Craig O’Mara – Airline Pilot, U.S.Air Force, NASA Research and General Aviation Pilot

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BACKGROUND

I’m retired from a major U.S air line, the United States Air Force Reserve and NASA. At my airline I flew the Boeing 787, 747-400, 777, 737 and Airbus 319/320 as a Captain and Check Airman. I also flew the rest of their fleets as a First and Second Officer. For the US Air Force, I flew the Douglas C-9A (DC-9-32F) aeromedical airlift aircraft, transporting patients throughout the United States and world-wide. And for NASA, I was a Research Pilot on the Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), a Boeing 747SP, and the only flying observatory in the world, conducting Astrophysics research.

THE TYPICAL DAY

Flying for a major international air line with a large and varied fleet and world-wide operations, there was no typical day. As a pilot on the smaller, usually domestic aircraft (B727, B737, Airbus 320), would entail flying all over the U.S. with multiple stops each day. When flying the larger, usually international aircraft (B747, 777, 787), the days were typically very long, sometimes as long as 17 hours non-stop, but you got to see the whole world!

In the C-9A “Nightingale” aeromedical airlifter we typically flew 8 stops per day all over the US and occasionally to Europe and Asia. It was a difficult mission due to some of the medical cases that you saw, but also very satisfying to know that you were helping them to get the medical care that they required.

Flying SOFIA for NASA was the pinnacle of my flying career. We flew 10 hour missions with an Infrared telescope in the aft part of our Boeing 747SP, gathering astrophysics data and developing cutting edge science.

EXCITING/CHALLENGING PARTS OF A DAY

Seeing the world from above makes you realize what a beautiful world that we live on. And being able to travel and interact from people all around the world allows you to see our differences and similarities. Keeping up with the latest in aviation technology, procedures is also very stimulating. Also, seeing a new pilot learn to fly a new (to them) aircraft, when I act in my instructor capacity is probably my favorite role in aviation.

Some of the long days across many time zones can be a challenge, but we learn to mitigate those challenges as we gain experience.

 

KEY SKILLS AND ADVICE FOR NEW ENTRANTS

Probably the most important thing that you need is passion. If you have the passion for aviation, then you will enjoy doing all of the work that it takes to be successful, such as; education, networking, career research. The work required to reach your goals won’t seem like work at all. But, you must do that work and never give up on your dreams and never let anyone tell you that can’t achieve what you want! If you want something badly enough, you’ll find a way to do it!

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