As a little girl, Rene Spratt would go to sleep at night and dream of flying. When she woke, she tried to recreate that feeling through hobbies that included dance, gymnastics, and, well, jumping from high furniture around her home. These days Spratt is a wife, mother of two children — and professional pilot who lives her dream each day at work.

After growing up and attending high school in Staten Island, NY, Rene Spratt enrolled in the College of Aeronautics (now Vaughn College) in Queens. Once she completed her A.A.S, or Associates in Applied Science, Aircraft Operations, Spratt was ready to pursue a career as a commercial airline pilot.

Spratt’s family was not wealthy, and training to become a pilot requires a lot of dedication, energy and money. Pilots must hold an array of licenses to fly under certain circumstances. A private pilot certificate is required for single engine airplane operation, while a commercial license is required to work for hire. To fly through inclement weather, a pilot must also hold an instrument rating.

We asked Spratt about her path toward becoming a professional airline pilot and sought advice to guide the next generation of students into a career flying the friendly skies.

You grew up in a small town on Staten Island. How did you remain inspired to become a pilot while growing up in a small, suburban community?

The desire to fly grew from internal feelings, which generated a drive, allowing me to deal with my insecurities. Growing up, I did not fit in with the typical popular kids at school. My family could not afford expensive clothes and I had to wear braces. Certain kids would tease me and my mother would say, “…one day these people are going to turn around and see how beautiful you are…” which inspired me to become something awesome. When people tell me that I can’t do something, I want to do it more and prove people wrong. As a young woman I was motivated, not influenced.

What did your training involve?

I had no idea what it took to be a pilot. So I go to college and they are explaining how many licenses and courses are necessary. To become an airline or charter pilot a person needs experience, which is why most people become flight instructors first. We complete the requirements listed in the FAR (Federal Aviation Regulations), demonstrate to the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) through check rides and written tests that we are competent and capable pilots, hoping this hard work will lead to a job offer. Our training doesn’t stop there; we participate in ground school, emergency procedure and simulator training annually. Requirements also include an FAA medical examination every 12 months to ensure that we are healthy and able to fly.

You are now a captain. What type of study and coursework are necessary to reach this level of aeronautics? What would the next step be for you to reach a higher level in your career?

As a captain, I had to go through upgrade training and a checkride. I also have line checks with check airmen. The check airman will sit in the cockpit and evaluate how I fly, work with my crew etc. in the everyday environment.

The next step from someone in my position, if they choose, would most likely be heading over to a major airline or a cargo company like UPS or FedEx. I currently work for a regional airline where I fly local routes for the major airlines.

How has it been working in male-dominated field?

When working for a private company or client charter, women could find themselves in uncomfortable situations. Working for a commercial airline, I don’t really experience any discrimination and now that I’m older my crews refer to me as the fiery mama bear who brings them home-cooked meals. It’s more of a family environment at this stage of the game. Nothing is more rewarding than being a female captain [who has] four stripes, red lipstick and my Swarovski sparkly pen.

What types of classes should high school students take now to prepare for a career as a pilot?

There are some high schools that have aviation-focused classes or programs, however if that’s not available I’d suggest [young people] start flight training. You can actually get your private pilot’s license before you get your driver’s license.

For more information regarding how other women are changing STEM, meet Lindsay Fairman, Founder and CEO of Shelf Scouter. Learn more about our partnerships that encourage students to enter STEM fields and help improve our changing world.

Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons