By S.L. Menear
During college, I worked as a water sports model. Afterwards, I began a career as a Pan Am flight attendant. I was based at JFK Airport in New York and flew to eighty-eight countries spanning the globe. Those were the glory days of the airline industry. Pan Am stewardesses were treated like movie stars—when I was in uniform, people stopped me on the street and asked for my autograph—no idea why. Airline pilots were revered as sky gods. Gourmet food was cooked to order in first class, and baked Alaska was served flaming. Hollywood legends and international tycoons were frequent passengers.
In the early 1970s, I transferred to Miami and joined the Pan Am Flying Club. Three months later, I earned my private pilot license. The Pan Am sky gods (pilots) were kind to me. They let me hand fly a Boeing 707 for two hours over South America on a flight with few passengers and good weather. I also enjoyed flying a Boeing 747 en route from JFK to Frankfurt, Germany. The jumbo jet felt as steady as flying a big house. That was my light-bulb moment. I wanted to fly jet airliners.
When I began my quest, there were no female pilots with major airlines. I spent the next few years earning an instrument rating, commercial pilot license, multi-engine rating, and flight and ground instructor certificates, and logging flight time instructing and flying charter flights. After enough flight experience, I was the first woman hired by a small commuter airline. I loved flying Shorts 330s and 360s and STOL Twin Otter prop jets. My copilot job included plenty of experience flying in bad weather, hundreds of instrument approaches, and lots of landings. I was well prepared when the time came to apply to USAir a year later.
Thanks to good recommendations from my old boss at Pan Am and my chief pilot at the commuter airline, I was granted an interview with USAir right before their big hiring wave in 1980. My first hurdle was a flight check in a DC-9 simulator. I’d never flown a jet airliner or simulator. After I passed the flight test, they told me I had flown well. Next, I was taken to a conference room and grilled by six senior captains who asked me lots of questions that would be illegal in today’s world. They expressed concern my husband might not like me being away from home. I told them if my husband disapproved of my pilot career, I’d find a new husband, which would be far easier than getting a pilot job with a major airline. They laughed. I won them over.
I was the only woman in the first new-hire class. After seven years as copilot, I earned my fourth stripe and flew as captain on the BAC 1-11, DC-9, and B737. During my career, I also flew many antique and exotic experimental aircraft on my days off. I helped my husband restore antique airplanes and build experimental aircraft. My flight favorites were the fully aerobatic Bücker Jungmann biplane, Italian SIAI Marchetti SF260, Glassair III, Swearingen SX300, Russian Yak 52, and my Piper Cub Special, which played a role in my thriller, DEADSTICK DAWN.
I was the sort of person who enjoyed high-adrenaline sports and high-speed cars, motorcycles, boats, and airplanes. All those rushes of adrenaline may have caused the rare eye disease I developed, Central Serous Retinopathy (CSR). The exciting activities and stress caused eye damage and advanced the disease. I was warned to take an early retirement from my airline pilot career and avoid stress and high-adrenaline activities or I would soon be blind.
Before my eye disease, flying had been my whole life. I felt lost. That’s when my author mother stepped in and encouraged me to write a novel. I loved reading action thrillers and decided to study the way they were written. I sat down in front of my computer and started typing the plot that was in my head. Writing became my passion. I joined a weekly critique group and learned I was making every mistake a new writer could make. The criticism stung. I had gone from being a well-respected captain at the top of my profession to a know-nothing new writer. The members were ruthless in their critiques of my work, but I swallowed my pride and attended the meetings every week for two years. Slowly and steadily, my writing improved as I rewrote every chapter no less than fifty times. Another two years were spent tweaking the plot and prose.
I hired a professional editor to give it a final polish, entered my book in the Royal Palm Literary Competition, and won Best Unpublished Thriller in 2011. After many rejections in two years, I was almost ready to give up. A dear friend and author of ANGEL HEAT convinced her publisher, Suspense Publishing, to look at my action thriller with a female airline pilot as the main character. Author Leslie A. Borghini compared reading fast-paced DEADSTICK DAWN to flying at Mach 2 with your hair on fire. Her publisher loved my book, gave me a contract, and released the book August 13, 2013.
DEADSTICK DAWN: The Belfast Agreement is about to be shattered by Operation Blue Blood. One young American stands in the way, airline pilot Samantha Starr. She is catapulted into a deadly chess match with police, assassins, and British Special Forces, all who want her dead. The fate of nine noble bloodlines depends on Samantha and a boy whose hero is a wizard. Stranded in Scotland where she is accused of kidnapping and murder, where can she run? When a US Navy fighter pilot and a SEAL join the hunt and every choice can get her killed and start a bloody war in Northern Ireland, on whom should she rely? The line between trust and betrayal is razor sharp, and it is cut at DEADSTICK DAWN.
S.L. Menear traveled the world as a Pan Am flight attendant before switching careers and becoming a major airline pilot who flew B727s, B737s, DC-9s, and BAC 1-11 jet airliners. She also flew many antique and experimental aircraft, enjoyed aerobatic flying, scuba diving, skiing, motorcycling, surfing, sailing, horseback riding, and powered paragliding.
To learn more about S.L. Menear, please visit her website.