Flying High, Pilot Elizabeth Amundsen Is On Cloud Nine
By: Meredith Jean Morton
At Winter Haven Municipal Airport, Elizabeth Amundsen, 25, does a little bit of everything.
As a flight instructor, pilot and airplane mechanic, Amundsen, who is originally from Coloma, Mich., says she got started in her field because of a desire to do something with her hands.
"In high school, I always wanted to do something with my hands," says Amundsen, an energetic blonde. "I never wanted to have a desk job or work in an office."
She started looking into fields where she could work with equipment and fix things.
"Being a mechanic seemed right," says Amundsen of the profession she has grown to love.
It also was during high school that Amundsen fell in love with airplanes and her future husband.
"I met my husband, Jonathan, who was my boyfriend at the time, in high school," she says. "His family was involved with airplanes, and my future father-in-law took me up for an airplane ride one day. I just fell in love with it."
Additionally, Amundsen's own father was a pilot.
"I never had a chance to do anything but that," she says. "It was written in history."
After high school, Amundsen went to a community college in southwest Michigan for a degree in airframe and power plant mechanics and began learning to fly planes. She and Jonathan married, and after a particularly harsh winter, they decided to move to Florida in January 2004.
"Jonathan's mother lived in Winter Haven, and we visited her and just loved the weather down here," Amundsen says. "After running into some bad weather - heavy snow - in Michigan, we packed everything in the airplane and moved down here."
Following the move, Amundsen says she began to look for a job.
"I just looked in the phone book, and saw there was an airport, called them and got a job there as a mechanic," she says. "I knew I loved flying and being around airplanes. It's like no other feeling in the world. I also love making things work as a mechanic. So I knew it would be the right place for me to work."
As an airplane mechanic and a woman, Amundsen says she faced some challenges in her field.
"There are not a lot of women in the field," she says. "I work with a lot of good people, but there's a few of the older mechanics who don't think women should work in the field. But, I think, for the most part, people are shocked when they find out that's what I do."
While Amundsen started as a mechanic at the airport, she quickly branched out into other fields as well.
"I learned a lot while I was there, and I've always loved teaching people about airplanes," says Amundsen, who has been flying airplanes for four and a half years. "I started working with a couple of people, teaching them to fly. Now, my husband and father-in-law own the flight school at the airport, and I'm an instructor there."
One of Amundsen's recent students was Kevin Spangler of Winter Haven.
"I did my pilot's license with her, and she was a great instructor," says Spangler of the classes he completed in July. "She's not just familiar with flying, but she knows about the whole airplane, how it works and everything. She knows the plane inside and out. It really adds to the training."
Amundsen says she loves working on planes and regularly works on her own 18 planes, 13 of which are capable of flying.
"I have a bunch of projects right now," she says. "I love working on planes. It's fun to get greasy."
When asked about her favorite plane, Amundsen said there's no contest.
"My favorite is my Cessna 150 that has my name on its side," she says.
After receiving her flight instructor certification, in April, Amundsen has taken on a couple of students through the flight school. As for future goals, Amundsen said she already has achieved her biggest dreams.
"I feel like I'm living my dream now," she says. "I never thought I would top out with my dream so soon, but it's great to be living what you love. I think if I had a goal it would be to introduce a whole bunch of people to the world of aviation. I'd like to do more instruction."
Spangler says she is well on her way to helping others discover a passion for flying.
"She's such a people person, it makes learning from her so much fun," he says. "She pushes you but also works at your own pace. I got finished with my license in the minimum amount of time, 40 hours, because of her."
When Amundsen teaches, Spangler says her excitement is contagious.
"You can tell she loves what she does," he says. "I just flew cross country with her and we had the best time. Every time you take off, she's saying 'Wheeee!' She just makes you have a good time."
Amundsen says she wants to spend more time exploring the skies over Central Florida because of the scenery.
"One of my favorite things is to watch the sunset off the lakes from the sky, and it's fun to fly and see the larger cities of Tampa and Orlando," she says. "It's so amazing to fly , because it seems like there's nothing else in the world but you in the sky. You're up with the birds, and it's just like you're this solitary thing in the sky. It's sheer beauty all around you.."
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