Susan Staples (Arizona)

Susan Staples is based at KTUS, Tucson International Airport, Tucson, Arizona.

I began falling in love with flying when I was four years old. My Dad and I would sit at the end of the runway in Binghamton, New York and have a picnic. I would stretch my neck as far as possible as we sat on the side of the road watching the underbelly of every landing. I never got tired of it. In my early teens, I would fly beside my father in our Tri-pacer and Cessna 150. The airplanes were used in my parents’ flight school at the small grass airport in Greene, New York.

Mom and Dad dating

After high school, my father and I made an agreement. I would not ride motorcycles in trade for my private license. I looked at them as cheap transportation for college… he saw them as a death trap. I agreed and I went to the University of Illinois Institute of Aviation Technology where he was now employed. I remember he drove me to the airport and told me I did not have to get my license, but it would be great if I could solo. On the day of my checkride, my Dad came to the hangar and asked the chief pilot where I was… and how did it go? (We had a lunch appointment scheduled to celebrate… or make a new plan.) He pointed to the sky. “There she is. She had two hours left in her block of time and asked to trade the time for the Stearman she’s had her eye on. She is up with one of our instructors now.” The smile could not be wiped off my face. I fell head over heels for taildraggers from that moment forward.

A few years later, I would own my first plane. It was a 1947 Luscombe. My Golden Retriever and I flew from Southern Illinois to Champaign on weekends when the weather permitted. Upon graduation, I was working as a flight instructor for a private FBO and Frasca Aviation in Champaign. The next few years became dedicated to flying for the airlines. I continued flying taildraggers with friends and sold mine to pay the bills, as I slept on couches. I ran my own flight school for a short while during the PATCO strike and furloughs from many airlines in the mid-80’s. I decided if there were no jobs, I would create my own. I also flew for Air Illinois before being hired in Saint Louis with Sabreliner Corp. It was there I became their first female pilot. About 13 months later in 1986 I was hired by American Airlines as the 41st woman in the cockpit. In 1996 I joined the ranks of 450 women to finally make Captain at a major airline.

In 2003 I experienced a gallbladder attack and was grounded due to complications from the surgery. Then in 2004, as I improved, I was in a car accident… and never returned to the cockpit.

In past years I have dedicated my life to healing myself and sharing with others how I was able to get off of my heavy medications and return to somewhat of a normal, grounded life. I speak about what I have learned and help others keep their medicals and return to flying. My dream to experience flight still lives within me, and one of these days… you will ask where I am… and someone will point to the sky at a taildragger and I will wag my wings.

Airline Transport Rating. Type Ratings in MD-11, MD-80. FEX 727, DC-10

Dream taildragger: I would stick to my first love, the Luscombe.

Taildragger thoughts: There is something very special about taildraggers. For me, it is the retro romance of flying, and the relationship you build with your intuition on each landing. It makes flying fun, challenging, and back to basics.

So happy to be connected with such enthusiastic women who know what they like!