Profile of Persistence

A Personal Journey to Piloting

FAA Safety Briefing
Cleared for Takeoff
8 min readSep 6


By Tom Hoffmann, FAA Safety Briefing Magazine

The path to pilothood can sometimes be a rocky and steep uphill climb. Various factors conspire to steal away our free time, halt momentum, fuel frustration, and deplete our available resources to continue with training. Being able to start — and complete — flight training can, at times, feel like an insurmountable task. But it is absolutely achievable with the right mix of perseverance, positivity, and flexibility.

Former flight attendant and newly certificated private pilot Kerri Beuker was no stranger to those traits, putting in just over two years of hard work in the metro-Chicago area to earn her wings. I sat down with Kerri to discuss her journey to becoming a pilot, including the various obstacles she faced and how she overcame them. I was inspired by her story and hope it will help educate and motivate others to embark and/or continue on their journey to obtaining a pilot certificate.

Photo of Kerri Beuker with her airplane.

Tell us a little about your background and how you got interested in aviation.

I grew up in Pittsburgh until my teens when my parents decided to relocate to the south. I didn’t particularly care for moving since Pittsburgh was always home for me. However, the move provided some key inspiration for my dream job of being a flight attendant during several flights I made back to Pittsburgh as an unaccompanied minor. I was so impressed with the flight attendants that looked after me and knew that’s what I wanted to do.

Fast forward to the summer of 1994, I joined Continental Airlines as a flight attendant. I only flew the line for a couple of years. While I really enjoyed it, I began to have a passion and interest for flying and realized I might be working on the wrong side of the flight deck door. I made it a point to visit the flight deck frequently and talk with pilots so I could learn as much as possible. It was truly eye-opening.

I transitioned over to management and flight attendant training in the years that followed but never lost sight of becoming a pilot one day. While I was living in Chicago, my job with United Airlines’ Aviate pilot recruiting program rekindled my desire for a flying career. But lack of money, time, and resources were still major obstacles for me. A close friend’s similar quest to be a pilot, and his search for the right flight school and instructor, sort of paved the way for me to try and begin a parallel journey. Before I knew it — although much later in my life than I would have liked — my journey to being a pilot took off.

You mentioned a lack of time and resources as initial barriers to getting started with flying. Were there other obstacles you encountered while completing your training?

Before I started my pilot training, I had a delay with getting my Class III medical. It took some back and forth with the FAA to get things sorted out with some past medical issues, but it was important to be upfront with my [aviation medical examiner] AME about everything. This happened during COVID too. As soon as I got my medical, I literally soloed the very next day and kept moving forward.

They don’t call Chicago the Windy City for nothing. What kind of weather challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?

There were certainly some weather challenges during training, many of them attributed to gusty winds. My checkride alone was rescheduled 14 times, mainly due to the wind. We were always patient and stuck it out when the weather wasn’t right. My instructor would wisely use the time to cover some important ground school items.

What type of aircraft did you train in?

All of my training was in a Cessna 172M Skyhawk, a plane that my friend and I purchased. I love the plane and even named it “SkyJack” after my dad who recently passed. It makes me feel like he’s always with me. I learned with a traditional six-pack of instruments but later upgraded to dual Garmin G-5 displays.

Photo of SkyJack.

What kind of training resources (videos, handbooks, apps) worked best for you? What would you recommend?

I read and watched everything I could get my hands on — books, manuals, articles, YouTube videos, you name it. I was motivated to learn as much as I could and even took the step of studying for and passing the Fundamentals of Instruction and Advanced Ground Instructor exams. These things, along with regular flying to reinforce that knowledge, were a big part of my success.

What were some milestone moments of your training?

I scheduled my first solo long cross-country flight on the anniversary of my dad’s passing. I remember touching down at 12:10 p.m., twenty minutes after the time he had passed several years earlier. I felt like I was doing that for him and felt on top of the world. At that moment, despite everything I had been through in terms of delays and disappointments, I felt like it was all worth it.

I also vividly remember the first time I greased a landing. It was on my birthday nearly a month after I started my lessons, and I felt extremely proud of that perfect touchdown.

Transitioning from a non-towered airport, Lewis University Airport (LOT), to a towered airport, DuPage Airport (DPA), was an important learning experience. In fact, during my checkride, my [designated pilot examiner] DPE made it a point to tell me my radio work was excellent. Things came full circle for me at that moment as I recalled several years earlier listening in awe to my fellow airline crewmembers handling air traffic communications with relative ease. Now I was doing the same!

How was your checkride experience? What advice would you tell someone you know who’s about to take theirs?

As I mentioned, we had some issues with rescheduling due to the weather, but my DPE and I decided to do an early morning flight the day after Thanksgiving Day last year. I was super nervous about the flight, but I followed some good advice someone gave me, which was to imagine the DPE as your first passenger. That, along with my determination to make this happen and the confidence I gained during training, made for a successful flight. I practiced, knew what to expect, and handled everything she threw at me. Even though it took a long time to complete my journey, I kept at it and let it be my priority.

What do you enjoy about being a private pilot?

I believe strongly in mentorship and the concept of pilots helping other pilots. So for me, it’s important to seek ways I can give back to the pilot community. I see it as a duty and a privilege to give back in a way that encourages fellow pilots because I know there are many things that can knock you back or make you feel that flying might not be for you.

Do you fly regularly? Are you planning to pursue additional ratings/certificates? What does the future hold?

I fly occasionally, just not as much as I’d like to with my current job as Director of Talent and Engagement (pilot recruiting) for Silver Airways. However, I do plan to take some time later this year with a part 141 flight school to get my instrument rating in a more immersive environment. I already have a lot of time under the hood and I absolutely love instrument flying, so I think I’ll do well. After that, I plan to continue with all of my certificates and ratings and see myself flying clients all around the world with a part 135 operator within two years.

What advice would you give an aspiring aviator to become a pilot?

Finding the right instructor is critical. If you start feeling any level of disrespect during training, it’s important to know that there are other options out there, even if it sets you back a bit. You need to find an instructor that you can click with. If money is an obstacle, try to look for scholarships in your area that might provide some assistance.

I also think it’s important to get involved with groups and organizations that can offer support. For my fellow female aviators, I would recommend some online groups like LIFT (Ladies in Flight Training) and FAST (Female Aviators Sticking Together), as well as Women in Aviation and the Ninety-Nines. Find out what groups are in your local area. Mentorship is important so seek guidance where you can and network as much as you can. Joining a flight club can helpful too, but just be sure to do your homework beforehand.

Finally, remember that even though you have a pilot certificate, you never stop learning. The journey never ends. Every flight should be a learning experience. And know your limitations. If something feels off before you’re set to fly, heed those warnings. Don’t have a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants mentality. Make sure you’re ready, you’re not distracted, and make sure you use your checklists.

Photo of Kerri Beuker.

Women in Aviation Launches Mentor Program

Women in Aviation International (WAI) has launched a new Mentor Connect program allowing members at every level of their aviation journey to connect, engage, and inspire. Designed to connect aspiring WAI members with seasoned aviation professionals, Mentor Connect provides a forum where women with various levels of experience can connect with mentors across a wide range of aviation disciplines, including pilots, engineers, air traffic controllers, mechanics, and more. The program helps mentors/mentees set goals, establish milestones, set up meetings, and track progress.

Be sure to enroll again if you’ve previously participated in the WAI mentorship program. The updated program is on a new platform that features fresh capabilities and tools. Visit to learn more.

This article was originally published in the September/October 2023 issue of FAA Safety Briefing magazine.



FAA Safety Briefing
Cleared for Takeoff

Official FAA safety policy voice for general aviation. Magazine that is part of the national FAA Safety Team (FAASTeam).