A native of the region serves as a fighter pilot | News, Sports, Jobs

Taylor Pond, a former standout player at the Hollidaysburg-area high school athletics, is reaching new heights as a fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force.

Pond, whose call sign is “Duck,” is a first lieutenant fighter jet pilot based at Eglin Air Force Base in West Florida, where she has been assigned since August 2021. She is the only female in her T-38 squadron, but can sometimes fly alongside another female pilot, who is also the only female in her F-22 squadron.

The T-38 Talon is a high-altitude supersonic jet and although there aren’t many female fighter pilots, Pond said they are respected for their abilities.

“We are not that many” she says. “I am not treated differently from male pilots. I am accepted and respected because it is based on my abilities. Other pilots want a trustworthy, honest, good pilot to fly with.

According to Air Force statistics, as of January 2020, women made up 21% of all Air Force personnel. Of the 328,255 active duty personnel, 68,470 are women, though only 103 are fighter pilots, according to Air Force Personnel Center officials, quoted in an article on the Air Force website. Education and Training Command.

Pond said she will be in Elgin until the fall of 2023 and then transition to training on another jet. His ultimate goal is to fly an F-15​E Strike Eagle.

Pond “Duck” call sign, received a month ago, is both a play on his surname and stems from a “stupid mistake” which she did during a radio check with her flight leader.

Call signs, she says, help “Keep us pilots humble.

Her sign reminds her of the radio check where a radio didn’t work and she didn’t know why, until her manager suggested she check the position of the volume knob.

The knob has been turned down.

“He said, ‘you’re sitting there like a duck needing your mama duck'” Pond recalled, laughing. The incident and resulting call sign is an uplifting and humorous story that she will tell other pilots so they can avoid the same mistake, as they learn from each other and enjoy the camaraderie.

Pond, 25, said it wasn’t until her senior year in high school that she thought about joining the military. She credits the idea to her guidance counselor, David Herncane, who she says was “very influential” in his decision to apply to the Air Force Academy.

“It’s quite an achievement to be accepted” said Herncane. “I have always been impressed with his ability to manage his workload and get involved in athletics. She also worked part-time 25 to 30 hours a week, while taking difficult classes.

Pond did track and field during her four years of high school and was a district champion her senior year. She still holds the 400 meter record, and she still races to maintain the physical strength and stamina to pilot her T-38, which reaches speeds of 400 to 550 miles per hour.

Pond, who finished fifth in his graduating high school class, demonstrated an ability to get along with classmates and teachers, Herncane said.

“I saw the academy as a way for her to maximize her potential, and that’s what she did. It was a good situation that brought out the best in her. he said.

His parents also influenced his career choice as they both served in the Navy.

Her mother, Pond said, often spoke of her three years of Navy service at Naval Air Station Sigonella in Sicily, Italy, where she refueled jets as a member of the ground crew.

Her father helped her apply to the academy, she said.

Her mother, Amy Cassidy of Hollidaysburg, said she was “shocked” when her daughter chose the army because they talked about it.

“I’m so excited and super proud of her” Cassidy said, adding that like all armed forces mothers, she “Pray a lot. I give him all the encouragement I can. She is doing a good thing by serving.

Pond said she chose the Air Force not only to get a college education, but also to challenge herself.

“I thought it would push me mentally and physically and develop my leadership skills. It will push me to be the best I can be in all facets of my life.” she says.

Her time at the academy did all of that and more, but it wasn’t until her second year that she decided to become a pilot.

“I was on the parachute team and I was surrounded by pilot officers who really enjoyed their career,” she said in a phone call. “Being a pilot is so much fun and different, even though we still have desk jobs and other jobs in the field.”

Pond said being a pilot is exciting every time she rides.

“It’s an Adventure” she says. “It’s also such a community among the pilots. It’s not just your colleagues, but your friends and family. They have your back.

She also values ​​the continuous learning and striving for self-improvement that is part of aviation. As a pilot of a T-38 Talon, she flies daily – either mornings or afternoons – as part of tactical training in support of student pilots learning to fly F-22 Raptors. . The Claws or “wicked jets” imitate tactics an enemy may use in wartime.

“We teach them (student pilots) what they need to learn and how to implement tactics when flying in the airspace,” she says.

Its schedule alternates between morning and afternoon flights and often changes at any time depending on the weather and student pilot performance. A typical flight lasts an hour but is preceded by briefings to discuss weather conditions, runway changes, tactical lessons taught and flight plans that take place over land and over the Gulf of Mexico.

Pond first flew in September 2019 with an instructor by her side in a DA-20.

“It’s something I will remember and cherish, but I don’t want to do it again either. I remember thinking it was amazing and crazy at the same time because I had no idea what I was doing. It’s a bit like learning to drive a car, but in the air. It’s a combination of excitement, happiness and nervousness.

She said stealing is “an inherently risky business” because jets fly so fast. “Things can go wrong because sometimes we fly beyond visual range and fly towards each other. It can quickly turn into something dangerous,” she said, adding that she trusts everyone involved in the process, from the plane’s maintenance crews and fellow pilots to the thorough and rigorous training all receive.

She likens it to a roller coaster enthusiast who reads the health warning signs before getting in line and chooses to ride anyway.

“It’s a combination of thrill and accomplishment to do something bigger than myself that is worth the risk,” she says.

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