McConnell cruises skies as a jet pilot
Madras High grad became interested while still in high school
The next time you board a commuter-sized Delta jet, check to see if the pilot is a woman. It might just be Madras native Angela McConnell.
McConnell, 30, who was in town at Christmas visiting her parents Doug and Pattee McConnell, recently earned the rank of captain, and flies 50-passenger CRJ 200s (Canada Regional Jet 200) with Delta Airline colors.
Over the years, McConnell has kept in touch with her former Madras High School teacher and local pilot Phil Comingore, who got her interested in flying.
"I always thought flying would be fun and Mr. Comingore took me for a ride in his plane my sophomore year in high school. He knew I was interested and after that, I was hooked," McConnell said, adding, "I thought it would be a pretty fun job."
Comingore remembered, "She worked the controls and was not hesitant or shy about doing so. Many, during early flights are quite timid about `banking and yanking' an airplane around the sky, but she wasn't."
While still in high school, she enrolled in ground school at the Madras Airport, but didn't pass the difficult test. She wasn't discouraged, however.
After graduating from MHS in 1995, she attended four years at Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Mont., where she passed ground school, learned how to fly planes and earned proficiency ratings for private and commercial planes, and the handling of flight instruments and multiple engines.
Fewer than 10 percent of professional pilots are women, and McConnell said of the 45 people in her college program, there were only three women, but she never felt out of place. She graduated in 1999 with a bachelor's degree in aeronautical science.
Comingore said it was quite an accomplishment. "She has been through a very tough program. First, she has had to put up with a male-dominated work environment. She not only has earned her commercial rating, but instrument, multiengine, and what amounts to a very difficult master's degree equivalent program called the Airline Transport Pilot rating."
McConnell credited the support of her parents as a big factor. "It would have been a lot harder without their encouragement," she said.
Her first job was sitting in the right seat of the cockpit as the copilot, or first officer, and flying cargo planes for Corporate Air. She flew five to six days a week out of Hawaii, North Dakota and Wyoming for five years.
While hauling cargo, she had two close calls. A plane had engine failure once, and another time they experienced complete electrical failure while flying out of Jackson Hole, Wyo., in a snowstorm. But everything turned out all right.
Her mother remembered the night Angela called, somewhat shaken up, to tell them about the electrical failure. "They have procedures for every emergency, and that training kicks in," her mother noted.
At one point, while flying planes based in Wyoming, McConnell also worked part-time as a ticket agent for Continental to earn some extra income.
After five years with Corporate Air, McConnell said, "They wouldn't upgrade me, so I decided it was time to move on."
In July of 2004, she was hired by Atlantic Southeast Airlines (ASA) to copilot 50- and 70-passenger jets based out of Dallas, Texas, Salt Lake, Utah, and Los Angeles, Calif.
Besides flying just four days a week, McConnell said there wasn't much difference between flying cargo and passengers except, "Having to worry about connections and people's bags now."
Later, ASA downsized its bases to just one in Atlanta, Ga., where all her flights originate now. "She never knows where she'll be going. She flies all over the United States, and has gone into Canada and Mexico," her mother said.
When she's not flying, McConnell continues her adventures outdoors fishing, camping, hunting snowboarding or hiking, and someday would like to be based back in the Northwest.
This November, McConnell was promoted from first officer to the rank of captain after completing two months of captain's school.
"As captain, I'm the main pilot and I'm responsible for everything. Everything's my fault now," she stated. Her flight crew includes a copilot, and two flight attendants.
On one of her first flights as captain, McConnell surprised at least one passenger.
"I sit on the left side of the cockpit now where I can see all the people and one of them told the flight attendant I looked like I should be in high school," she laughed, adding, "And my first officer is only 21."
To any young women in Madras dreaming of an adventurous career, McConnell had these words of advice, "If you want to do something, just go do it. Nothing's out of reach."