Seizing her opportunity: National Guard pilot fulfills dream to fly
Catherine Trujillo had always dreamed of flying helicopters. At the age of 35, she thought she missed her chance.
“Along the way in life, I put my family ahead of my career. But when my youngest daughter turned three, I was like, ‘ok, now what do I want to do when I grow up,’” said Trujillo. “I knew I wanted to be an aviator. I was told I was too old, but I kept asking and figured I will keep going until I get a hard no.”
The U.S. Army requires Warrant Officer candidates interested in becoming pilots to be at least 18 but not yet 33 years old at the convening of the selection board. Waivers are considered for applicants with exceptional qualifications but are only on a case-by-case basis. With a background in logistics, military police, and public affairs, Trujillo didn’t have the right background. But she wasn’t going to accept no as the final answer until she exhausted every avenue.
“I kept hearing from others that I couldn’t, but I could not, not try. I cannot have that regret later in life,” said Trujillo.
The basic requirements for an aviation warrant officer beyond meeting the age limitations are to have any military occupation specialty, successfully pass the Selection Instrument for Flight Training or SIFT test, successfully pass a Class 1A flying duty medical examination in accordance with Army Regulation 40-501 that has been approved by the commander, U.S. Army Aeromedical Center and meet all of the background and physical, behavioral, and vision tests.
“I jumped over all these hurdles, except the age waiver,” Trujillo said. “I was a 35-year-old person and the cut off is 32. And really you want to be 31 when you walk through the door at Fort Rucker. That is what they want and I was nowhere near that. But I kept getting yesses, so I went through the flight evaluation board and I was selected. They gave me the opportunity.”
That was all she wanted. An opportunity.
Trujillo went on to finish Warrant Officer Basic Course One, Flight School and Warrant Officer Basic Course Two down at Fort Rucker before returning to the Washington Army National Guard and joining Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 140th Aviation at age 38 as a Warrant Officer One, Blackhawk Pilot.
“You go through a number of courses at the beginning, but after being given tests and trusted that we know how the helicopter works, we were given the opportunity to fly in a Lakota,” said Trujillo. “I got my first solo flight in a Lakota.”
After completing the basics and flying the Lakota, Trujillo began classes for her advanced airframe, the UH-60M Blackhawk, which is a much heavier helicopter than a Lakota.
“I learned all the things I would need to know if I were to fly in say Afghanistan or Iraq,” said Trujillo. “It was a beautiful experience. I got to meet people I would have never met before. I got to make relationships and connections with people. I came out of there with my commercial pilot’s license. It was an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
For Trujillo, fulfilling her dream was a lot of work, met with challenges that she had to overcome. She is now sharing that journey with others who might be interested but worry they’ve missed their chance.
“You can fly, don’t ever tell yourself that you can’t, don’t ever tell yourself that you are disqualified,” said Trujillo. “Other people are going to tell you that enough. Don’t let yourself speak those words and I can tell you, yes you can, there is always a way.”