At age 14, Gabrielle Palmas gave up dreams of being a ballerina when she decided it wasn’t the future she wanted. “I didn’t think I would make much money being a ballerina,” she said. “I didn’t think it would take me very far.”
Now, although she’s been a full-fledged adult for only three years, Palmas already has worked for more than a decade to achieve her dream of becoming a commercial airline pilot.
Her most recent achievement, winning the Ninety Nines Amelia Earhart Memorial Scholarship, will help her get even closer to that goal.
The fellowship, a $2,000 university scholarship, is presented annually to women pursuing careers in the aviation industry.
The Ninety-Nines, International Organization of Women Pilots, helps women achieve their goals in aviation through education and resources, and boasts thousands of members in 35 countries.
Palmas applied for the scholarship and kept her fingers crossed.
After beating her competition in the Southwest region, Palmas moved on to the national and then the international finals, where she finally won.
“It means accomplishment,” Palmas said. “It means so much to me to see that people recognize my tenacity and are rewarding it by helping me [take on] the next obstacle in my path.”
In order to become a commercial pilot, Palmas says each applicant must complete a series of ratings, or certifications. The newly awarded scholarship will enable her to complete the next in her series: the instrument rating.
This particular license educates the pilot in reading flight computers, communicating with air traffic control, and flying in poor weather.
“It’s the rating that sets you apart from a recreational pilot,” she said.
She hopes to have the new rating completed in six to eight months, which will get her one step closer to her childhood dream.
After being inspired by air shows she visited with her uncle, she decided to become a pilot. She signed up for lessons at her next air show, and by age 16, she was already flying solo.
“I was flying airplanes before I was driving cars,” she said.
When she finished high school in her hometown of San Diego, Palmas made the move to Chandler to take part in ASU’s aviation program. The program was a partnership with Mesa Airlines, and guaranteed graduates a career flying regional jets. The year Palmas got here, the airline went bankrupt. (The airline has since emerged from bankruptcy.)
Faced with a choice to continue her dream, Palmas decided to apply for a job as a flight attendant with US Airways.
“I realized that it would be an awesome opportunity to enter the corporate aviation industry and network with captains and commanders,” she said.
She has now been with US Airways for four years while completing her pilot training on the side. She stays local to support local business, earning ratings at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport and with Chandler Air Service.
In addition to her demanding job and full-time training, Palmas is also a mentor at Girls With Wings, a nonprofit that supports young girls reach their goals of becoming pilots.
She says that piloting should not be considered unusual for young women, that it is just another convenient form of transportation just like cars and trains.
For her, it’s also therapeutic.
“You get to leave all your drama behind; it’s total peace and quiet,” she said. “Plus it’s fun. You get to travel the world.”
For more information on Gabrielle’s work with Girls With Wings, and a biography, visit http://girlswithwings.com/Bios/Gabrielle.html . More information about the Ninety Nines and the Amelia Earhart Scholarship can be found at http://www.ninety-nines.org/index.cfm/scholarships.htm .