She’s a woman, but when Michelle Cowan climbs into a seaplane, she is a pilot first. As Kenmore Air’s first, full-time female pilot certified to fly the entire fleet, she gets some curious looks from passengers. But she simply smiles and says, “The stripes don’t mean flight attendant.”
Outside of the cockpit, Michelle loves to teach. In October of last year, she combined her two passions by accepting the role as not only a Captain, but Kenmore Air’s Chief Flight Instructor.
A Pilot’s Daughter
When Michelle was 14-years-old, she dreamed of being a veterinarian. Her dreams changed when she was snatched from the melting pot of Quebec, Canada and transplanted in North Carolina. The move was due to her dad buying a private airport.
“It was a culture shock,” she said. Her dad became a flight instructor and offered the occasional charter flight. Under his tutelage, Michelle learned to fly and earned her pilot certificate in 1987. “I’ve been a pilot ever since. If it weren’t for my dad’s instruction and leadership, I would not be the pilot I am today,” she said.
Even after earning her Bachelors in Meteorology from the University of North Carolina Asheville, she continued flying.
Wheels to Floats
Becoming a seaplane pilot wasn’t the plan. “I had over 1,000 hours of wheel time, so it didn’t make a lot of sense,” Michelle said. Moving to the West Coast was more about a change of scenery than trying out a new plane. Michelle said:
I was looking for anywhere with mountains. I love Colorado and Wyoming. I never thought about Seattle, but in ’97, there were only a handful of places hiring flight instructors. Snohomish Flying Service was one and so I moved here.
When a friend took her for a seaplane ride-along at Kenmore, she loved it. Burnt out on flight instruction, she inquired about flying on Kenmore’s crew. To get her stripes, she’d have to pay her dues. “I was told I would work the line pumping gas. And then, maybe the next year, they’d consider me for flight instruction,” Michelle said.
By 1998, she was a Kenmore Air flight instructor. The following year, she became Kenmore Air’s first full-time female pilot. Today, she remains one of a handful of Kenmore Air pilots who can fly the entire line, including the large 10-passenger de Havilland Otter.
When she isn’t flying, she spends time with her two children – especially outdoors. “We don’t have a TV, so the boys are outside constantly.” While they explore the yard, Michelle spends her time in the garden, growing vegetables such as snap peas, cucumbers, and zucchini.
Living just two miles from Kenmore Air Harbor, she bikes, gliding downhill on the way there and getting a workout on the way home. A book is always tucked in her satchel. Her current interest is reading how the brain works. “It helps me understand the kids, but I also enjoy the occasional novel, tool.
Expanding the Flight Instruction Program
The main focus of Kenmore Air’s Flight Instruction Program is helping pilots achieve their Single Engine Sea Rating (aka ‘Seaplane Rating’). Michelle describes the advantages of getting your rating at Kenmore:
Getting your seaplane rating here is really an amazing experience because we can easily expose you to so many different variables. And that’s really what you want. You need to know you can handle whatever situation is going to be thrown your way. For instance, we have a large docking system here – which means we can offer training for every kind of docking situation.
Flight instruction is provided in a variety of seaplanes, including the latest addition to the program’s fleet – a C-172L.