Tell us about yourself.
I am from South Carolina. I grew up on a small farm. Most of the people in my family are farmers and all live within 20 minutes of each other. I am the first to venture out. I love traveling, meeting new people, experiencing new things, giving back and helping others. My favorite hobbies are boating, fishing, hiking and anything outdoors. I am also a huge history buff and avid antique collector. I love unique pieces. My collection spans from pre- Revolutionary War newspapers to trench art and airplane parts. I love making furniture from airplane parts or other random items.
Which came first, for you, the adventure or the airplane?
The adventure. As a very young child 3-4 years old, I remember asking my mother why there were different languages. I thought it was unfair because I wanted to be able to talk to EVERY SINGLE PERSON on the planet (if you’ve ever met me- I’m a talker). I also would talk about how I wanted to set foot on every acre of the earth and I how I “wanted to see the world from the outside.” My parents told me I was crazy- maybe I am- but I strive every day to talk to as many people and set foot or at least set my eyes on as many new places as possible as I fly over.
Nikki and her family.
Tell us about your flight path to this date.
I started flying in the Clemson Flying Club during my senior year at Clemson University. After that, I went to Embry Riddle for my Masters Degree in Business Administration while I finished my private at Air America and then the rest of my ratings at ATP through the Accelerated Career Pilot Program. Once finished, I started my first flying job at Landcare Aviation as an aerial survey pilot in a C172. It was an 8 month contract- just me, the airplane and my carry on size suitcase. I loved it and learned so much about myself as a person and a pilot. After that, I flew aerial surveys in King Air 200’s while volunteering for a local charity providing free flights to and from medical treatment for children with terminal illness and birth defects, as well as for veterans. Then in 2014, I got hired at Republic Airlines as an FO and in 2016 got picked up by the Air Force Reserve for a pilot slot. I went on military leave from the airline and attended OTS, UPT and then aircraft specific training for the KC135. Once finished, I returned to Republic Airways (they changed their name a few times while I was away) and shortly upgraded to Captain. Now, I am Captain at Republic on the Embraer 170/175 and I am also a pilot in the Air Force Reserve. My days of flying the KC135 are coming to a close since my base is getting rid of it and transitioning to the new tanker- the KC46. Right now, I am thrilled to have gotten this far in my career and I keep striving to reach for the stars! I have a few things in the works for 2020 and I can’t wait to share them with everyone in the near future!
Finish this sentence: "Leadership is..."
Servitude. A true leader knows how to serve others and how to alter their leadership styles towards each scenario and each individual in order to make the biggest impact. Leadership is about leading by example. A true leader also picks the right people for the job and then empowers and allows them the freedom to manage their duties as they see fit.
How can pilots use aviation to give back to their communities and/or use their other talents to give back to aviation?
Pilots can use aviation to give back through donating their time and skills to provide transportation to and from treatment - through various charities throughout the U.S.
Also, I use my story to show everyone that they can do anything they put their mind to. I was told over and over that I couldn’t be a pilot or shouldn’t join the Air Force because I am a girl. I was told I was “too dumb” to be a pilot since math isn’t my favorite subject. However, I’ve done it and if I can do it, anyone can do anything they want to do! I’ve also had times where I struggled financially to make my dreams a reality- and honestly - I still do because I will be paying back my student loan debts for a very long time but where there is a will there is a way and if you work hard- you can achieve your goals!
In giving back to aviation, currently I am hoping to use my talents to help bring about change in aviation and the FAA and even military medical process. We have way too many pilots who are losing their medicals over manageable medical issues that should not be grounding. It will be a long and hard battle but hopefully we can bring about positive change.
My other way of giving back to aviation is through constantly recruiting new pilots into the career field and into the Air Force Reserves.
Tell us about the differences between military and commercial flying and how someone may pursue both.
They are both great. I currently fly as a Captain for my airline and as an Air Force Reserve Pilot. It’s a wonderful career and it gives me the best of both worlds!
A typical day in my airline life consists of 1 to 5 flights throughout the country with an overnight for 11 to 30 hours. Most trips that I bid for are 2 to 5 day trips. A typical 5 day trip is 25- 30 hours of flying. I usually fly 15 days per month with my airline for a total of 75-95 hours per month. On the 15 days off from my airline, I pick up trips or local flights with the Air Force.
A typical day in the Air Force is very different from the airlines. We show four hours early for a flight and have a thorough pre-brief to review the ins and outs of the mission. The missions vary from air refueling, aeromedical evac, humanitarian relief, business efforts and many other missions. Locally, we have missions for maintaining currency and training. We also have missions oversees and many trips where we are supporting the Air Force mission in various ways.
I would say the best part about each job are the air crews. In the airline, I have a First Officer and two Flight Attendants. It’s different for every trip but sometimes you see familiar faces. In the Air Force we are a small squadron so everyone knows each other. The crews vary but a typical crew is two pilots, a boom operator and possibly several crew chiefs depending on mission need. In both jobs, I love the camaraderie, meeting new people and becoming family with strangers.
There are too many differences to mention but being in the airlines and Air Force Reserve is truly the best of both worlds. If anyone is interested in this path, feel free to contact me. I’d love to help!
Nikki volunteering with Girl Scouts of the USA and the U.S. Air Force Reserve.
What advice would you give a young lady, graduating high school, who is deciding between military or civilian flying?
I would tell her to do both! There are many options and paths on how to get to the same end goal. However, the most efficient and cheapest path is to join the Air Force or Air Force Reserves to pursue an enlisted position in something that interests her and builds her resume - for example Air Traffic Control, aircraft maintenance or become a boom operator. While serving, obtain your college degree through use of the GI bill. Network the entire time and figure out an Air Force Reserve squadron that you would like to fly for and get in touch with them about pilot hiring boards (can’t stress this part enough). Then, when your contract is coming close to being up take all of the required testing and interview with that squadron. Then, they will send you through OTS and UPT. After that, build time at your squadron while being full time as an Air Reserve Technician or Active Guard Reserve (pros and cons to both in comparison with each other so you have to figure out what works for you and your squadron). Then, once you have the flight time to start applying to the regionals- do so or pursue corporate or any other flying you are interested in. Get hired with a regional or other company and then continue your career in the Air Force as a traditional reservist while flying for your airline or corporate job full time.
What are one to three books that greatly influenced your life?
Jonathan Livingston Seagull
A Higher Call
Do you have a "favorite failure" that set you up for success later in your flying experience or life, in general?
I have many failures. I can’t pick a favorite. I laugh all the time that I always have to fail first before I can succeed. Even though sometimes it really hurts to get doors closed in my face, I’ve found that every failure and every door closes has had a purpose and has led me to where I need to be and has made my story touch more people who needed someone they could relate to.
What message would you put on a billboard, next to the exit for a major international airport?
Wow. That’s something I’ve never thought of. That one ticket can lead to anywhere. You never know who you will meet and what doors could open just by buying a ticket or saying yes to an adventure!
Thank you, Nikki, for sharing your story, and for your service to our country in and out of uniform. Be sure to bookmark our blog, as we continue to celebrate Women's History Month by sharing stories of more pilot leaders .