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Erika Armstrong is the Chick in the Cockpit

CockpitErika is now the Director of Instructional Design for Advanced Aircrew Academy (helping train corporate/charter pilots) and an aviation professor at MSU Denver teaching Aircraft Systems and Propulsion, Aviation Fundamentals and Instrument ground school. She is an aviation journalist for seven aviation magazines and author of A Chick in the Cockpit. Her articles can be found at Disciples of Flight, NYC AviationConsumer Affairs, Mountain Connection, Contrails, Plane & Pilot, General Aviation News, Mentor, Business Insider and magazine. She has had over 300,000 readers in a month and is a LinkedIn "Thought Leader" with 220,000+ follower. Erika has been the keynote speaker for high profile events but most uniquely, Erika was an international corporate, cargo, hazmat, airline, Red Cross and 24-hour air ambulance pilot/captain. Her book, A CHICK IN THE COCKPIT, will change your perspective of pilots, aviation and the quiet power of women. In the high stakes, ego-driven world of aviation, this is an extraordinary bestselling true story of how a level-headed, self-deprecating woman with an aviation addiction finds herself in jail, her baby ripped from her arms, her piloting career taken away, and every feasible exit leads to a very dark place...

Adopted in Seattle but raised in Minnesota, Erika’s early membership in the Minnesota 99s (International Women Pilots Association) jump-started her career. She decided to turn discrimination around and use it to her advantage by filtering it through her humor and perspective. This attitude and obsessive focus landed her in the captain’s seat of a commercial airliner by the age of thirty. She also holds a type rating in Boeing 727 and CE-500 series aircraft and has extensive pilot training from Flight Safety, SimuFlite, NATCO, CAE, Pan Am and has flown 28 different types of aircraft. Her favorite airplane is the B727 with the Falcon 20, Citation III and GIIB close behind.

Erika Armstrong To back experience with education, Erika attended the University of Minnesota’s Journalism program as an undergraduate before being lured into the world of aviation. To round out her education, she attended Embry- Riddle Aeronautical University and has a B.A. degree in International Business, Economics and Culture with National Honor Society recognition from the University of Denver. She also owns Leading Edge Aviation and The Manuscripter Editing Services.

Living at 8,700 feet in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, Erika can almost touch the airplanes she used to fly. The thin air and cloud touching provides inspiration at the computer keyboard. If she’s not out running her own business, belly dancing, kickboxing, organizing a Town Hall or board of director’s meeting, she is writing at her house on the hill with her family, friends, three dogs, rabbits, horses, guinea pigs and any other strays she finds along the way. She always has a spare room for guests so just bring some good stories and a smile.


My interview with Her Invitation:

"I want to share with you my interview with the extraordinary Erika Armstrong. When I first saw the title of Erika’s soon to be published book, ‘Chick in the Cockpit’, I knew that here was a woman I just had to talk to!

Erika is an international corporate and airline pilot/captain, aviation recruiter and analyst, editor, public speaker and author, In twenty+ years of aviation, she has worked in all aspects of the industry leading her to the captain's seat of a Boeing 727-200.

Here is what Erika had to say about power and influence and life as a ‘chick in the cockpit’"

What do you think it means to be a ‘Powerful Woman’?

Wow, great question! Too often we assume power means being a CEO or politician, but it’s important to acknowledge that there are two different kinds of power, and it is the same for men and women. We shouldn’t put women in a different “power” category.

There is an internal power and an external power and it’s when these powers are balanced that you see a truly powerful greatness in a person.

An Internal Power is the only one that you have control over and it’s the most important. It’s the internal thought process that comes from being observant, logical and reflective. This power gives you confidence and pride, whether you are rich or poor, black or white, woman or man. It’s formed by how you react to life events and the perception you have of yourself when challenged by the barriers put in your way.

I know many “powerful” women who are stay-at-home moms. To the outside world, they have no “power”, but to the world around them, they are positive life changing women. These are the people that will shape our world for the better, and in my opinion, are the most powerful women.

An External Power is the symbolic position in the world. These are the CEOs, president, captain on a commercial airliner, etc. It’s what the world judges “power” on, but it’s the other that is more important. Our world sees, too often, people who have external power, but no internal power. Since they are in the position to affect others, they leave a path of destruction. They are “powerful”, but it is meaningless because they step on others to rise above.

With that in mind, I think a powerful woman is someone who can find their happiness and be proud of their accomplishments, no matter how great or small. A powerful woman is proud that she is raising a family, or running a new IT company, or both, or neither. It can be anything, as long as they own their own life. The power is in the perception.

How comfortable do you feel describing yourself as ‘powerful’?

1 2 3 I’d put it here! X 4

The reality is that if women “want it all”,something has to give. Women willingly give up their external power when they have children because this gives them balance for their internal power. Women should be proud of this, but our society belittles their accomplishments because we judge only on the external power.

What has surprised you most during your career?

That I could do it! Perception is the key to reaching the captain’s seat of a commercial airliner. If you can take your filter and see the world without judgement or opinion, you’ll see that with hard work and dedication, you can do anything. The airplane doesn’t know or care who is flying it, just that you know what you’re doing.

Too often, young women pilots perceive themselves as less capable just because they learn differently or do anything differently than men. Different doesn’t mean wrong.

It has also been a fabulous experiment of observing men! Where else can you lock yourself in a small box with men for 8,000 hours? I worked with them and then went back to the crash pad with them, and not as a spouse, girlfriend or anything other aspect other just another pilot. I have been put in a position where I could observe men in their natural element because they often forgot I was a woman. I worked hard to make sure they knew I was just another pilot.

So, while I learned an enormous amount about aviation, airplanes, rules and regulations, I learned even more about human beings.

What have you learned about yourself?

That what I wanted out of life at 20 years old, is definitely different at 40! We set out in this world knowing what we want to do, but we really don’t because it changes each year. As each life event comes along, your perception of yourself and the world will change. I had to learn how to be flexible in what gives me happiness and serenity. I had a very clear path ahead of me, but I had to learn to head out into the deep dark woods because someone else pushed me off my path. Now, I always enjoy where I end up. I have learned to thrive and enjoy the ride, even when bad weather changes my flight path.

If you could go back and talk to your younger self what would you say to her?

I wouldn’t tell her anything! I am where I am because of trial and error and I couldn’t be here if I didn’t make my own mistakes. I wouldn’t have listened to “me” anyways.

When you were a little girl what messages did you receive from your upbringing? (and what if anything did you realise you needed to change in order to grow as a woman?)

Life’s checklists will always give you a reason to blame your childhood for your behaviour or your present position. As children, we have nothing to compare our childhoods to, so it’s important as we get older and go out in this world that we absorb all the new information out there so we don’t have to be our childhoods. Confront the messages we heard as girls/children and use your experiences to defend or reject what you were told.

I was adopted, but I used this as a way of seeing the difference between ingrained personality traits and choices we make. The message from my mom was that women are sad, angry and depressed and should never reach too far. The reality I learned is that depression puts a filter on your vision so you can’t see the world clearly. She perceived herself as unworthy, so she lives a life where she doesn’t have to prove her worth.

My parents’ divorce when I was 9 gave me the message that you can’t rely on a man to be there or to support you. The reality is that you have to rely on a man if you want to have a family and a balanced life, it is part of a healthy relationship, so choose wisely! If you chose the wrong one, get out and try again. It’s okay if you don’t get it right the first time.

As for being a pilot, the only woman aviator I knew of while I was growing up ended up in the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, which really didn’t encourage me to fly. Instead, I had quiet mentors that gave me courage to try again, even if I failed. Their confidence in my ability kept me going when I lacked my own. They weren’t all women, but there were a few.

The great part of being a pilot is that I didn’t have to change to be one. I was born a pilot, I just didn’t know it until I started flying. We all are born to be something, you just won’t know it until you’ve tried it.

What do you say to yourself often, ‘in your moments of doubt’?

Doubt just means that there are an abundance of options. In the airplane, a pilot has to make thousands of decision for each flight. Each decision will have a level of doubt, but each choice is backed by years of training and experience. Even if I don’t make the best choice (can only be seen with hindsight), I know it will still be safe, so I don’t fear the doubt. It’s the doubt that makes us good pilots. We should always question ourselves and our choices, but experience and knowledge will keep the outcome within the circle of safety.

Do you see yourself as influential and if so in what way?

I hope I have always set a good example and if it has influenced someone to do the right thing or be a better person, then I have succeeded. I hope that my book, coming out at the end of this year, expands my influence.

What one piece of advice would you give to a group of 18 year old girls?

My advice is: don’t take advice! Listen to it, but don’t just take it. Keep an open mind and view the world through your own filter and when you get someone’s opinion (which is advice), decide for yourself if it works for you. The hard part is that you’ll have to try the advice to see if it works, but in the end, let your instinct decide if it’s right or wrong.

What projects are you working on at the moment and why are they important to you?

I sold my manuscript to a publisher in August 2014. When I was negotiating with the publisher, she told me the book wouldn’t be released until November 2015. I wondered why in the world it would take so dang long, but now I know why. Perfection is a curve that keeps moving! I want to get it right, so my constant task is to rewrite.

My most important ongoing, lifelong project is raising my two girls. Parenting is harder than landing a Boeing 727-200 in a blizzard with a 39 knot crosswind and two engines inoperative! But, even though it’s the hardest and least recognized job out there, parenting has the best fringe benefits and a love that you can’t earn anywhere else.

From Jenni;

Thank you Erika for sharing your thoughts and your inspiring story.

So much of what Erika has said is fundamental to the work we are doing at Her Invitation to help women recognise that they have power, internally and externally and that what matters is achieving the right balance for who we are as ‘positive life changing women’.

If there is one statement that Erika made which I want to sing out to the world it is this one

‘We are all born to do something, you just won’t know until you’ve tried it’

I didn't find my ‘something’ until I was in my forties. My ‘something’ was coaching and it was a revelation; it changed my life in every way and it has led me to the point where, at an age where many people are thinking about retirement and may feel they are ‘too old’ to change or do something new, I am in the midst of growing something fresh and inspiring and I am living my passion.