Elizabeth Robertson, 37, is a commercial pilot with over 700 hrs who works as an aerial survey pilot for JAV Imagery LLC. She’s originally from Raymondville in South Texas and her path to business aviation wasn’t linear. “When I was a little girl, I told my grandma—she had one of those old school bench swings, and I was lying on that—that I wanted to be in the sky one day,” said Robertson. “She told me that I was crazy and that I better go to college, get a degree and get a job—which is exactly what I did.”

In 2015, Robertson drove by a sign at the local mall – “and that’s how I got started with a ninety-nine-dollar discovery flight as a grown woman,” she explained. Her first flight happened to coincide with Women of Aviation Worldwide Week (WOAW) which annually marks the occasion of the first female pilot license – awarded to French aviatrix Raymonde de LaRoche on March 8, 1910.

As a student pilot, Robertson quickly discovered that her love for teaching merged with her newfound passion for aviation. “I received my Advanced Ground Instructor (AGI) certification which allowed me to teach private and commercial [ground school],” Robertson recalled. “Then I finished my private pilot’s certification in 2016.”

After that, she began time-building for almost two years while she studied for her instrument rating. She also saved money by teaching herself the material instead of paying for a course. When she was ready to take her instrument written, she decided to take her Instrument Ground Instructor (IGI) exam at the same time. In February 2018, she knocked out her instrument checkride and two months later she completed her commercial checkride. That Fall, she did a 30-day CFI course and soon after she obtained her CFI followed by her multi-engine add-on.

Her advice for student pilots is to “open the book up and save yourself money by doing a lot of self-study at home.” While Robertson never had anyone sit down and teach her material for written exams, oral prep or check rides, she utilized the FAA website and other resources. Robertson advises pilots to “know your resources, know what’s required—go to the FAR/AIM—yes that book looks scary—but it has everything you need in there.” Her reasoning is straightforward. In addition to simply learning the regulations, it’s important to be educated “so people don’t take advantage of you,” Robertson explained. “When you’re learning how to fly, if someone is taking advantage of you, they’re doing it at $175/hr; so don’t be scared to change instructors.”

She also advises student pilots to do their research before selecting a flight school and to choose an environment where they feel welcome because those details matter more than convenience. “I picked a flight school that was a 10-min drive from where I lived,” Robertson explained. “The flight school where I finished my ratings was 1hr and 15 minutes away.” She didn’t go there initially because she was worried about gas money. Being informed and having preferences isn’t about arrogance, it’s about taking ownership and responsibility of one’s flight training.

As an African-American female commercial pilot and CFI, she is one of the less than 1% of professional pilots who identify as black women. Organizations like Sisters of the Skies, Aviators of Color & the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals (OBAP) are working to change that. Although she is relatively new to aviation, Robertson also enjoys giving back. Recently, she volunteered at the 2019 EAA Oshkosh Pilot Proficiency Center at EAA AirVenture, Oshkosh. The volunteers at the center were comprised of certified flight instructors (CFI), master CFI or designated pilot examiners (DPE). The center provided pilots the opportunity to explore 14 different simulators and speak with experienced instructors while flying scenarios that were handpicked by the FAA “as a case study, or a cause of multiple accidents or a trend in incident reports,” Robertson explained. She volunteered for five hrs a day from Monday to Saturday. Then, the next day she traveled to Helena, MT to complete her multi-engine add on.

In addition to knocking out her ratings, she has been very intentional about rounding out her flying education with a remote pilot certificate, glider and aerobatics training. Before she attended her CFI course, Robertson decided to learn how to fly gliders. She traveled to Tennessee to fly with Sara Arnold, a renowned glider pilot and instructor. “I did the glider training so that if I do lose the engine, my first ‘oh crap’ moment won’t be by myself,” said Robertson. “I’ll be a little more at ease because I’ve done this before.” The training itself was still ‘scary at first,’ she noted. “In an airplane, if anything doesn’t feel right, you can go around. In a glider—if you’re too high or too low [on final] you can’t go around.” Overall, the experience, which included 20 tows and landings, felt worthwhile. Robertson relished the opportunity to work on her stick and rudder skills in a non-powered aircraft. She also recommends glider training to anyone who wants their first bad experience to be in a controlled environment. “If I ever do end up in a bad situation, I’ll have that previous experience to fall back on,” said Robertson.

Last updated May 5, 2020