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The Air Up There Podcast

FAA Administrator Steve Dickson Talks Pilot-to-Pilot with @PlaneGirl

Season 2, Episode 10
Published: Friday, April 30, 2021

The FAA estimates that there are 664,565 pilots that hold active FAA certificates as of December 31, 2019. Of that number, an estimated 52,740 are women. That's just shy of 8%. Eight! Pretty shocking, and it's clear there's a lot of work to be done to bring greater gender equity to the field.

But among that 8%, there are a number of bright spots, like “Plane Girl” Stevie Triesenberg, a young aviator and content creator. FAA Administrator Steve Dickson talks pilot-to-pilot with Stevie in this episode, about her start in aviation and how she's inspiring the next generation through social media.

You can also watch this interview on our YouTube channel, and follow Stevie on Instagram.

FAA Administrator Steve Dickson Talks Pilot-to-Pilot with @PlaneGirl

FAA Administrator Steve Dickson Talks Pilot-to-Pilot with @PlaneGirl

Transcript

Dominique Gebru:
You're listening to The Air Up There, a podcast about the wide world of aviation and aerospace. I'm Dominique Gebru. I'm going to share a number with you that's kind of shocking. The FAA estimates that there are 664,565 pilots that hold active airmen certificates as of December 31 2019. Of that number, an estimated 52,740 are women. That's just shy of 8%. Eight. Pretty shocking. And it's clear that there's a lot of work to be done to bring greater gender equity to the field. But among that 8%, there are a number of bright spots. Recently FAA Administrator Steve Dickson had an awesome conversation with Stevie Triesenberg, a 22 year old pilot who's using social media to break down some of those barriers. In this interview, you'll hear Stevie talk about aviation safety with passion and in detail. The software engineer spends much of her free time flying her 1952 Beechcraft C35 Bonanza, and sharing her flights with her more than one million social media followers. She goes by @planegirl on TikToK and @bayflight on Instagram. Let's hear that interview.

Steve Dickson:
Hey Stevie, its great to see you. And thank you for joining us. Can you share a little bit about what inspired your interest in aviation? And also did you have a mentor who inspired you when you were learning how to fly?

Stevie Triesenberg:
Absolutely. Thank you for having me first of all. And my story is definitely not your conventional story these days — I don't think — of how I got into aviation, but every story is unique. So here's mine. I, as a kid really had, I had no family history in aviation, didn't know anybody who was a pilot. And I also really had no exposure to aviation at all. I was actually afraid of flying as a kid because I had ear issues that made it very painful when I was very young. So for years I refused to even go on an airplane. So I was not anywhere nearby airplanes, airports, pilots, anything like that. Then one day in high school, I think it was my sophomore or junior year, I was scrolling around on Instagram, like a girl in sophomore or junior year of high school would do. And I was on my Instagram explore page and I saw a picture of a friend of a friend of a friend posing with a small airplane.

Stevie Triesenberg:
I think it was a Cirrus, looking back. And I think I did a double take because one, I did not realize that small planes existed at all. I don't know how I thought pilots trained, but it definitely was not like that. And I also had no idea that you could just go up and fly for fun. I thought pilots trained to do a job, and that was it. And I really didn't even know that much about that side of things either. So that really stuck with me, that picture. And I ended up scrolling through this guy's page a little bit more and just seeing all of his adventures that he had gone on in this airplane. Around the same time I had to start going on commercial flights for college visits and school trips. And every time I was on an airplane, I would look out the window and think, wow, I wish I was the one flying.

Stevie Triesenberg:
So I was pretty dead set on going to engineering school, so I ended up going to University of Michigan for computer science engineering, but that thought of flying was always in the back of my head, just flying for fun. I never really considered it as a career until I had started, but it was always in the back of my head as something maybe I would do one summer or just during school. And one summer I was fortunate enough to get an internship in the Ann Arbor area. So I had the money to go ahead and do my private flight training. So I googled Ann Arbor flight schools. I picked the one with the best website and I texted my mom that I was going to go on a flight lesson and she said, be safe. And the rest is history.

Steve Dickson:
Well, that's great. We actually share a common background in some ways. I was an engineering student as well. And of course flying has been a part of my being for decades now. And I think that one of the things that's really cool is to be able to have a career that involves doing something that you really enjoy. That's a passion for you personally. What does flying actually mean to you?

Stevie Triesenberg:
So flying is two main things to me. I think one, it is just an opportunity to always be learning. I did all of my ratings quite quickly. I went zero to CFI in about two years. So I started applying in June of 2018 and I got my CFI in January of 2020, right before coronavirus. But your learning never stops. There are endless opportunities to try new things and do new things in aviation. And I think that's what makes it so exciting is, I'm thinking about getting my multi-engine here in a few months. I've always dreamed of doing my seaplane, flying multi-engine seaplanes, trying different careers in aviation. And you can really learn something from every single flight that you go on, which I think is so incredible. There's not many fields where that exists like that in that nature.

Stevie Triesenberg:
And the other thing that is so important to me about aviation is the community. I have not found anywhere another community that is just so supportive and large really, and just shares such a strong passion for one thing as the aviation community. Everybody that I have met, I mean, I've met like my best friends through aviation. I've met so many mentors and people who just, everybody wants to see you succeed, which I think is really special.

Steve Dickson:
Oh, that's great. Yeah. Lifelong learning. And the ability to be part of that community, I think is really,

Stevie Triesenberg:
Absolutely.

Steve Dickson:
Cool thing about flying. What advice do you have for anyone who wants to get involved in aviation, especially young women?

Stevie Triesenberg:
I think the hardest thing is definitely getting started for anybody. It's getting past that hurdle that's standing in your way. In my case and I think for many young women out there, that hurdle is really not knowing about aviation at all. I never had like a hatred for the job of aviation. I never was told, no, you can't do this. I just simply didn't know about it. And so in terms of getting more women interested in aviation, I think that's the biggest hurdle that stands in our way is, actually exposing them at a young age to this industry.

Stevie Triesenberg:
Another thing that I would say, especially coming from a background of no family history, don't be intimidated if you show up on the first day and everything sounds like a different language to you. I remember vividly asking my flight instructor what CFI stood for on probably the third or fourth lesson, because I really had no idea.

Stevie Triesenberg:
For everybody and especially for women, hold your head high. Don't let people walk on you. Don't let people tell you that because you don't know everything on the first day, you're not going to succeed. And just be strong and be proud of yourself. Because you did the hardest step. And that is starting. In aviation, you do get a lot of bold people who see all of the pop culture in the movies of pilots and they're usually all men. So I think people are a little bit more bold to say, you can't do this because you're a girl and you just have to hold your head high and challenge them and say, yes, I can.

Steve Dickson:
Absolutely. No, I think that's great advice. It can be intimidating because there's no shortage of acronyms and initials for just about everything in aviation. And you just have to cut through that and come into it as you said, with confidence. And there are no stupid questions. You've got to be able to ask those questions. And I think that I've found over the years, if you approach it from a learning standpoint that your instructors and everything really want to impart that knowledge to you. In the interest of jargon and nomenclature, November 5921, Charlie means something. So I just wanted to ask you about what kind of airplane you fly? And do you have a favorite airplane?

Stevie Triesenberg:
My current airplane that I fly and also my favorite airplane, I may be a little bit biased though, is my 1952 C35 Bonanza, November 5921 Charlie commonly known as a V-tail Bonanza. My definitely on the older side, it is a C model. So they started with just straight 35 and then A, B, C — all the way through S, P, and V at the end. So it's over three times my age and it's definitely got its little vintage nuances and quirks, but it is my favorite thing to fly. It's just an all around great cross-country machine. And it's perfect for short hops to go to breakfast with my friends or on longer trips as well. And I'm looking forward to taking it to some clients this summer as well.

Steve Dickson:
Oh, that's great. It is a great airplane, very distinctive, with that V-tail out there, everybody knows what Bonanza looks like. So that's great. Can you share with us a story about a safety challenge that you were able to overcome thanks to your training, and skills, decision-making, or weather, fuel, anything you'd like to share?

Stevie Triesenberg:
So I've never been in a true, real emergency situation or even anything borderline, close to that. Partly I think because of luck and partly because of my own personal minimums, and training, and maintenance standards, and so on and so forth. But I do use my training on every single flight that I go on. You have to. And so rather than a story, I think I'd rather share something that I deal with on every single flight, particularly the long ones that it's very specific to my airplane and that is fuel management. So I, as I mentioned did all of my training in 152s and 172s where the fuel system is relatively basic, and then I stepped up to this airplane, the Bonanza where the fuel system is actually quite complicated. And it's complicated for a number of reasons.

Stevie Triesenberg:
So when I transitioned to this airplane, I did the Bonanza training, the B Triple P training through the American Bonanza Society. And one of the things they emphasize on is fuel management. And this is actually a little outdated. They just redid this training I think a month ago. So the statistics are from the 90s. But one of the statistics they throw out is that 91% of engine failures in Bonanzas — reported engine failures in Bonanzas — are due to fuel issues, namely fuel starvation. So exhaustion is where you run out of fuel completely. Starvation is where you run out of fuel in one tank, but you still have fuel on board. You just didn't know it. And this is a big issue with Bonanzas because of just how complicated the fuel system is.

Stevie Triesenberg:
So for example, Cessna 172, you can put the fuel selector on both tanks and you can view the fuel level in both of those tanks simultaneously. There's two fuel gauges. You can switch between the left and the right, but you have the option to just set on both. And the fuel tanks are both at the same distance. There at the same like CG point. So you don't have to worry about the CG shifting when you use the fuel back and forth. The Bonanza on the other hand, there's wide variety of different fuel configurations, but mine has three tanks. So I have two tanks, one in each wing and then one in the back in the baggage compartment. So the first nuance here is that there is not a both option. You have to switch between left OX or right. Which it exists in Pipers. It's not unheard of. Manageable. The second thing is that there's only one fuel gauge and you have to toggle which fuel tank you're actually viewing the level for.

Stevie Triesenberg:
So this can cause confusion. If you think you're viewing, the level in the left tank, but you're really viewing the fuel level in the OX tank. So you could accidentally run that left tank dry. Another nuance is that the OX tank is again, like I mentioned, in the back of the plane. So if you don't burn the fuel in the correct order, you could end up with a very aft CG in flight. You could take off just fine, or you have to be careful to not to put too much fuel in there to begin with. But if you burn the fuel in the incorrect order, you could end up with a lot of fuel in your back tank, not a lot in like your left and right wings. And you could land with an aft CG, which is not ideal.

Stevie Triesenberg:
And the last and most complicated thing about this fuel system, I think is that it doesn't transfer uniformly between the three tanks. So for example, let's say I'm in cruise and I'm at 23 inches manifold pressure at 2300 RPM, I'm burning probably 12 gallons an hour out of my left tank. If I switched to my right tank or my OX tank, I'm still burning 12 gallons an hour, but there's about two to three gallons an hour that are transferred back into the left tank.

Stevie Triesenberg:
So if you don't account for that, not only could you overfill the left tank on accident, if you don't burn enough space out of the left tank, but you could run out of fuel in your OX tank for example, if you're not accounting for that extra two to three gallons.

Stevie Triesenberg:
So whenever I go fly, whether it's a short flight, a long flight, a flight by myself, with friends in the back, you have to be accounting for all of these things. I have to in advance plan out when I'm going to switch tanks, the strategy I'm going to use so that I don't go out of my CG limits. And then I have to write down times that I switch and keep track of where my fuel is at any given time in case of an emergency. So really it's quite complicated. And I think stepping up from a very basic aircraft, it can be hazardous. And it's something that you have to consciously pay attention to.

Steve Dickson:
Absolutely. No, you've got to have a plan, got to have a plan.

Stevie Triesenberg:
Yeah. Always.

Steve Dickson:
That's always going to happen. There was a potential to be distracted. So you got to come back to that plan and make sure that you take the action at the appropriate time. Just for our viewers here, CG is center of gravity. That's another one of those abbreviations that we use in aviation, but it's important for the Hamlin qualities of the aircraft to make sure that your CG stays within launch. So Stevie finally, as the country and the world has gone through the pandemic, there have been impacts on aviation. What has the last year of flying during the pandemic taught you?

Stevie Triesenberg:
So I mentioned this a couple of times before, but I did all of my training quite fast. So from June 2018 to coronavirus, I was flying upwards of 200 hours a year. And I was flying quite often, like at least once a week, usually a couple of times a week for multiple hours. Then when the pandemic hit, my flying clubs shut down and I didn't yet have my airplane. So I had no way to fly like, many people across the country. And on every check ride that I've gone on, I've been asked about the difference between currency and proficiency and how important that difference is.

Stevie Triesenberg:
And the pandemic definitely taught me why we go over that and why it's important. There is no way that I would've hopped on a plane after two months of not flying by myself without an instructor. And I think it's extremely important to set personal minimums, not just for weather, not just for things like that, but for how long you can go without flying before you will hop in a plane by yourself and feel safe. So I think being forced into not flying taught me how important currency versus proficiency is. And honestly how scary it is that there are people that will hop in an airplane after not flying for that long, because I felt super uneasy at the thought of doing that myself.

Steve Dickson:
No, you can't take these things for granted. Absolutely. So, I mean, that's great perspective and it's really impressive that you have the awareness to be able to understand the distinction this early in your flying experience. Well, thank you for joining us. We look forward to seeing your continued success. Congratulations on all of your accomplishments up to this point.

Stevie Triesenberg:
Thank you.

Steve Dickson:
Getting your commercial and CFI, having your airplane and all the experiences that you've already had even from your first few years is extremely impressive. So I'll certainly be watching your progress, and look forward to hopefully seeing you at an industry event here sooner rather than later.

Stevie Triesenberg:
Thank you very much. And thank you so much for having me. This was great. I'm so excited that I got to do this. So awesome.

Steve Dickson:
Thank you for being with us.

Dominique Gebru:
When you look at career fields with gender disparities as great as this one, getting people interested in the field is only part of the equation. What I really appreciate about Stevie is the way she talks about piloting. Scroll through her social media feeds and you'll see that a lot of her content answers questions submitted by her audience, breaking down what might seem like basic questions in a way that non-pilots can understand too.

Dominique Gebru:
And we hope this podcast does that too. If you know a young person who is aviation-curious, we invite you to share it with them. Because, like Stevie, you have your own sphere of influence. Why not use it to get someone thinking about aviation? And that's our show for today. The Air Up There is a podcast from the Federal Aviation Administration. If you liked today's episode, be sure to subscribe and leave us a review. You can also find the FAA on social media. We're @faa on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn. And @faanews on Twitter and YouTube. Administrator Dickson's on social media too. You can find him @faa_steve on Twitter and LinkedIn. Thanks for listening. Whew. That was rough. Think there's probably something you can work with in there.