Emmy Dillon is a Jane of All Trades. She shows us that you can be and do more than one thing. Read her story in part four of our blog series, "Pilots are Leaders."
Tell us about yourself
I’m Emmy - I’m just a plane girl (pun fully intended); self-proclaimed nerd and avgeek. I’m a corporate pilot and former human factors engineer. Aviation is what I live and breathe!
Which came first for you, the adventure or the airplane?
The airplane is the adventure for me - they go hand-in-hand.
Emmy in her team's plane in 2016, when they won the Air Race Classic.
Tell us about your flight path to this date.
My first flight was when I was 12, flying an L-23 Blanik glider through Civil Air Patrol. I officially started training when I was 16, learning to fly in Cessna 172s. I earned my private in high school and went on to earn my advanced ratings in college. I surprised everyone by taking a job as an engineer (instead of flying), where I designed the user interface for integrated flight decks - I also flight instructed part-time. I’ve since jumped from engineering to flying full-time. As of 3 weeks ago, I am a corporate pilot!
Finish this sentence - “Leadership is......”
Leadership is recognizing you are not above the team; you are a part of it.
Leadership is listening to the entire hierarchy, not just those who report directly to you. The people in low level positions are just as capable of creating innovative concepts as those higher up.
Leadership is taking caring of your people as important as the team goal.
How can pilots use aviation to give back to their communities and/or use their other talents to give back to aviation?
This is my favorite part about aviation. There are countless organizations that utilize aviation to give back - I have been a member of Civil Air Patrol for almost 13 years now and I’ve had the pleasure of doing a multitude of volunteering through CAP. I have been fortunate to fly several Pilot’s-N-Paws flights, flying dogs from shelters to their new homes. I have flown as a volunteer pilot for Challenge Air, which gives children with special needs the opportunity to experience flight. Flying for Challenge Air has easily been one of the most rewarding flying experiences I’ve had in my career. I’ve flown Young Eagles flights, with the goal of flying more this year. I am also a part of Angel Flight - I have not had a chance to fly for them yet, but I know several aviators that have made an incredible impact on their communities through Angel Flight. There are new groups, like Crew Members Who Care, that offer opportunities for crews to volunteer on their overnights.
You can always volunteer with aviation groups like EAA, Aviation Explorers, Women in Aviation, and the Ninety-Nines that give back to aviation. One of my favorite volunteering ventures is with Girl Scouts and American Heritage Girls. I’m a huge advocate for women (of all ages) in aviation and STEM and I think both organizations are a great way to do that - you’re engaging girls of various ages and their parents/guardians in a multitude of different activities to show them just what aviation and STEM has to offer. Most of the girls I’ve worked with haven’t met female pilots before, known what an air traffic controller is, or knew anything about aviation maintenance.
I also highly suggest looking into your local aviation museum and give them a shout - you can volunteer as a docent or even possibly help with the restoration process!
What advice would you give a young lady, graduating high school, who wants to pursue a traditionally male-dominated career?
I’m not going to sugar coat it - it can be tough. It’s not as bad as it used to be, but there are definitely some days where comments are made that are rude, uncalled for, or just plain gross.
But whatever salty words people may say to you, do not give in and alter your course based on their biased words. You will be a pioneer in your own right. Whether or not you realize it, you are paving the way for someone else wanting to pursue a non-traditional career. Stay focused on the path you want to forge for yourself. You’ll get to the point where you’ll forget that you’re in a male-dominated field - I hardly notice any more. You have a massive sisterhood of women pursuing non-traditional careers that are backing you, supporting you, and cheering you on. Your satisfaction will come from the journey to your successes.
How did you decide to go from engineering to becoming a professional pilot?
It was easily the most difficult decision of my life. I had been toying with the idea of pursuing professional flying for about 18 months before I made the jump. The toughest part of the process with picking between my dream job and, well, my other dream job. There were two very particular moments that swayed me towards flying professionally - I was working on a project for work and on my lunch break, I was scrolling through Instagram (how millennial of me) and I had this overwhelming feeling of being trapped. I felt trapped working at a desk, creating designs instead of flying them. And that’s when I started feeling torn. How could I feel this way about the job had been dreaming of for 10+ years? The second moment occurred when I was attending WAI and had a conversation with a first officer at a major airline - she was a software engineer for over a decade and then moved to professional flying. When I asked her why she made transition, she said “if you’re not pursuing what you think about everyday and what your heart is pulling you towards, what’re you doing?”. Her words stuck with me throughout the entire decision process. I also began to realize that engineering will always be there in one shape or form - the opportunity to fly professionally may not be. So it only took 24 years to listen to Ms. Frizzle’s advice to “Take Chances. Make Mistakes. Get Messy.” I took a chance, packed up my life, and here I am starting over.
Moral of the story? Even the smallest of conversations or actions can make a major impact.
What are some books that greatly influenced your life?
- PHAK and AFH (A bad joke, I know).
- Chip Gaines’ book, Capital Gaines, it gave me a new perspective on making mistakes, how I think of myself and others, and I want to interact with everyone that walks into my life.
- Nerves of Steel, by Tammie Jo Schults.
- Fate is the Hunter - Ernest K. Gann
I have a massive reading list for the year so these may change, but I love all of those books!
Do you have a “favorite failure” that set you up for success later in your flying experience or life, in general?
I think my favorite failure has to be believing in someone else’s predefined limitations of me. I ended up believing their opinion of me over what I thought (dare I say knew) what I was capable of. That unfortunately changed how I thought about myself; for a while, I didn’t feel like I was fit for a lot of opportunities that, looking back, I was well-qualified and suited for. I lost out on opportunities simply because I let other people’s opinions and limitations skew my personal perspective of myself. I finally recognized that this behavior was starting to affect my career progression, so I started telling myself that I was limitless - that I had no reason to listen to what others thought I limited to; that I should believe in myself and never think that I am not capable of doing what most find impossible, and that’s something I try to instill in others.
What message would you put on a billboard, next to the exist for a major international airport?
There will always be excuses not to. So when are you going to stop and just go for it?
Emmy, thank you for sharing your story with us! You are an inspiration! Connect with and follow @aviatrixemmy on Instagram. And stay tuned, as our series continues, "Pilots are Leaders," celebrating Women's History Month.