After Westminster College senior Charlie Vogel graduates this spring with a degree in flight operations and aviation, he will face pressure that few college graduates experience.
Vogel is in the cadet program with United Airlines training to be a commercial pilot. Currently, he’s a flight instructor, flying a small plane that travels at 100 mph with one other student in the aircraft. When he makes the transition to flying for United Airlines, Vogel will be flying a jet plane that travels 600 mph with up to 100 people on board.
Other students in the aviation program await similar futures.
“At this point, I have not thought of the pressure,” said Brice Corcoran, a Westminster alumnus who is currently working on his pilots license. “After talking to my dad, who is a pilot, and my other mentors about it, they definitely feel some pressure. When you have 150 people in the back, that’s not something to take lightly.”
Though the pressure is unique, being a pilot for a major airline comes with its own rewards, according to Corcoran, who said pilots for major airlines can pick their own schedule and destinations when they fly.
The Forum spoke with Vogel as he prepares for his upcoming life as a pilot after graduation.
Q: Are you nervous to make the transition from a student to a commercial pilot?
A: Yeah, it’s crazy. I’m going from a two-passenger plane that does 100 mph to a jet that does 600 mph that has 100 lives on board. The planes we fly here at Westminster College are simple. Once you go to the airlines, not only do you have the pressure of 80 people in the back, but you are doing 600 mph in a $90 million plane with a lot of stuff going on. Things happen quickly. You are going through checklists, you are flying the plane, you are managing power and managing airspeeds, all while you do things like make announcements to passengers and [make] sure you don’t fly through turbulence. All of these other factors that never played into your pilot training are coming to real life.
Q: Does this pressure get to you at all?
A: I guess I haven’t gotten to that point yet. I have yet to digest that whole experience, but there is a whole new workload to that experience. I’m going from taking a friend up for a fun flight to check out a ski resort to having 80 people pay me to get them safely from point A to point B.
Q: Do you look forward to starting your career?
A: Yeah, it’s going to be rad. It will be a great career. I can pick trips that I want to take. It’s conducive for me. I love adventure. I like kiteboarding, surfing and skiing. With flying I can go to new places in the world and do the things I love with my piloting career. I did a trip for someone on a private jet for someone not too long ago to California. After we flew the guy down there, I was able to surf for a couple of days, getting paid for it. And then he called us up and we flew him home.
Q: Has the aviation program at Westminster prepared you for your career?
A: From any other major at Westminster College, the aviation major is completely different. It soaks up all of your time and you have to devote everything to it. With flying, it is all about procedures, rules and getting that stuff fresh in your head. So if you don’t keep doing it, you lose it. It is not a major where you can go to class and then go ski or go get away for a week. You literally have to be doing it every day all the time, or you are just taking a step forward and then a step back.
Q: Are you going to fly over spring break?
A: No, I’m getting out of here to take a break. But there are students that dedicate themselves and fly all the time. There are a couple of students that started four years ago with me and they are already working at the airlines. While I was wondering what the snow and wind was doing, they were flying every day. That is why they cut the period from four years down to two years, and now they are at the airline.