Giving Dreams a Second Chance

By F/O Janet Elliott (Frontier)

Capt. Eugene Vaughn (Pan Am) left behind a legacy that includes three pilots and a former flight attendant.

My father was a Pan Am pilot for 37 years, retiring in 1977 as a B-747 captain, and my mother was a Pan Am stewardess on the DC-4. They met while flying together for Pan Am and eventually married. He had called her to the cockpit and asked her to marry him during a moonlit night over the Andes. In 1972, my dad thwarted the hijacking of his -747 (but that’s another story for another time). With a family background like that, it wasn’t surprising that I was attracted to aviation.

F/O Janet Elliott (Frontier) left her career in IT at 35 to pursue her dream job of flying for an airline.

It wasn’t common for women to become pilots when I was growing up, but when I turned 16, I asked my dad for flying lessons. Of course, he was thrilled to set them up for me. I breezed through my private license at 17 followed by a commercial license and instrument rating by the time I was 18. After my first year of college, I fell in love with an Air Force C-130 pilot at the nearby base, and we were married that next summer. We actually met at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, sitting next to each other at the gate while waiting for the same flight.

After marriage, I put my aviation dreams on hold to raise two children. Later, I finished my college degree in information systems, which led to a successful career in IT. In the meantime, my older brother became interested in aviation. After years of training, flight instructing, and flying for the regionals, he was hired by Northwest Airlines.

Even with a successful personal and professional life, the flying bug never left me, and with my office overlooking a local general aviation airport, I couldn’t take my mind off my original passion. Finally, at age 35, and the kids older, I decided to give my dreams another chance and walked into the local flight school, explaining that I wanted to become an airline pilot. I left my IT career behind and worked feverishly to get current by working on my CFI and CFII. Once those were completed, I began flight instructing while working on my ME and MEI and after a few years my ATP. With the ATP, I was hired by a local charter outfit flying Learjets. In less than a year, I was hired by Air Wisconsin flying the Dornier 328 and the CRJ200. After almost four years, I left Air Wisconsin as an RJ captain and began flying for Frontier Airlines. I’ve been with Frontier for nearly 14 years.

Both of my kids have their private pilot licenses (my daughter also earned her instrument rating). When my daughter graduated from college, she was hired as a flight attendant at Frontier and met her future husband, an F9 ramp agent at the time who was working on his flying career, there. It was love at first sight. During their early married years, her husband was hired as a pilot at Great Lakes and then progressed to a check airman and finally a designated examiner. He moved on to United more than four years ago, giving us four ALPA members in the family (past and present): my dad, me, my brother, and my son-in-law. My daughter left Frontier four years ago to attend physician assistant (PA) school and is now a practicing PA.

My dad left a legacy of six pilots in the family, but sadly he never saw my return to flying or how much we carried on his legacy. He passed away in 1984 only four years into retirement from Pan Am. But I know he looks down on his family with a big grin. He was my mentor and always will be our family’s hero.