The OU Extended Campus School of Aviation Studies continued its run of producing top quality pilots as a pair of students earned the title of American Airlines Distinguished Cadet.
Will Finamore and Brennan Jackson earned the honor as part of the American Airlines and Envoy Airlines Pilot Pipeline Program, which helps promising future pilots make a smooth transition from the classroom to the cockpit.
Both men were hired by American Airlines in 2018 as cadet instructors to provide flight training to new pilots while building their own flight hours. It was in the role of Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) for the next generation of pilots studying in the School of Aviation Studies that each learned they were not only teaching the lessons, they were still learning lessons of their own.
“Even though I'm officially the teacher, every student has something to teach me,” said Finamore, a Professional Pilot senior from Louisville, Colorado. “Aviation is so multifaceted that everyone has a slightly different understanding of the material. The more points of view I can expose myself to, the better I will be as a pilot and as an instructor.”
Jackson, an Aviation Management - Flying junior from Norman, said being a flight instructor has been not only a great way to build flight hours, but to deepen his own understanding of what it means to fly.
“You really have to understand the material in order to be able to teach it,” he said. “There’s so much that I thought I knew when I first started instructing that I really have a much better understanding of now that I’ve been doing it for a while.”
Finamore’s favorite moment as a CFI is sitting in on the debrief of a successful checkride—the final test a student must undergo to reach a new level of their training.
“The really special part is seeing the pride and accomplishment that the student feels in that moment,” he said. “They've worked hard all semester for this and seeing the culmination of that effort in the form of a new certification or rating is great.”
While Jackson also finds great satisfaction in helping his students succeed, it’s the special opportunities that come with serving as a flight instructor at OU that also give him a new appreciation for flying.
“I recently had the opportunity to take up a group of high school students that came to OU for a field trip,” he said. “Two of these high school students had never been in an airplane before, so having the opportunity to allow them to see the world from a bird’s-eye view for the first time was really special.”
It’s in those moments that both men are reminded of how they caught the bug to fly.
Jackson’s first impactful flight experience occurred during a helicopter ride in Alaska when he was 10 years old. A flight in a Cessna 180—a small, general aviation airplane—a short time later cemented his desire to fly.
Finamore’s dad, an engineer who was also a private pilot with an instrument rating, was a driving force behind his interest in aviation.
“Growing up, my family took trips in small airplanes instead of flying commercial or driving,” he said. “As a kid, I got to see both coasts, Alaska and everywhere in between from the windows of a small plane. Traveling by small plane exposed me to places and people that I otherwise never would have experienced. I saw how aviation has the ability to shrink huge distances to bring people together.”
Flying is at the core of both men. The combination of the technical challenges of flying an aircraft and the complete sense of freedom it offers makes flying feel infinitely more joyful than just a job or course of study.
It’s that overarching love of all aspects of flight that made each of them easy candidates to be chosen as Distinguished Cadets.
“It’s a special honor to be named a Distinguished Cadet,” Finamore said, “but I need to give credit where it's due. Without the support of my family, friends, teachers, mentors and the OU School of Aviation Studies, I wouldn't be where I am. All of the people around me who I learned from and pushed me to be better today than I was yesterday are the people who I credit with helping me become the pilot and person I am today.”
Jackson learned that he had been nominated for the Distinguished Cadet award one morning when he opened up his email.
“I was very surprised,” he said. “The letter that Marie—the program manager and my supervisor at the airline—read about me at the ceremony was very nice. Marie is someone who really loves her job, and I think that’s why the program has grown so much. She really puts time and effort into each and every one of us and helps us along the way while we’re all building our hours to get to the airlines.”
Both Jackson and Finamore had the opportunity to meet cadets from other regions of the country when they gathered to receive their awards as part of a ceremony held in American Airlines’ home base of Dallas, Texas.
According to Finamore, all of the nominees met and got a tour of Hangar 5—one of the major maintenance hangars for American Airlines. There were several planes in the hangar at the time, and they got to tour the aircraft and see how maintenance is performed on huge Boeing 787 and 777 aircraft.
“It was really incredible to be able to walk up to these airliners worth hundreds of millions of dollars and just walk around them and through them,” Jackson said. “Those jets feel massive when you’re a passenger on them, but standing next to the landing gear and realizing that the tires are almost as tall as you really puts things into perspective.”
Another highlight for Jackson was getting the opportunity to meet and talk with the Director of Flight Line Operations and Director of Pilot Recruiting/Development for American Airlines. Out of the more than 14,000 American Airlines pilots, only 75 or so are “pilot managers” who also work in those types of leadership jobs.
“Having two of them there was really neat,” the Aviation Management major said.
Finamore also enjoyed the opportunity the event provided for him to spend quality time with the other cadets.
“We still stay in contact, even though we're from different parts of the country,” he said. “The other cadets are some really incredible people, and for me to get to share that experience with them is special.”
Finamore will be entering first officer training for American’s regional airline, Envoy Airlines, this summer, while Jackson, who is set to begin first officer training with Envoy in 2020, will be headed to Alaska as part of an internship with an airline that takes hunters, fishermen, photographers and tourists around Denali National Park and into the most remote locations in Alaska.
To learn more about the OU Extended Campus School of Aviation Studies and the degree options it offers, visit aviation.ou.edu.