The work I do above the clouds: a former military pilot now commands the friendly skies.

Author:Hughes, Alan


NAME: James Simons

JOB: Northeast Region Chief Pilot, United Airlines

LOCATION: Washington, DC

EDUCATION: United States Air Force Academy, bachelor of science in international affairs; Golden Gate University, master of public administration

AGE: 58

BASED OUT OF DULLES AIRPORT IN WASHINGTON, D.C., Captain James Simons is one of two African American pilots at United Airlines. With 35 years' experience under his belt, including a decade in the U.S. Air Force, Simons oversees 1,400 pilots in United's Northeast Region.

How he got the job: Simons was hired by United in April 1989, four months after leaving the Air Force, where he'd received extensive training and logged thousands of hours in the air. "On average most pilots have approximately 10 years in the military or in the civilian world flying commuter aircraft or cargo before being competitive to get hired at a major carrier," he says. "I got about 3,000 hours flying KC-135s, air-to-air refueling tankers. I have approximately 10,000 hours flying with United. You're going to be very, very qualified by the time you become a pilot, a flight officer, at United Airlines."

Paying dues: "Usually you're hired at United as a First Officer and you fly the B-737 and Airbus 319/320, which fly domestically and into Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean. As you become more senior you're able to bid on a large aircraft flying internationally. I'm a 767 captain, so my normal routes are South America, Europe, transcontinental."

Still flying high: Although Simons is now in more of a supervisory role, he manages to pilot the occasional flight--something he still enjoys after more than three decades of flying. "I still get a thrill flying into different airports, flying over the Grand Canyon, into San Francisco, into New York. It's still a lot of fun--the beauty of it, the freedom of it, the responsibility, knowing that I have these...

To continue reading