Airman to Aviator: 117th Airman Selected for Southwest Airlines Cadet Program

  • Published
  • By SrA Nicholas Faddis
  • 117th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

“I’ve always loved flying. Every year when they would ask me what I wanted to do for my birthday, I would say that I want my dad to take me flying.” said U.S. Air National Guard Senior Airman Christine Jett, an Airfield Management Shift lead at the 117th Operations Group (OG).

While many airmen are seen as pilots, only approximately 3 percent are actually pilots for the Air Force, and even less than that are pilots on the civilian side. Jett, who has worked as a technician for four and a half years, says her job allows her to know all of the ground operations behind the plane in the air. “My daily job functions include giving weather briefs to the aircrew, providing them with NOTAM[s], telling them fuel loads, and spot numbers. I also file their flight plans and take them out to the plane. We also do flight tracking.”

Jett’s dream has always been to be an aviator. “My main goal is to be a pilot. I want to fly and [make a career out of it].” In order to get to this goal, she applied to the Southwest Airlines Cadet Program which will allow her to get on a fast track to becoming a pilot. For the first 13 months, Jett will be training for multiple objectives such as her private, commercial, and instrument licenses as well as different ratings, like single-engine, multi-engine, and instructor instrument ratings. After the initial 13 months, the program focuses on a career pathway such as commercial or certified flight instructor over the next three years, both of which help her reach her goal of making flying a career.

Even though the program requires a lengthy application, Jett explained that it wasn’t too bad. After submitting documents like the application, resume, and high school transcript she said it was a waiting game for the evaluations to begin. “After they reviewed my application, I had to take an aptitude test called the ADAPT test. They evaluated the scores and if they were high enough, I went on to the two-part interview process.” While waiting to hear back on the interviews, Jett said she could feel the pressure after participating in a webinar with over 50 other applicants. Once she had been selected for an interview, she was required to get an FAA physical, as well as two letters of recommendation. Jett said that leadership at the 117th Air Refueling Wing was who she turned to.

“I’ve pretty much grown up here. I have built a lot of good relationships which made it easier. I asked Col. King and Lt. Col. Whaley [for help].” said Jett.

Jett has taken the initiative to work on her private pilot’s license while working full time and also going to school, which helped her gain a competitive edge. She believes that helped play a part. “I think it helped me, growing up around aviation, and I think flying helped me because they knew I wasn't going to go up in the airplane and get sick, and they knew that I really did love it.”

Although Jett will be in the program full time, she won’t be giving up her military career. “I love all of the people I work with, and all the relationships I have made out here. It really has helped me so much with my career,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of learning experiences working out here that a lot of people do not get straight out of high school.”

So how did Jett react when she got the news? “I was in shock. I could not believe I got into the program. I honestly did not think I was going to get in because it is very competitive.” She said the support she got from her family made it that much better. “They were very excited, my dad especially with him being at Southwest.”

Her dreams are ready to take flight, thanks to the program’s fast-track setup. She also was thankful for the people that helped her in the process. “I’m very appreciative of Col. King and Lt. Col. Whaley for writing my recommendation letters and helping me get into the program because I really think that had a lot to do with it.” Jett also explained that the support her supervisor has shown has made the transition a lot more rewarding. “He has been very supportive, and knows that I’ve wanted to fly since I have been out here.”