Heidi De Hoogh: Pilot

Heidi bio
  • Name: Heidi De Hoogh

  • Education: Master’s Degree in Management (MSM) specializing in Air Transportation from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, 2008; B.S. Aviation Management, Minnesota State University, Mankato, 1999.
  • Target Audience: Middle School

Ever dream about getting your pilot's license? At 16 years old Heidi De Hoogh could fly a plane before she could drive a car! De Hoogh, a pilot for Sun Country Airlines, gives a bird's-eye view of piloting in this exclusive KidsAhead interview. Read on to learn why flying the friendly skies might just be the job for you.

What is your job?

My main job title now is Director of Safety and Security for Sun Country Airlines. Our airline currently has 14 Boeing-737 airplanes and we fly scheduled travel and leisure service and charter operations out of Minneapolis / St. Paul Airport. In my role as Director, I make sure our operations are safe and adhere to FAA and TSA requirements. The second part of my job is as a management pilot, so I also fly as First Officer in the Boeing-737. When you work your way up to a management or administration position for an airline you will find that most of the people in those positions are also pilots because it is important to know how to fly the airplanes as well.

Why did you choose this career?

I initially chose flying because I did not want a desk job. I looked at a lot of different careers in high school andimage caught the aviation bug pretty early. I actually got my license to fly before I could drive. I first flew when I was 16 and then I got my driver's license right after that.

Explain what an average day at work is like for you.

No day is ever the same. As Director of Safety and Security I have a huge scope of issues and responsibilities that I manage for the entire department, which makes my job really diverse. When I am in the office my days are filled with meetings and I'm always dealing with different issues. It could be anything from a safety investigation to an FAA issue to an administration goal - like making sure we're in compliance with all of our safety programs.

What do you like best about your job?

I really like the flexibility that my dual role affords me. Not everyone can make a difference in an office setting and then pick up a flight when they feel like flying. It's also important to me to ensure that all passengers are getting where they need to go safely and I get to do that in this position.

When you were a kid, did you like science, engineering and/or math?

I was a bit of a tomboy growing up and I always preferred math and the more technical classes over classes like literature. As a kid, I didn't know if I wanted to go into engineering because I wanted to be out and active and it seemed like a lot of engineering jobs were moving to desk jobs.

Was there a moment when you knew that you wanted to become a pilot? Tell us about it.

I joined an organization called the Civil Air Patrol in high school. It's similar to boy scouts or girl scouts, but the focus is on teaching young adults about flying and aviation. I knew I loved to fly at that point and it was just a matter of choosing between a military career or a civil career.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming a pilot?

Becoming a pilot costs as much as medical school, so it's a very expensive career to get in to. Airline pilots need a 4 year degree and flight training which can range from $100-$200 per flight hour and you need almost 1000 hours to become an airline pilot. Funding school and flight training were definitely my biggest challenges.

Was there a person who inspired or convinced you to get involved in your field? Who was he/she and how did he/she do it?

My parents both really supported me and encouraged me to pursue a career that I was interested in. I also have an uncle who is a pilot and he helped me see how great aviation is.

Which courses would you recommend to incoming high school students?

Continue to focus on math, but any mechanical course, such as a shop class, would be helpful as well. Pilots need to know how a plane works and if you understand how a car engine works you will be able to figure out how a plane engine works.

Do you have any suggestions for how kids in middle school can gain real world experience in your field?

In middle school, you can really start diving into the field a bit more. There are organizations like Civil Air Patrol and scouting programs that work with aviation and will give you a great introduction to the field.

Where do you see the aviation industry going in the future?

There are huge changes coming to this industry. Over 50% of airline pilots are going to retire in the next 15 years. We're looking at unprecedented pilot shortage and a need to encourage all ages and genders to pursue this field. Becoming a pilot is challenging and rewarding and there will be ample opportunities and jobs available in the near future.

The Sky is the Limit:

  • An average car engine is about 100 horsepower and a racing car engine is about 800 horsepower. A large jet engine is about 70,000 horsepower.
  • Turbulence is worst at the back of an aircraft and less over the wings where the balance is.
  • A jumbo jet can hold 150 tons of fuel.
  • The term "mayday" is derived from the French word m'aidez, which means help me.

(adapted from Godfrey's Flying without Fear, 2003)

Lift-off Lingo:

Boeing-737 - the Boeing 737 is a short to medium range, single aisle jet airliner.

Charter - a charter flight is a private flight scheduled to meet the needs of specific passengers or organizations

FAA - Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) strives to provide the safest, most efficient aerospace system in the world.

First Officer - the term "first officer" is often used to denote the second in command on a commercial flight

TSA - following September 11, 2001, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was created to strengthen the security of the nation's transportation systems and ensure the freedom of movement for people and commerce.

(adapted from dictionary.com, faa.gov)