TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA/NBC News Channel) – A retired Air Force pilot and North Texas grandmother has returned to the cockpit amid pilot shortages across many airlines.
Tamaron Nicklas left the flying up to her husband, Larry, for more than two decades.
“We had 4 kids in 6 years…I just thought, I just can’t do this anymore. I think I need to be home,” she said.
Nicklas is the daughter of an Air Force pilot who followed in his footsteps. That’s where she met her husband, who was flying fighter jets.
“I was in the 7th class of women who graduated from the Air Force Academy once they started accepting women,” Nicklas said.
She went on to teach before starting their family.
After believing she was done flying for 24 years, she heard about another pilot who recently got back in the cockpit.
“Somebody started talking about a gal in a previous class that had been out of flying for many years, stayed home with her kids, and she had gotten back into flying so I thought, ‘huh. Could I do that?'” Nicklas said.
Nicklas was offered a job as an instructor at a local flying club. She and her husband eventually moved to Dallas and she took her first commercial job with a regional airline.
“It was all kind of an uphill battle but it just came down to, how badly do you want it?” she said.
After two years of adapting to new technology, as well as flying alongside pilots her children’s age, she was hired at Southwest Airlines, where her husband got to join her for her inaugural flight.
“I was like, ‘are we going to tell the passengers? Uh, do you think they’ll like it?’ And he right away made the announcement, and ‘this is my wife’s first flight at Southwest Airlines,'” Nicklas said.
“I’m super proud of her. It’s hard enough to just do your everyday job as opposed to something you haven’t done in 24 years,” her husband said.
Nicklas hopes she’s showing her children and her granddaughters that it’s never to late to follow your dreams.
It’s not just the couple who fly in the Nicklas family. Their two oldest children followed them to the Air Force Academy and now fly F-16s.