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Mother, daughter pilots encourage others at Cochise College

Posted at 3:35 AM, Oct 01, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-01 10:50:39-04

DOUGLAS, Ariz. — Pilots have a lot to do before they take off, and of course they need a good co-pilot.

In a plane at Cochise College in Douglas, one team has quite literally taken its relationship to new heights -- 14,000 feet to be exact.

"Being able to talk aviation and share that passion and everything that is involved with it is just a whole 'nother level of connection which is really cool," said Belinda Burnett.

Meet Belinda and Katherine Burnett.

The mother and daughter are pilots and flight instructors at the college. They share a love for aviation that connects them from the cockpit, to the kitchen table.

"Sometimes we do have to kind of stop ourselves," Katherine said. "My brother thinks it's fascinating so usually he'll kind of jump in, but my dad has heard about it for 30 plus years and is kind of over it."

Long before Katherine was born, Belinda began working for the aviation department at Cochise College. She's a graduate of the program and at one point was the director.

"I have students who work for the FAA, students who work for the airlines, corporate," Belinda said.

And the list goes on! Belinda recently retired, but is back in the hangar on a part-time basis as a consultant. It's hard for her to stay away from a career she fell in love with in the 1980's.

"I came out and did an interview with the then director of aviation, Lee Oppenheim, who took me up on an introductory flight," Belinda said. "And as they say the rest is history. I fell in love with it."

Fast forward a few decades and Belinda was the one who took her daughter on that introductory flight, after some motherly advice of course.

"She blew me off every time," Belinda said. "And finally I think out of guilt she finally came one day and I knew I was in trouble when we got in the airplane and she would not stop asking questions. And it was a million questions."

Those questions haven't stopped.

"I remember getting out of the plane being so overwhelmed because I wanted to know what everything did, and how it worked and how i could do it by myself," Katherine said.

It's clear the Burnett's love what they do, but overall women still make up a very small percentage of the industry. In fact according to the non-profit Women in Aviation International, women account for about 6% of all pilots.

"I think that people are just not exposed to it like a lot of predominately male fields," Belinda said. "People see it as maybe tougher to get involved in."

Is it a tough field? You bet, they say.

You need to know how to multi-task, think outside the box and maybe keep these words from Belinda in mind.

"Grace and mercy. Grace and mercy because every day you have to practice it, not only for yourself but for your students and co-workers," Belinda said. "Because we all make mistakes and we're all here to help build each other up and not tear each other down.

"So share a little of both because you're probably going to need a little bit yourself along the way," Belinda said.

Over the years Belinda has been able to build up thousands of women and men in the aviation program.

It's important to have a mentor, she says, and the first time Katherine went up solo she certainly had a strong female to cheer her on.

"I remember getting halfway through the traffic pattern thinking, 'oh wait, I'm by myself. I can't believe someone let me do this,'" Katherine said. "And then after the first takeoff I didn't want to come down."

The aviation department at Cochise College in Douglas has a maintenance hangar, a runway and a number of planes for training.

Every semester there are an average of 40 to 25 students in the program. Right now there are six women enrolled.