14: Kathy McCullough - Retired Boeing 747 Captain, Photographer & Pilot Mentor - Inspired Pilot

14: Kathy McCullough – Retired Boeing 747 Captain, Photographer & Pilot Mentor

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What does it take to become a pilot?  Join us as Kathy McCullough gives us insight into her inspiring pilot journey.

At the age of age 16 Kathy McCullough’ flying career choice, was not wholly supported by her parents.  However by the end of college, Kathy had purchased her first airplane, a Cessna 140 “taildragger”.

Over the next few years a lot of change followed aviation wise for Kathy, including working as a flight attendant on Vickers Viscounts, Flying Cessna 206’s to and from Mines and even helping fighting fires in Boise, Idaho.

Kathy joined Northwest Airlines in 1981 which was the start of a fantastic 26 year career. Starting on the 727 and DC-10s. Kathy finally retired as a Captain on the prestigious Boeing 747.

Now Retired Kathy is following and enjoying her other passion, photography and also does motivational speaking to at-risk kids and school groups.

Starting Out

  • Kathy did not have any plans to become an airline pilot.
  • It all started for her when she took an aviation class which was offered at her school as a science elective.
  • While still in highschool, she took a job at the airport as a receptionist so she can pay for flying lessons and get her PPL.
  • She waitressed, pumped gas, washed airplanes, and even worked as a flight attendant to pay for and acquire her licenses and ratings.

Initial Training Challenges

  • Had an initial instructor who was a screamer and she didn’t get along with her. She switched to an instructor who is more calm.

The Aircraft Types

  • Kathy has flown at least 50 different types of aircraft.
  • She loved the Cessna 140 because it provided a challenge with the tail-dragging.
  • The Boeing 747 was the closest to her heart because she felt accomplished and humbled flying it.

Best Flying Advice

  • “Don’t concentrate on your mistakes. Just move on, let it go, and put the bad landings behind you.”

The Journey

  • She acquired her PPL in Colorado while in college and her CPL in Florida while waitressing at night.
  • Kathy then worked as a flight attendant to acquire her multi-engine rating.
  • Took a job in a coal mine, analysing coal because using her degree in microbiology and also got to fly a Cessna 206 to and from the mining site.
  • Worked as a certified flight instructor.
  • Worked as a co-pilot and a member of the Infrared Crew firefighting; flew a Kingair and Merlin and acquired lots of experience flying turboprops.
  • Got hired by Northwest airlines where she stayed and built her aviation career for 26 years.
  • Her career was cut short due to visual migraines as a complication from a cancer of the Appendix.

Current Flying

  • Since she was already retired from flying, Kathy together with a group of women airline pilots are currently helping and giving away 737 type ratings to women who are interested to become airline pilots to help them get ‘over the hump’.

Proudest Flying Moment

  • Becoming a 747 Pilot was Kathy’s proudest flying moment.kathy-ccullough-inspired-pilot-podcast-episode-14 side2

Future Plans & Aspirations

  • She loves taking photos, speaking and mentoring and would love to continue doing so.
  • Writing a fictional book called “Breakfast in Narita” and thinks it would be fun to have it created into a movie.

Flying Internet Resource

Best Aviation Books

Compiles interviews with 38 pilots. The interviewees represent more than 70 years of aviation history, from a female barnstormer to Space Shuttle crewmembers. Some of the experiences recounted here include bush piloting, flying airmail in the late 1920s, flying the Memphis Belle, witnessing the atom-bombing of Nagasaki, flying during the Berlin air

More than a witty memoir by the first woman pilot at a macho cargo airline and her adventures flying around the world, this is the excruciatingly honest yet compelling account of one woman’s ascent to 747 pilot, the price exacted for the privilege, her devastating fall from grace, and gutsy journey back into the cockpit. Flying Tigress is human drama played out against the breathtaking backdrop of the skies.

Favourite Cockpit Gadget

Interview Links

Visit and contact Kathy on her Photodeck page

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