Transitioning for Fighter Jets to 737s with Jeff Stodola
David Santo: Okay. So, hello again and thank you everyone who’s listening in to our podcast. My name is David Santo, and I’m with ABCI and the Airline Pilot Gateway, and I am here with my colleague, Jeffrey Stodola. Jeff, how are you sir?
Jeffrey Stodola: Doing great. Thanks a lot for having me today.
David Santo: It’s our pleasure. So Jeff, I’m really excited to be talking to you. And I’ve heard a lot about you, and I was hoping you could talk a little bit about your airline carrier. And some of the successes that you’ve had in your career, and how you’ve gotten here.
Jeffrey Stodola: Sure. My airline career so far has been relatively short. I just started about a year and a half ago. My aviation career is about twenty years old. I first started flying in high school, just little Piper Warriors. And then went on to Purdue University. Got a, got my major in aviation technology there, and while I was there I also did a Navy ROTC reserve officer program, and got commissioned into the Navy.
Spent the next ten years or so flying for the Navy as an officer, and went through normal flight training, jet training, and then flew the EA-6B Prowler, and then transitioned to the EA-18G Growler. Rounded out my career there last summer. Where I separated from active duty, and transitioned to being a reservist with the Navy and then also got picked up by a major US airline as a airline 737 pilot.
And have been flying for that airline since February of this year. But loving it so far.
David Santo: Wow that’s awesome Jeff that’s very cool. And by the way on behalf of all of us, thank you so much for your service there in the Navy.
Jeffrey Stodola: Thanks a lot.
David Santo: So Perdue, wow! What a great school, I mean this is like the what the number one school to graduate astronauts in the US if I’m not mistaken.
Jeffrey Stodola: That’s correct. Cradle of astronauts they call it.
David Santo: The cradle of astronauts. Well, can’t think of a better place to go to school if you wanna be a professional aviator.
Although, I’m not sure we’re quite doing airline service to the moon, but-
Jeffrey Stodola: [LAUGH]
David Santo: I’m looking forward to it someday.
Jeffrey Stodola: Maybe someday soon?
David Santo: What do you fly for the airlines?
Jeffrey Stodola: I fly the Boeing 737.
David Santo: Okay, is that the NG, the Next Gen?
Jeffrey Stodola: Yes.
So that can include the Boeing 737-7, the 737-800 and the 737-900 model.
David Santo: How was that transition, to go from flying the E6 in the US Navy, and I’m sure you did some pretty or cool stuff that we would like to hear about. But how was that, from going from a Navy E6 to an airliner?
Jeffrey Stodola: It’s been very, very interesting. I got to do a transition within the Navy, to go from the EA6B to the EA18G, so that transition was interesting. And then more recently from the Navy EA18G to the 737. So the transition, well I should preface it by saying I had at least a little bit of 727 experience that I was able to pick up when I did my major at Purdue.
So part 121 type flying, I had been introduced to before and had some training in it. So from that perspective, a lot of it was what I expected. But then I had a little over a decade of getting used to the Navy’s way of doing things, and I’ve found that is very different from what the airlines tend to focus on.
By that, I mean in the Navy, we kinda tend to, we’re not focusing on efficiency. So we kinda beat everything to the death before we actually get to do it in the plane. So first we read about it, then we talk about it, then we have a classroom on it, then we have a couple simulators on it, then we finally get to do it in the plane.
And then we do it in the plane a number of times until we’re up to the training standards. With the airlines now, you kinda just jump right in. And you’re reading about it yes in classroom works. So you have the basic knowledge and then you’re doing it for the first time in the Flight Training Sim.
And then you do it a couple of times in the simulator before doing your check ride. And then first time you want it for real is with passengers on board. So the biggest shift for me was having the training. And then, our level of acceptance, that you’re expected a full understanding of it.
But you’re not quite expected to do it perfectly, because they know you’re gonna be sitting there with a captain, who’s seen it 100 or 1,000 of times. So I think that was the biggest difference that I noticed.
David Santo: Well that’s a very cool perspective. How flying airplanes can be so much alike, but the kind of the learning styles, and what we do, for the mission and the job, just being a little bit different.
That’s a great perspective. When did you decide, Jeff, that you wanted to be a pilot?
Jeffrey Stodola: If I had to narrow it down to one time, I would say it was when a friend of mine and his father took me up in a Cessna 172. I was early on in high school.
I think a freshman in high school. And his dad was a private pilot. They offered to take us up, and I’ll never forget sitting there in the back of a 172. You could look down, and that you can see that the wheels, and I just remember watching the wheels lift up off the ground the first time I got to fly in a small personal aircraft.
And so if I had to narrow it down to a specific time I think that was it where I was just mesmerized. I was hooked at that point, and I haven’t really looked back since.
David Santo: Jeff, do you think that made a difference in your high school education and career?
Did that experience create some focus that led to your success later on?
Jeffrey Stodola: Yes for sure. I started flight training, pilot training, in high school in my junior year and if I’m honest about things might focus to my academics was not that great in high school. But I was already focused on aviation.
I worked two jobs to help pay for the flight training. And then, I consistently flew. So it definitely focuses there and gave me a significant goal, and I worked hard over the course of a little over a year to attain that goal, and I did get my private pilot shortly after graduating from high school, and then as a corollary to that, oops, sorry, go ahead.
David Santo: So, you actually were training to fly while you were in high school and isn’t that a cool thing to share with young, I don’t think young men and women really realize right that they can get started pretty early. If they have a passion for flying you don’t have to wait, you can start doing this while you’re in high school.
Jeffrey Stodola: Absolutely, so when I soloed in a plane, I couldn’t drive myself to the airport, my parents drove me [LAUGH].
David Santo: That’s awesome, that’s really great.
Jeffrey Stodola: So yeah, it’s crazy that people at that young age can have such a responsibility.[INAUDIBLE].
David Santo: Is that a [INAUDIBLE], did that early civilian flying help you in the military?
Jeffrey Stodola: Yes, I think it did. And when I started primary flight training with the Navy after I graduated from college, I had, I think about 250 flight hours, and then another good 100 or so hours in the simulator. And I actually got accelerated through flight training with the Navy due to that experience, and that helped boost my grades, as well, my Navy flight grades.
So, I think I definitely had a leg up in primary flight training. Now after that, once I got to advanced flight training, I was flying a T-45. So, it was a jet fighter looking type plane. I think the advantage, once you get to that stage, it has worn off, but certainly in primary it was there.
David Santo: So, having flown this range of really cool airplanes. What’s some of the, now kind of the coolest things or most exciting things that you’ve had happen to you while flying either for the military or flying for the airlines?
Jeffrey Stodola: Well, luckily, flying for the airlines, there hasn’t been much excitement.
[LAUGH] I think that’s a good thing. I think excitement is about the last thing we’re looking for.
David Santo: Passengers like it kind of boring I guess, right?
Jeffrey Stodola: Yes, I think so, [LAUGH] and I think that’s my general goal. Safe and boring but as far as flying with the Navy there’s definitely lots of opportunities for excitement there to narrow it down to a specific experience.
I was able to fly in support of Operation Enduring Freedom over Afghanistan. For about six months and there are a couple missions over there that stand out in particular where I was flying the Prowler EA6B at the time, and we were in support of what the armed services called ticks, troops in contact, an euphemism for people shooting at each other down below.
So we’d be there in our Prowler circling overhead, supporting. Our coalition forces who were currently shooting and getting shot at. And there were couple of instances where we had very direct feedback and knowing that the enemy forces called out their attack, pulled back their attack at least partially due to what we’re doing over head.
So in terms of excitement, the whole point of what we train for, the whole point of what we were doing on the Prowler, that was the pinnacle of it. Launching off a boat on the Arabian Sea, flying over to Afghanistan, and then being part of a very direct mission where we were able to help coalition forces on the ground, keep from getting shot at.
That was an amazing experience.
David Santo: Now that is awesome. Yeah, that must have been an amazing experience. So Jeff, I’ve talked to so many guys that have flown civilian aviation and flown in the Navy. And I’ve always been curious about that relationship with you know as an airline pilot that focuses so much on the take off and the landing, right?
Cuz as [INAUDIBLE] public like you said they like it boring but they also wanna make sure that it’s a smooth takeoff and even a smoother landing.
Jeffrey Stodola: Sure.
David Santo: Not exactly the experience you had landing on a boat, right?
Jeffrey Stodola: [LAUGH] No, it’s a little bit different. And I’ve already had my share of maybe slightly less than perfectly smooth landings in the 737.
And yeah, people love to ask if I came from the Navy. And I always say with pride I did. So yeah [LAUGH] it’s been an interesting thing getting used to flaring again for the airlines. I did it obviously when I was initially flight training but then ever since about 2006.
Haven’t been flying from 2006 to 2015 and so now the fun part is going back and forth cuz I’m a reserve that’s still flying the E18G as a reservist and then going back and forth between that and my airline job.
David Santo: So I gotta ask. Is it a lot harder to land on the carrier?
Jeffrey Stodola: Absolutely. Yeah, hands down the hardest thing I’ve done in Aviation and the fun of it is it never gets easy, it’s always a challenge. It can be a lot of fun during the day, the night time is pretty much always one difficult and two at least a little bit terrifying.
And if anyone says otherwise then they’re probably lying to you. But, it’s always a challenge and a big reward, especially in the middle of the ocean, we can launch off and you really have no land divert available. So you can get shot off the front of the carrier, and the one and only place you gotta come back and land at is the aircraft carrier.
So that’s a really rewarding experience also.
David Santo: Yeah, I just picture, never having had that experience, right? I picture here’s this runway that’s moving on you, right? It’s moving forward at an angle and up and down and side to side. And rolling and heaving and pitching and you’re trying to land on it, not to mention it’s kinda short too I guess.
Jeffrey Stodola: Yeah, the space between all the wires is a total of 120 feet. So it’s doing all that and then the area that you have to touch your hook down is only 120 feet. And that’s from the one wire to the fore wire. And so, if you catch the one wire, people aren’t very happy with you so you’re really trying to get it into a spot between the two and the three wire which is only a 40 foot difference.
So the length of my plane is over 60 feet. So the variation that we have is smaller than the length of my little plane.
David Santo: And by comparison, what’s the target for landing that 737? About 3000 feet-
Jeffrey Stodola: Yeah, about 3000 feet. The first third is the traditional rule of thumb, [LAUGH] so a little bit different-
David Santo: A little bit?
Jeffrey Stodola: And that’s also the time to get used to every time we’re going in there in the back of my mind, I see all this good usable runway passing us up, even before we’re starting to flare. And I have to say, it still doesn’t feel natural, because as a Navy person, I don’t like to give up good runway.
David Santo: [LAUGH] I bet not. So in your mind having had a great career so far and a lot of really awesome successes if you had to talk to young men and women or people of all ages really that are coming into the airline industry, what would you say the state of the job opportunity is?
Jeffrey Stodola: From my perspective, I don’t think it’s ever been better and biased of course but from all around from a safety perspective It’s never been better, of course, and we’re getting better still every year. From a hiring perspective, the airlines are hiring now like crazy, and it looks like that’s gonna continue.
Everyone talks about for the next ten years. Realistically, at least for the next 20 years when you look at the numbers. And then from a lifestyle standpoint. Through our history, when the airline started, there were so many airlines so if you talked to anyone who was retiring or getting ready to retire they probably bounced around three, four, five, six, ten airlines throughout their career.
Well, with so few majors in the US right now, the chances that one of them are gonna go away, go out of business or get bought up again or something like that, are not very high at all. They’re all big, they’re all established, and they’re all gonna stick around.
So in an industry where seniority is king, I don’t want it to say it’s the only thing that matters but, [LAUGH] It matters a lot for where you fly and when you fly. Your chances of finding a good airline, going there, and then staying there for pretty much as long as you want are better now than they’ve ever been in history.
David Santo: Do you see a return on the investment with a college education and the flight school? Lot of parents are asking, is this the right career to invest in for my son or daughter, will there be a return on that investment?
Jeffrey Stodola: Sure and yeah especially as a parent sending your kid there I think everyone would ask that question.
And I think there’s a two fold answer, if you look at just the money then I would say it’s an easy yes the return on investment will be there. It will take a couple years you have to go through the training, training is quite expensive and then you’re gonna have to build your hours probably as a flight instructor or some part 9135 operation.
Then get on to a 121 operation and then get hired by the major. So that timeline is fairly lengthy when compared to most other careers. But that timeline is shortening despite the 1500 hour rule that most everyone is familiar with to get hired by a 121 business, I should say.
You can get there pretty quickly. And then the second part of the answer when we’re talking return on investment is, I don’t think anyone should ever become a pilot cuz it makes good money. I think it does make good money and it’ll continue to do so, but the only one that I want to fly with in the cockpit.
Or, if I’m sitting back, the only people I want up front are the ones who just love aviation, love planes, love flying, love everything about it. Cuz I think that’s the only way, one, make it through. Two, be good at it. Or three, make it through and enjoy it the whole time, which I think is really imperative while there.
So when you’re looking at return on investment, I think it’s gotta come down to, does this person wanna do this and thinks he’ll love it and thinks he’ll love it for the rest of their life. Cuz you’re not going to get that return on investment personally or financially unless all that stuff is there, too.
David Santo: Jeff and thanks for saying that because you make such a good point. When we talk to young men and women they’re so hyped up and excited about the career. They really don’t care about the pay and the benefits. It’s always the parents and the sponsors who maybe don’t share the same passion for the career.
They just want to have their son or daughter be successful. And be able to see that financial reward and that lifestyle reward that they’re investing in. So you’re right. I think the people that are drawn into this occupation, we certainly would want them to be Passionate about flying first, cuz they have to be really dedicated to that.
Jeffrey Stodola: Yeah, and as pilots we kind of, you tend not to think about it, you just kind of take it for granted. And when people tell me that they don’t like to fly, and so forth, I just kind of give them that look where. I don’t really know where they’re coming from, I don’t understand them but similarly those people don’t really understand us, and that’s okay but like you were getting at I think the money and the financials are there as well, if someone is looking at it strictly from a financial standpoint.
Times are good, and I don’t see them getting worse at any time in the foreseeable future.
David Santo: Is there a better pathway, or let me see how I can phrase this question to you Jeff. Do you have to be a military pilot? Can you come up through the civilian ranks?
Is there a better way, one versus the other?
Jeffrey Stodola: I really don’t think there’s a better way. I think it’s such a long process that you’ve gotta love the process to make it worth it also. By that I mean, if you’re not gonna be happy until you’re flying in the right or the left seat of a major airline then I would say looked somewhere else, [LAUGH] and say that nicely.
But it’s such a long process, such a hard process. And there’s never a guarantee, that you gotta love what you’re doing while you’re getting there in the interim. So for me, the military was what I wanted to do. The excitement and the travel, and the Leadership opportunities and all that really appealed to me and then the different kind of flying that was afforded to me in the Navy really appealed to me.
So if that appeals to someone, then I’d say certainly look into the Navy, the Air Force, the Army, all the flying programs within the military. But about half the people. Getting hired right now by the majors are civilians. And most of the people I went through school with at Purdue did their civilian flood training there and most of them are now at a major US airline getting their completely different route.
And almost all of them loved their route as well so. I don’t think there’s the right way to do it or the wrong way to do it, there’s just the way that you would want to do it and then making sure that you’re enjoying it along the way.
David Santo: Did you have somebody in your family a role model or a mentor that was in the aviation industry that can help you along the way?
Jeffrey Stodola: Not in the industry. My dad has always been very, very interested in aviation and I think, in a parallel universe, if things had gone a little bit differently, he might have picked that route.
But as soon as I started showing interest in aviation, I think that kinda reawakened his interest as well. So I had a lot of fun with my dad growing up. We flew radio-controlled airplanes together for a long time. And then when I started getting into flight training, he actually redid some flight training himself as well.
So though he wasn’t in the industry, my parents were very, very supportive of my interests. And they helped out a lot.
David Santo: That is awesome. Of course, when the family is supportive and they’re there to help what is a, it’s a challenging process like you’ve said, and it takes a lot of commitment, a lot of dedication.
And when you got people in your life, family or friends that are there to help, be a positive influence on that experience and to kinda encourage you, what else could you ask for, right? That’s just awesome.
Jeffrey Stodola: Exactly.
David Santo: All right, so, Jeff, we talk about the career and one of the things I know about airline pilots and myself is we get a lot of time off. Now, I understand that you do some pretty cool things on your time off.
Could you talk about that?
Jeffrey Stodola: I try to, yeah. The dichotomy of a pilot’s schedule is that you have a lot of time on when you’re flying your trips, and then, like you just said, a lot of time off when you’re not. So it affords you the opportunities to delve into other interests, should you want to.
And for me that works, one, because I’m still a reservist in the Navy. It affords me the opportunity to continue flying the EA-18G and to still stay active in the Navy. And then, two, to work and do things like this like we’re doing today. And then to have started my own business, Angels 6 Aviation, as an entrepreneur.
And so many of the guys I get to fly with, guys and girls, excuse me, that I get to fly with, have their own business on the side as well. Mine specifically is an aviation consulting company, where I’ve been assisting ABCI and then supporting my own processes for bringing two things that I’m really passionate about, aviation as well as marketing, and helping aviation companies really realize their true potential.
Like we were talking about earlier, everyone who’s involved in aviation just loves it. And we tend not understand how anyone could not get excited about planes, or flying, or seeing places and all that stuff that we love about aviation. So I think, from a marketing standpoint, a lot of companies have their product and their great product and flight instruction, or as an FBO getting people places, or avionics, everything like that.
And pilots and people in aviation industry tend to not truly understand how to market what they have, because it’s so cool to them they don’t get that they might actually have to sell that thing to other people. So I’m trying to work to bring those things together and help sell those things to people who don’t already know how cool those are.
David Santo: That’s such a great point, because as an airline pilot, my experience has been I can work as little as 12 days a month flying. That gives a lot of time to pursue hobbies, for working around the house. I’ve got friends and colleagues who do all kinds of entrepreneurial things out there, promoting aviation or in various industries.
What other career really affords you this type of income and just such a quality experience in a passionate career, and yet allows you to still pursue other passions? For me, I work as a career mentor helping young men and women for the Airline Pilot Gateway. You’re pursuing your entrepreneurial pursuits.
And we’re both afforded those opportunities because of the commercial airline industry. So I think that’s so cool that you’re doing that and I just can’t think of any other career, can you, that allows that.
Jeffrey Stodola: No, I really can’t. And the cool thing about it is that the vast majority of the airline pilots I talk to that are doing something kind of on the side, probably nine times out of ten that thing on the side that they’re doing is still in aviation.
It’s not like they get home from their trip and they’re like, man, I’m burnt out on flying or planes or any of this stuff, I just need to get away from it. Usually the next day when they’re doing something else, it’s something else maybe not with the airline, but still in aviation.
And I think that is a great example of what you’re getting at. And not just as afford it, but it really enables it, and encourages it, and, I think, increases the love of aviation and flying so they can pursue those opportunities and dreams.
David Santo: Well, that is really, really cool.
David Santo: That’s just awesome. Is there anything, Jeff, you’d like to say to our audience, to the people listening to this podcast about the career?
Jeffrey Stodola: About the career, I just can’t reiterate enough what a great time it is for anyone interested in aviation. I think we live in very exciting times. I think there are a lot of changes coming throughout the industry, as there always has been. I think there always will be.
It’s just a constantly changing industry, and I think that’s a great thing. And then I mentioned a couple of times how it can be difficult and long and so on and so forth. I also want to emphasize for me, and I think for most people interested in aviation, that’s part of the fun.
And I don’t mean that it’s hard in a bad way. I mean it’s hard in a great way, because that’s the reward of it. It’s not an easy thing to do. It’s not something everyone can do. And that’s one of the great things about. It’s what makes aviation and flying planes so special is that there’s really nothing like it anywhere in the world.
David Santo: Well, Jeff, I gotta tell you, we certainly appreciate your sharing your views about the industry with us today. Thank you again for doing that and for your service to our country. And congratulations for your airline career. I’m looking forward to us talking again, and kind of keeping in touch with you and tracking to see how that career continues to blossom.
But on behalf of myself and the team here at ABCI and the Airline Pilot Gateway, I’d just like to say thanks again for joining us.
Jeffrey Stodola: Thanks a lot for having me, David, I enjoyed it.