Commercial, Public Service

Editor’s Notebook: License to Learn

By By Joy Finnegan | September 1, 2009

If you are a regular reader, you will have seen Ernie Stephens’ last column about having fun, which is what Ernie is off to do. But everyone has their own definition of fun. So let me tell you a little bit about myself and that might explain what I think is fun.

My background is more about aviation than journalism, even though I find myself at the helm of this amazing publication. I have been involved in the aviation industry since the age of 15 and decided that I wanted to learn to fly. My dad, a pretty traditional guy but supportive as always, took me to the nearest local airport, Simsbury TriTown in Simsbury, Conn. I took a "discovery lesson" and was hooked.

I continued with lessons there and eventually began working behind the counter to earn money to take more lessons. I soloed just after my 16th birthday (and promptly called my mom to come pick me up from the airport since I didn’t have my driver’s license yet).


Even at that young age, I knew that I had found the most unique career path — aviation. Someone told me about Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) and said that if I truly wanted to be a professional in the aviation industry, that I should consider going to college there. I did go to school there. It was a wonderful place where I lived and breathed aviation. I can remember being in the university center bookstore and seeing the latest issue of Rotor & Wing on the shelf, picking it up and reading it, and thinking to myself, "That has got to be the coolest magazine ever made."

At that time, one of my mentors, Dave Jensen, was the editor. Jensen was editor for nine years. Of course, I didn’t know him then. But eventually I would meet Dave Jensen, Kathleen Kocks, John Persinos, Jim McKenna and of course, Ernie, among other editors who have been fortunate enough to have had a chance to run the show at Rotor & Wing.

Meanwhile, I pursued a career as a professional pilot, starting out as a flight instructor, moving into charter, the commuter airlines, and eventually to a regional airline. I also worked for a couple of aircraft manufacturers, Cessna and Galaxy/Gulfstream as a contract administrator. I have dropped skydivers, flown car parts and checks in Learjets and a DC-3 in the middle of the night, and taught flying at a U.S. air base in Spain.

Along the way, I always had an interest in journalism. I was active in my high school newspaper. I was a part of the ERAU Avion student newspaper staff all the years I attended. As a matter of fact, I met my husband while working on the Avion. Years later, when I was looking for a job after 9/11, I got offered the opportunity to manage an aviation magazine and found it an amazing way to blend two things I thoroughly enjoy — aviation and journalism.

I remember back at ERAU when I tested for my instrument rating. The check pilot was one of the older, more experienced (I might even say crusty) examiners working at Riddle at that time. He put me through the ringer on that check ride. It was a hot summer day in Florida. We entered holding pattern after holding pattern and shot approach after approach. He gave me so many unusual attitudes under the hood to recover from, I thought I might puke. And I never get airsick. I thought that ride would never end.

When it was over, the examiner and I sat down for the debrief. At that point I didn’t know whether I had passed or not. I’m sure you know that feeling of uncertainty. He critiqued everything I had done and fortunately, with credit to my excellent instructor (Mason Aldrich, you know who you are) and lots of rote emergency procedure training, I had done well. He passed me and then said something you probably all have heard, "This is your license to learn."

I remember that moment so well. He was trying to let me know that no matter how great it felt to get that ticket and how much I thought I knew, it was just the beginning. Really, my flying education was only about to begin. We learn quickly in the aviation business just how true those sentiments are.

In my background, you can see that helicopter experience is not among my qualifications. But I am looking at this opportunity as another license to learn and I am thrilled with the prospect of learning about this highly unique facet of the aviation industry. Ernie Stephens will stay on as our editor-at-large and our new managing editor is Andrew D. Parker.

In spite of the changes, we here at Rotor & Wing are going to continue to provide you with the most interesting, readable rotorcraft magazine in the industry. Most of the regular columnists and writers you have come to know and respect will continue on with us.

We encourage you to visit us online at, join the helicopter groups on our professional networking site called Aviation Professionals Network (, become a fan on Facebook by searching Rotor & Wing and follow us on Twitter: @rotorandwing.

In this issue you will find four amazing feature stories. Two focus on NVG technology and training. Ernie Stephens flew the Bell 429 and shares his insights. And we have our Helitech Preview that takes a look at what to expect at this year’s Helitech show in Duxford, England. Now this is what I call fun!

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