To celebrate Women's History Month, we are sharing a blog series, "Pilots are Leaders." If a mile of runway will take you anywhere, imagine the impact a pilot can have on our communities, anywhere she lands. Our first feature is one of our One Plane Jane Ambassadors, Erika.
Tell us about yourself.
My name is Erika Jackman and I am 42 years old. I am currently a pilot for Delta Air Lines, based in Seattle. I have 3 young daughters, ages 8, 7, and 4. I love swimming, playing piano, flying, going out with friends, traveling and watching movies. I am married to an Alaska Airlines maintenance manager. We live in the West Seattle area.
Erika with her husband and oldest daughter.
Which came first, for you, the adventure or the airplane?
Definitely adventure. I was the kind growing up who jumped off the bridge into the river, or the cliffs into the sea. I loved going fast in cars and could ride roller coasters all day, every day. When I took my first flight lesson, I thought it felt like the best roller coaster I had ever ridden. I was amazed that a career in aviation could have me on this kind of ride every day! I was sold!
Tell us about your flight path to this date.
I grew up in the Seattle Washington area and was recruited to swim for the United States Air Force Academy after high school. My Uncle was a pilot and it was something that always interested me. After 2 years at the Academy, I decided that a life in the military was not for me and transferred to the University of Washington. I was intrigued by the soaring and flight training at the Academy so I decided to head to my local FBO in between classes and take an introductory flight lesson. After only one flight in a C152, I was hooked. I started taking flight lessons on weekends and evenings in between classes. It was expensive, so I got a job at the front desk of the FBO dispatching aircraft which gave me reduced rates and access to all the flight instructors and pilots who hung out there. By the time I graduated from the UW, at had become a flight instructor and built enough time to apply for the airlines.
After graduating in 2001, I was hired at my first airline, American Eagle. Unfortunately, my ground school was only 6 weeks prior to 9/11. After I completed my training on the ATR 42/72, I was furloughed. I returned home to my parents house in Seattle and began flight instructing, ferrying airplanes and eventually working as an insurance agent for an aviation insurance company in Washington that flew a C414. In October 2003, I was called back to American Eagle and also hired at the local, Seattle based regional Horizon Air. I chose to stay close to home and began my airline career at Horizon on the Q400. Although the airline industry was slow for career advancement, I enjoyed my job very much and couldn’t imagine doing anything else. In 2007 I met a Horizon line mechanic who fixed my airplane in Helena, MT and in 2009 we were married at the Museum of flight in Seattle.
In 2010 I took 3 and a half years of leave and had 2 daughters. In 2014 I returned to flying and upgraded in Captain in the Q400. Shortly after, I became a check airman and began doing lots of work in the training department in the Seattle simulators. Working in the simulator was a great way to enjoy flying while being home a little more often. I had my 3rd daughter while working as a simulator check airman in 2016. To date, this was one of my favorite jobs. And although I loved it, in 2016 I accepted a job at Delta Air Lines and began flying wide body 767’s all over the world. It was a dream come true and I have had so much fun exploring different cultures and scenery. Amsterdam, Paris, Beijing, Seoul, Singapore, Shanghai, Tokyo, Santiago, Quito, London and Edinburgh just to name a few.
I am currently flying the 737 in Seattle for Delta Air Lines, which takes me on more domestic routes, but I still get to enjoy places like Cancún, Aruba, Punta Cana and Hawaii.
Erika after earning her latest type rating.
Finish this sentence: "Leadership is..."
Leading by example, including those who want to follow and doing what is right.
Erika recording a video, at the Museum of Flight, with the Adventure Family Journal.
How can pilots use aviation to give back to their communities and/or use their other talents to give back to aviation?
There is such an emphasis on STEM learning these days, and I truly believe aviation is a super fun way to introduce and teach math and science. I also think it is important for young girls to be introduced to these subjects which have been heavily male dominated for so many years. I love to volunteer in schools and programs that reach the young, female demographic and show them they, too, can advance in aviation and other STEM careers.
Erika as the keynote speaker at Girls in Aviation Day, Madrid.
What advice would you give a young lady, graduating high school, who wants to pursue a traditionally male-dominant career?
First, I would say go for it. Although being a pioneer can have its challenges, if you have a love of aviation, you will be so happy pursuing it. You will also feel such a sense of accomplishment and uniqueness for blazing a trail for others. There are so many more support groups and communities now for young ladies in this career. Reach out to them (FAST, 99’s, WAI, and ISA+21) and create your network to absorb and learn from! Research all the different paths you can take to get to tour end goal (aviation colleges, military, private flying, etc.).
What expectations should a Captain and a First Officer have of each other?
Both pilots should expect the other to know how to do their job. We are all trained and held to a high standard, so that expectation should always be there. They should expect the other to keep safety on the forefront of their mind and speak up when anything seems unusual, unsafe or incorrect. They should expect the other to respect them, their role in the flight deck and their opinions on the tasks at hand. Bottom line, you are a team, and the end goal for both is always the same, be safe and have fun.
What are one to three books that greatly influenced your life?
Into Thin Air
Angels and Demons
The Tipping Point
Do you have a "favorite failure" that set you up for success later in your flying experience or life, in general?
I think being furloughed was a big eye opener for me. Although it wasn’t my fault, it certainly felt like my career had failed, right before it took off. On my flight home, I sat next to an American 777 captain. When I tearfully told him I had been furloughed, he told me he too had been furloughed in the 1980’s. He then enlightened me on the volatile industry that the airlines were and that a huge percentage of pilots had been furloughed over the decades. At 23, I had no idea. He said he became a ski instructor for 5 years and almost didn’t return to flying, but was sure glad he did. From that moment on, I never took any job in aviation for granted. I have always prepared financially for downturns in the industry and never taken one moment for granted while I was being paid to do what I love to do.
What message would you put on a billboard, next to the exit for a major international airport?
Welcome. Explore. Respect.
Thank you, Erika, for sharing your story with us. I hope it inspires more girls and women to follow their dreams. Stay tuned, as we celebrate Women's History Month by sharing stories of more pilot leaders.