On Wednesday, February 7, 2024, Airline Transport Pilot Alec Thurber ‘16 talked to Catholic Central students about going into aviation after graduation.
His presentation was part of the school’s Career Speaker Series, a program designed to provide students with more information about various careers after they leave CC.
“Today's career symposium with Alec Thurber, discussing his experience in college as well as flight training, gives our young men a fantastic introspective into the life of a pilot. The new Aviation curriculum launching at Catholic Central in 2024 will provide an even stronger foundation for those young men working toward becoming a pilot and we look forward to all of the opportunities that our facilities will provide,” stated Mrs. Amy Ely, Director of STEM.
Thurber currently flies for an airline in Chicago and recently accepted a promotion to Captain. He’s also a Certified Flight Instructor, Certified Flight Instructor Instrument, and Commercial Single Engine Pilot.
After graduating from CC, Thurber studied Biomedical Sciences from 2016 to 2018. He earned his Bachelor’s degree in Aviation Flight Science from Western Michigan in 2021.
Thurber explained that he holds the equivalent of a Master’s degree in Aviation. Currently, he flies jets that hold about 80 people. He usually flies for four days and then has four days off, and he spends his free time in Michigan before going back to Chicago for work.
During his presentation, Thurber discussed why students should consider aviation, stating, “Everyone loves this career. There are very few people who go to work, immediately clock out, and go home. Most people love to fly. This isn’t a 9 to 5 job. It’s more of a lifestyle. It’s high energy. It’s a lot of travel, but the people in the industry are happy to help out.”
He also discussed the different paths you can take as a pilot once you get your education. He stated that a college degree in aviation is something you can get, but it’s no longer required. “You can go directly into flight school without a degree. There are pros and cons of going to school,” Thurber stated.
Once he earned his Bachelor’s degree, Thurber became a flight instructor to gain experience and teach younger students. He showed pictures of recent trips he took and discussed cool opportunities you have as a pilot, such as flying dogs from kill shelters to shelters that are no-kill.
Thurber discussed the main benefits of the job. The first is the freedom you have as a pilot. “It’s amazing being behind the controls of a small airplane. It’s almost like driving a sports car but more fun because you get to go to cool destinations,” Thurber stated.
The other benefit he explained was the sense of adventure you get as a pilot, stating that he has been able to experience lots of cool situations as a pilot. “You get to travel a lot for free. I’ve flown to meet my friends for lunch in other states and made it back home within a few hours. It’s better to fly an airplane than get stuck in traffic in a car,” Thurber stated.
He also explained how to become a professional pilot, stating that students have two options when it comes to flight school.
“You can do a local flight school like a mom-and-pop shop. It’s usually more cost effective but can be harder to find loans. The benefit is you’ll get grassroots flight instruction tailored around the learner. You can also go to a bigger college flight school. They are highly structured, it is easier to get loans, and the instructor is akin to traditional schooling. Both options will have you finish as a commercial pilot, which is the beginning of the employment pool. From there, you need more flight hours to build experience,” he stated.
Thurber explained that being a flight instructor gets you more hours, stating, “You’re paid for it and there’s flight schools all over the nation. It’s very fun. We need more people in the field who are willing to teach. The field is about giving back. There are lots of opportunities to get involved in.”
Other ways students can earn flight hours is through flight instruction, such as teaching students how to fly small airplanes, aerial survey (radar sensors), aerial photography for landowners and businesses, banner towing (like you see at sporting events) and being a skydive pilot.
After you go through schooling and building experience, you can become a corporate pilot, bush pilot (flying salmon and goods to and from places like Alaska), airline pilot, firefighting pilot, or professional instructor. You can also fly celebrities around.
“Flying is a blend of arts, sports, and science. There’s a lot of day in and day out stuff. You’re constantly trying to get better as a pilot. It’s fun, but you must be willing and able to take criticism. It’s a life and death profession,” Thurber stated.
For his current job, Thurber has to go back to training every six months to study different areas. He works with the captain and goes through scenarios that require quick thinking on the job. “Each job is different, but you’ll go through training about once per year. Keep current by doing checks and obtaining flight hours,” Thurber recommended.
He also discussed a day in the life of an airline pilot. For his preflight interior check, he does flight planning, fuel loads, checks the weather, welcomes passengers, and sets up his computers. Then he does a preflight exterior check where he checks the plane for damage, missing items, and ice and snow buildup.
Thurber explained that he does one to four flights per day, flying up to eight hours per day. He takes one to five trips away from him, but this varies depending on the company you work for. Most airline flights are around the east coast and there is great flexibility for scheduling in his profession. He stated that you can ask for certain overnights or crews.
Thurber stated there are four things that make a great pilot: discipline, humility, willingness to learn, and teamwork.
“If you’re working on a private pilot's license in high school, it’s advantageous. If you are sure about being a professional pilot, that gets you ahead of the curve. I thought you needed to be good at math and science to be a pilot. I’ll be the first person to say you don’t have to be good at math. You can use a calculator. Science is a little bit more important. You must be good at failing. You must be able to take a hit and get back up. It’s almost like a sport,” he stated.
He ended by opening the presentation to questions from students and faculty.