When most of us go through a midlife crisis, we get a burning desire to a make a significant change in our lives. Typically that means an impulsive car purchase, sparked romance, or a sudden compulsion to get in shape.
Not for KK Harvey of Stowe. She liked her car, had a handle on love and was already fit. Instead, Harvey got the urge to fly.
She began her midlife ambition with flying lessons in 1996. Ironically, that year marked the death of Vermont’s first woman pilot, Grace Hall Pugh. Pugh achieved her student permit in 1932 and became Vermont’s “First Lady of Aviation” in 1938.
“Grace was a minority, and pioneer of her time,” Harvey says. “But we still have a long way to go.”
According to the Federal Aviation Administration, Harvey is right. Of the 600,000 active pilots in the U.S., only about 6 percent are women and only slightly more than 3 percent are rated as airline transport pilots. But organizations like The Ninety-Nines, a nonprofit founded in 1929 by 99 woman pilots, is trying to change that. They actively promote the advancement of aviation through education, scholarships and mutual support.
The newer, nonprofit Women In Aviation was established in 1994 to encourage women to seek all opportunities in aviation — beyond piloting. Today, both organizations have thousands of members and are making a difference in the future of aviation.
Harvey recalls, “Training to become a female pilot in a male-dominated industry did not concern me. Being a minority only meant that I would have to work harder to prove myself.”
“Besides,” she jokes, “As someone once told me, some men think they are better than they really are, and some women don’t realize how great they really are.”
Harvey realized her ability to be great — and to beat the odds.
After getting her private pilot’s license in 1997, she went on to get an instrument rating (flying into the clouds) and then a commercial rating (flying for hire) shortly after. Her flying experience in the past 15 years has included flight instructor, ground instructor, photo-shoot pilot, glider tow pilot, glider pilot, aerobatic pilot, U.S. mail pilot, charter pilot, fractional pilot and ultimately corporate pilot.
“I have been remarkably fortunate to have been in the right place at the right time for a lot of my jobs and experiences,” Harvey says. “It is an industry that relies heavily on networking.”
Today Harvey is the chief pilot at BioTek Instruments Inc. in Winooski, commanding a Cessna Citation Jet 3. The company initially chose a Cessna for its low operating costs, in part because it’s a single-pilot, twin-engine jet. After a couple of years, BioTek upgraded to the Jet 3, a larger, newer, more efficient version.
Harvey routinely flies BioTek staff members to meetings, allowing them maximize their time and productivity.
“I can fly to them to Atlanta for a meeting and have them home for dinner,” Harvey says.
She also flies routinely to Florida, the Caribbean, the West Coast and many places in between. Harvey has even flown to Europe twice — the long way, from Burlington to Canada to Iceland to the United Kingdom.
“I really enjoy trips when I can see down to the ground and follow our progress through the country,” she says. “I never tire of picking out New York City, Atlantic City, the Mississippi, the Rockies, the Appalachians, the Bahamas or the Grand Canyon from the air.”
In addition to piloting, Harvey manages everything about the flights — selecting airports, planning flights around the weather, fuel purchases, monitoring consumption, and overseeing maintenance schedules and cleaning of the aircraft.
Harvey is proud to shine the beacon of Grace Hall Pugh and the thousands of woman who preceded her — even though the idea took flight because of a midlife crisis. She says she is loving life and has no plans to stay grounded.
Regardless of where her travels take her, Harvey loves coming home to Vermont.
“There is nothing like approaching Burlington Airport for a landing when the sun is setting over the Adirondacks and reflecting on Lake Champlain,” she says. “At that moment, there is no other place on earth that I would rather be.”