I did not feel amazement, and awe, at what brilliant minds have accomplished to enable a 700,000+ machine to sustain flight.
Q: You are an accomplished aviator, you have published several books, and you are earning a Ph.D. in aviation safety. What’s next for Karlene Petitt? Do you have any more books in the works? When can we expect to read them?
I just finished my Qualifying Exam this August, and am working on the dissertation phase. I hope to have that complete within a year, but will be building my own survey instrument and gathering my own data for the research, so I’m not exactly sure how much time that will take. I do plan to publish the dissertation when complete, as the research is fascinating and I know the aviation public will find it an interesting read. Hopefully February 2018.
As far as novels… I will have the fourth novel in the series—Flight For Sanity—complete by February of 2017, just in time for the Northwest Aviation Fair. Hard to believe that is just months away. I write what I call true fiction, so one day we can expect to read the non-fiction book of all the novels.
I also have a great idea for a children’s movie and decided to make it a book first. So when it hits Hollywood, I will have the copyright in the event someone wants to borrow the idea. So stand by for a great book called Jungle Air. I do have a few other movie ideas, so those may come next. Book form or script… time will tell.
Thanks Karlene! We can’t wait to see what’s next!
Update: Congrats Russel Day, our 21 November 2016 winner! He will receive a signed set of Karlene’s books.