Dreaming Big: How a Little Girl Becomes a Pilot

Océane Guinard is a 19-year old blonde with a big dream to become a professional pilot.

She originally comes from Paimpol, a small town in the northwestern part of France. There she took her first piloting lesson at the age of 14, and since then flying planes has become an integral part of her life.

“I was flying planes before I learned how to drive,” says Guinard. “Flying is much easier for me.”

Oceane Guinard during our interview in Paris, France. Photo: Anna Salova.

At the age of 15, she had to stop taking piloting lessons as she went on a student exchange program to Oklahoma in the United States. Despite all the the new opportunities, it was difficult for Guinard to give up her piloting lessons.

“I met Océane at the cross-country meets in our American high school,” says Maria Hongell, who was an exchange student from Finland in the same city as Guinard. “She was passionate about sports, mostly because staying in shape was a requirement for her future as a pilot. And Océane would keep telling me how she missed flying planes. This sounded unbelievable, she was just a small girl, who knew what she wanted to achieve in life.”

Coming back from her exchange, Guinard found out about the United Space School, organized by NASA in Houston, Texas. After submitting her motivation letter and passing interviews, she was selected to represent France at that conference, and traveled back to the US for two weeks in the summer of 2015. The goal of the conference was to plan a Mission to Mars. That experience allowed Guinard to learn about space, meet world-famous astronauts, and make friends with students passionate about space and aviation from all over the world.

The trip to NASA inspired Guinard to continue her chosen path. However, not everything went as planned. “My next dream was to get in the French army, and join the Air Force. I passed all the tests, but they rejected me because I was too short,” shares Guinard, whose height is 156 centimetres.

She did not give up, and found another way to fulfill her childhood dream: She enrolled in college in Brittany, France to study aviation. Meanwhile, Guinard continued taking piloting lessons and got her first license, which allowed her to fly planes without any supervision.

Last summer Guinard did a piloting tour all around France, and even reached Spain. “We were 300 planes flying in the sky,” Guinard says. “It was incredible.” She also did another trip flying all around the the Pyrenees mountains on a helicopter.

Océane Guinard during her piloting tour. Photo: Océane Guinard.

Guinard still has a long way to go to become a professional pilot. First, she has to get another license to be able to take someone on a ride with her. In order to do that, she has to to fly more, and become more experienced. But to fulfill her biggest dream, she would need a professional piloting license, which costs around £100,000.

Now Guinard has to rent a plane every time she wants to fly. She pilots ultralight planes, which are cheaper, and have less strict rules. The only flaw is that she has to do the maintenance. Guinard shares that this makes her feel unsafe to pilot these planes.

Guinard’s family support her a lot in becoming a pilot. Moreover, after she started taking piloting lessons, both of her sisters became interested in aviation. They are currently taking theoretical classes, and soon will join Guinard in the sky.

“The only thing I am sure about is that I belong to aviation,” Guinard says. “Being in the sky makes me feel alive, and I want this feeling to last.”

NASA United Space School

Each year, 50 students are chosen from 25 countries to participate in the United Space School (USS) organized by NASA.

The students have to submit a motivation letter, and go through interviews to show their interest in space as well as scientific knowledge. They also have to pass English exams to prove their level of language proficiency.

The school lasts for two weeks in the middle of July. It is held in the Houston Space Center in Texas.

During that time, students have to organize a Mission to Mars. They are divided into five groups, and each is responsible for one aspect of the expedition.

Students during the United Space School. Photo: Océane Guinard’s personal archive.

Océane Guinard was in the Mars Exploration group. They had to design a space travel, find a new way to grow plants on Mars, and design a new spacesuit.

At the end of two weeks, there is a big conference, where everyone presents their work to the juries from NASA. They take the ideas and might implement them in the following expedition to Mars.

Guinard shares that during the USS they got to meet five famous astronauts, and asked them many questions about their missions. Also, they got to connect to astronauts at the ISS — International Space Station, while those were in the space.