A person's first flight can be an eye-opening, perspective-shifting and career-focusing experience.
It was for WMU College of Aviation junior Emma Anderson, and hers was even more of a milestone. She took off and landed on . . . water.
Raised in Sparta, Mich., something of a bedroom community for Grand Rapids to the south, Anderson was 16 at the time and on her way to becoming a 2018 graduate of Sparta High School. "I decided to go on a flight because I wanted to know if flying would be something I wanted to do in the future," she says. "The pilot of the Piper Cub asked whether I wanted to take off and land on the Grand River near downtown Grand Rapids. Of course, I said yes."
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Now a double major in aviation flight science and aviation management and operations, Anderson quickened her educational pace by taking six advanced-placement courses offered by Ferris State University while in high school. That first flight not only catalyzed a career choice but also pointed her toward a path for higher education -- the Western Michigan University College of Aviation. After a few setbacks and challenging times, Anderson is on her way. Scheduling "lesson 48," her private pilot's license is finally in reach.
"I guess I always knew that I would go to Western for aviation," she says. "I wanted to be able to drive home for breaks and pay in-state tuition. For me, there was no other alternative."
Not long into her sojourn at Western, Anderson became active in the college's Alpha Eta Rho chapter, one of 60 around the world. Founded in 1929 at the University of Southern California, it is a coed, international fraternity that serves as a conduit between the aviation industry and higher-educational institutions with the mission to lead members to successful careers in the industry, in aeronautical engineering, and aerospace endeavors.
She initially chaired the chapter's committee on public relations, served as "the dues person" in the role of treasurer, and just recently accepted the position of vice-president. Alpha Eta Rho is on her resume because "I wanted to build connections with my peers as well as professionals in the industry."
Anderson says her favorite non-aviation course so far has been one in psychology "because I find the mind and human behavior interesting." Closer to her chosen profession was associate professor Lisa Whittaker's class in aviation safety. "I really enjoyed the final project where you had to pick an accident and go into depth about it."
The one her study group chose was Air Canada flight 143, nicknamed the "Gimli Glider." On July 23, 1983, the domestic-passenger flight from Montreal to Edmonton ran out of fuel at the midway point 41,000 feet above terra firma. The crew successfully glided the Boeing 767 and all of its passengers to an emergency landing at a Royal Canadian Air Force base near Gimli, Manitoba, which had recently been converted to a motor-racing track. The incident is commonly blamed on mistaking pounds for kilograms, which resulted in the aircraft carrying only 45 percent of its required fuel load. "We picked this case," she says, "because it's an example of poor communications and a lack of attention to detail.
She's using that "detail" lesson in her duties as a dispatcher for the College of Aviation. "I am responsible for managing the use of resources," Anderson says. "This includes giving students keys and calling them to cancel activities where there are not enough resources. It's all about logistics. My main job is to record the amount of time a student puts on a resource, such as an aircraft or simulator. I enjoy knowing how ETA (the College of Aviation scheduling program) works. This is helpful when dealing with 'ops' (operational) requests and scheduling issues. These are among the opportunities presented to me because of my choice to come to Western."
If all of her plans for the future come to fruition, Emma Anderson will be a chief pilot for United Airlines and be flying major and international routes -- none of which will call for her to take off and land in the water.