One Woman’s Journey Through Life’s Little Turbulences
A Chick In the Cockpit: My Life Up In the Air, by Erika Armstrong
I found A Chick In The Cockpit on Book Club Reading List. After reading it and getting to talk with Erika, the author behind it, one thing is certain, this is the story of a strong woman!
We all have to plan that life won’t happen like we visualized it to be. Those who survive and thrive are able to accept the changes and deal with it as it comes along. Those who panic and forget the basics bend metal and/ or die. My first real lesson on variables happened when I was a very new chick in the cockpit…
A Chick In the Cockpit is an autobiography of Armstrong’s career as a pilot. It starts out just at the point in her life when she got “infected by the flying bug”, and details her journey fighting her way through the expensive, time consuming, male-dominated fields of flight school, training, and aviation. Armstrong lays out the patches of turbulence she encounters along the rise through the ranks of her career. Then, about halfway through, the book veers toward the personal. She gets married, has children, and like many women looses herself and her career in the process. Unlike many women, she looses herself and her career to a violent marriage. When Armstrong lets you into her private world, it seems the strength she showed in earlier chapters is redoubled, as you realize how much courage it must take to write this memoir and how needed it is. Both the memoir of a woman in aviation, and the memoir of a woman surviving abuse, loosing everything, then beginning to rebuild her life.
And she does begin to rebuild her life. It looks touch and go there for a while, but before the book closes you see Armstrong strengthen her resolve, reframe her thinking about her marriage, rebuild relationships with friends, and find footing in the world again. The reader is left with a clear picture of the potential positive paths Armstrong and her family could set out on having left this relationship and started anew.
There aren’t enough book’s about women in aviation. Everyone read the token biography of Amelia Earhart growing up, but that’s not the same as having a modern woman tell you her thought’s on flying. Here are a few of her thoughts, on being a pilot:
Aviation is a secret society that you ooze your way into, and it takes time to learn all the nuances of it. It has its own language, syntax, sounds, and smell. There is no quantum leap into aviation knowledge. It takes duration, but once you get it, you’re hooked.
on being a female pilot:
Most girls don’t aspire to be pilots, not because they can’t do it, but because moving a piece of machinery through the air at a high rate of speed isn’t usually high on their list of wants or desires. There aren’t a lot of women pilots because not a lot of women want to be pilots. It’s really that simple. If you’re a woman and you want to be a pilot, you can be a pilot. Thank you, Gloria Steinem. You’ll have to attain the pinpoint focus of a Buddhist monk, trade your soul for flight hours, experience a few furloughs, sacrifice everything and everyone around you for your career, but you can be a pilot, too.
The books is book moves at a good pace, it’s not a thriller, but Armstrong’s clean prose progress through the story at a nice clip. The anecdotes from her aviation career which begin each chapter are not always chronological, even though the bulk of the narrative is. This mechanic can get confusing at times, but for the most part the novel is quite grounded and the characters are very well developed.
In conclusion – I gave this book 4 stars! The voices of the characters are what makes this book shine. Whether it’s the copilots and flight crew joking around in the cockpit, or Armstrong conversing with herself, alone in her head, every character’s voice is vivid, distinct, and familiar. On the whole, I found the book very moving. I kept tearing up as I read it. (Admittedly, this might be because I hadn’t slept in about 3 days), but also because the writing feels so immediate, because the characters are real people and you’re in the room with them the whole time so you feel what’s happening to them keenly.
The only reason I’m not giving it 5 stars is that I was unprepared for the change in tone halfway through the book when Erika slips deep into an abusive marriage. No doubt she was unprepared as well when that experience hit her, but I was left feeling a bit like I was reading a different book than I’d initially bought for 100 odd pages, which was a bit disconcerting. That feeling, coupled with a few moments earlier in the novel where I lost the thread of the chronology left me feeling like maybe the pilot of this book wasn’t 100% in control.