By Jennifer Cairns 03 May 2023 6 min read

How I entered the aviation industry and became an Instrument Rated Pilot

My name is Holly Hunsaker and I am an Instrument Rated Pilot in Colorado. I am a senior at Metropolitan State University pursuing a degree in Aviation and Aerospace Science with a concentration of Professional Flight Officer.



Where did the dream start for you?

When I graduated high school I was 17 years old and went into college not having any idea what I wanted to pursue or who I wanted to become.

I felt very lost, confused, and stressed which, in turn, led me to switch major’s more than once while trying new things. I knew I had a purpose and a dream, it was just a matter of figuring out what it was. I started studying marine biology, then switched to film production, then dental hygiene, then project management, and finally business until I started to feel defeated.

None of these career paths felt like they were meant for me, and I couldn’t truly pursue something if I didn’t wholeheartedly love what I was doing. So 7 years and 3 schools later I decided to get a full-time job and promised myself that I was not going back to school until I knew it was what I was meant to do.

At the time, the pandemic was in full effect so I was working a sales job from home over the phone, and it was difficult. I worked that job for almost a year, until I decided I needed a hobby. I’m a very adventurous person and sitting at a desk just doesn’t do it for me. I needed something thrilling to make me feel alive again, so I decided to get certified in skydiving.

That’s when everything changed.

I met some great people, and was able to talk with pilots about flying. I started looking into getting a private pilot license, first as just another hobby but the more I learned about it the more intrigued I became. I took my first discovery flight and realized immediately that this is what I was born to do.


What were your first steps to get into the industry?

The first step in getting into the industry was booking a discovery flight.

I did my research on what flight schools were in my area and found McAir Aviation. On the discovery flight, I was paired up with a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) and they gave me a brief overview of what to expect when I started flight training. They showed me how to preflight and took me above downtown Denver where I was able to take flight controls myself.

When we got back I was provided with paperwork about the courses offered and pricing. I knew I was going to have to figure out how to afford training, because it’s extremely expensive. My Dad told me to start looking into Metropolitan State University, as they’re known to have a really good aviation program to help me prepare for the best pilot jobs.

I looked into the program, transferred classes I had from the previous colleges, and got registered. MSU Denver is an FAA Part 141 school, and partnered with Mcair so I was able to get restricted ATP, which allows me to have the minimum of 1000 hours to go to the airlines.

I began my training and classes around the same time and joined MSU Denver’s Women In Aviation chapter. Upon joining the chapter I was provided with the most amazing opportunities, and was able to attend the International Women in Aviation Conference two years in a row. Where I met with people in the industry, attended seminars, and volunteered.

The group of women in my chapter at MSU have become my closest friends and biggest supporters,  it’s because of them, I continue to gain confidence going into this industry.


Did you face any challenges, and if so, how did you overcome them?

Going into the aviation industry I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t have pilots in my family, didn’t know anybody in aviation, and honestly before the age of 25 never even thought about aviation being a part of my life other than occasionally traveling.

When I began training, I realized how much I was going to have to change my perspective about aviation. Becoming a pilot wasn’t just learning to fly, it was learning about weather, airspace, navigating, etc. It forced me to completely change my daily habits, my mindset, and fundamentally change who I was as a person.

For example, when I was working on my instrument rating my instructor and I were going over approaches. He had me briefing the approach, talking on the radios, and navigating to the final approach course all at the same time and this was extremely overwhelming at first. I had to go home and spend a lot of time studying what every symbol on the charts meant, imagining myself in certain situations, and practice communicating with ATC.

There were some days when I went home feeling like I was never going to get it right.

I’d have to say one of my biggest challenges was being able to pick myself up and keep going after I had a bad flight or a bad day. There are good days and bad days when it comes to learning to fly, and there’s always going to be a new challenge you have to face. I had to learn from my mistakes, and keep going even on the days I felt like giving up.

When I first met my instructor he told me that no matter what happens, just keep showing up and you will succeed. I still have those days when I feel discouraged but instead of my mind filling up with negative thoughts I change the way I think and remind myself that mistakes are how we learn, everyone makes them, and I’ll make sure to put in the work so it doesn’t happen again.


What advice would you give to aspiring aviation professionals?

The best advice I can give is to never give up, and put yourself out there. Learn what techniques work best for you when it comes to studying and flying. When you figure out what kind of student you are, it will make life a lot easier for you.

In the aviation industry, we are always learning new things and facing new challenges, so it's important to build discipline and create daily habits that will set you up for success.

As a pilot in training, make sure you are on the schedule a lot because flights get canceled due to weather and other unforeseen circumstances. When you’re consistently training, everything you learn is fresh and you can practice what you were taught by your instructor, helping you retain information better.

By flying often you’re going to gain more confidence and overcome self-doubt.

I found that attending different aviation events helped me meet like-minded individuals which further helped me overcome insecurity. By trying new things, you will keep yourself focused and excited about the career ahead of you. I learned it's important to put yourself out there, because life begins outside of your comfort zone. Show up for yourself, put in the work, and watch how everything starts to fall into place.

Apply for Pilot jobs now!

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