Feb. 2, 2021

Jamal Pratt made his career choice a little earlier than most. After spending time digging up “dinosaur” bones in his backyard when he was just 3, he decided he wanted to be a paleontologist. While he was still in preschool, however, he switched career plans and decided he wanted to be a pilot.

“And I’ve never looked back,” laughed Pratt.

At his high school in Staten Island, NY, knowledgeable advice about a career in aviation was hard to come by. “My guidance counselor told me I had to go into the military to be a pilot,” said Pratt.

Not to be deterred, the enterprising teen turned to online aviation chat forums, and heard about the College of Aeronautics in Flushing, NY. He enrolled after graduation, but the commute to the flight school in Farmingdale was rough. Ultimately, Pratt got some financial help from his father and moved to Florida, where he got some of his ratings at Aviator College in Ft. Pierce.

The untimely death of his mother made Pratt the primary caregiver for his younger sister, so he had to move to North Carolina and get a non-aviation job. “I had to put flying completely on hold,” said Pratt, who still managed to volunteer with the Civil Air Patrol.

Fast forward a couple of years, with a supportive wife and a baby on the way, Pratt got a merit-based loan to train at Epic Aviation in New Smyrna Beach. He finished his ratings, went to an orientation program at Air Wisconsin, and found out about a job doing aerial surveys. “I was a freshly-minted pilot with about 290 hours, and they had me ferry a Cessna 172 from Iowa to Alaska,” chuckles Pratt. “I had to watch mountain flying videos to prepare for the trip.”

Three children and about four years later, Pratt is now flying Hawker 800s and several Bombardier Learjet types for aircraft management and charter operator SpiritJets.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the 35-year-old pilot – who had to forge his own career path without guidance – is now mentoring younger pilots when he can and makes presentations to students. “Kids really don’t get to talk to pilots very much,” said Pratt.