Flying high in a male-dominated field, it’s not about being ‘one of the guys’ for Honors student Brittany Danko — it’s about being the best.
“COMPLACENCY CAUSES MISHAPS — STAY FOCUSED, BE ALERT” is the motto that hangs in the flight academy hanger. The banner is more than a decorative flourish.
Brittany Danko, a sophomore aviation flight technology and aviation management major and Honors student, is in the midst of a routine practice flight. Everything is going as planned.
Her instructor pulls the engine. “What are you going to do?”
“The first five times it psyches you out because you’re so rushed,” said Danko. “But after that, I think that you’re just so prepared for any situation that will be thrown your way. You just go through the steps.”
Danko has spent more than 150 hours in the air and has never felt unsafe, except around birds.
“In a small plane, if you hit a bird, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll lose an engine. If it’s a large bird, it can go straight through your windshield. I have heard crazy stories. I’m not scared of planes, but birds freak me out. Big jets, they can usually handle birds.”
In Danko’s short time at Indiana State, she has received her private pilot’s license and won the first FAA challenge coin for Indiana State in 10 years. Last summer, she competed in the Air Race Classic. She also holds a judiciary board position in the aviation business fraternity and is about to receive her instrument certificate so she can fly in inclement weather.
Danko is used to being the only woman in her flight classes. Her love for competition extends far beyond the cockpit to the main stage where she contended for the Miss ISU title. So, for Danko, it’s not about being “one of the guys” — it’s about being the best.
“I found something I really, really love, which is flying … if you beat the boys — yeah, it feels good,” Danko said. “I like trying different things that push me, and I did Miss ISU to try to expand my horizons because I am around guys all day, but it was an opportunity to meet other girls and it was a good experience.”
Danko credits her success in flying to the aviation program at Indiana State and her mentors, including instructor Melanie Abel and former Air-Race partner (now working for Grand Canyon Airlines) Chelsea Noel, who sends Danko daily motivational text messages.
“Having women to guide me through or showing me that it’s possible means a lot,” Danko said. “Also my flight instructor obviously, Jordan Adams, has taught me a lot. He is the man!”
If others can look to Danko’s achievements for a lesson, it would be one of possibilities.
“Six percent of people in aviation are women … I guess that it’s a pretty demanding job, but I want little girls to know like, ‘Hey, this is a possibility,” Danko said. “I know that when I was little I told my mom that I wanted to be a boy so I could fly plans and she was like, ‘You’re crazy — you can fly them anyway.’ When you don’t see those role models out there, then you don’t know it’s a possibility. It’s kind of crazy that that feeling is still there in 2016.”
Danko remembers being fascinated with flying from an early age, when she would take planes to see her father in Boston, but was always intimidated by all the controls, wondering if she could manage them. In high school, she took Prosser classes in aviation and was able to enter Indiana State’s aviation program with 20 flight hours.
“I just always loved (flying), and I think once I did actually get in a cockpit and started flying, started landing, like — it sounds weird, but it’s addictive. It means everything,” Danko said.
Danko says her dream is generally the same: “I’m going to be a captain for Southwest and that’s it. That’s what I’ve decided,” Danko said. She wants to flight-instruct at the academy until she reaches 1,000 hours, then go directly to working for a regional airline to build her hours until she can work for Southwest, Delta or UPS.
“But I decided Southwest recently, because they’re a very happy company,” Danko said. “And I like to be happy.”
Danko’s options are as wide open as the skies.
“I don’t do anything different than anybody else, I just work really hard and just — do exactly what I’m told, and I’ve just been very fortunate and lucky, and that the amount of work I put in, anyone could be in my spot I guess,” Danko said.
Her former instructor Jordan Adams insisted Danko has “a God-given talent for flying.”
“Any challenges that Brittany faced were fought with deliberate action and passion,” Adams said. “Nothing stood in the way of her dreams, and she showed that during the short time I flew with her.”
Adams predicted great success in Danko’s career because she has the “personality needed to network effectively, and her head-strong attitude will give her the upper hand against her peers.”
Danko says she has not quite acclimated to the attention she has gotten because of her accomplishments, “I kind of just like to do my best and go from there,” she said. “We have a great program, like — oh my, that’s not my coin, that’s my instructors’ coin. I wish I could just tape that up on the wall and say that.”
Danko failed the stage check flight prior to performing in her challenge coin-winning flight check.
“We have something called a stage check, and they just drill you on everything … it was intense,” she said. “But just makes you so prepared, so that when you’re on your check ride, you think, ‘This is so easy.’ I prepared for months. But they want you to almost be overwhelmed (on the stage check), so there’s nothing you won’t know.”