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Claudia Contreras


It started as a joke in high school. She wanted to be unique and different, Claudia remembers. When everyone else was saying they were going to be a teacher or a doctor or a fireman, she was saying she was going to be a pilot even though she'd never been inside a small airplane.

But after awhile she started to think maybe being a pilot is a good idea. In her senior year at Gonzales High School, she went online to "" and found AirTrails. Her first introductory flight at age 17 years old was in a C-172 with Carol Tevebaugh. She flew out over Monterey Bay and though she doesn't remember much of what her flight instructor was saying she does remember how much fun and how she loved flying.

She looked at some of the fancy aviation schools like Embry-Riddle but knew they were just too expensive. She ended up at the then-Del Monte Aviation in Monterey flying a 172 with flight instructor Lilia Rathburn. Her solo debut was November 17, 2003 with 17 flight hours in her logbook. In the middle of her three takeoffs and landings, the area was hit by an earthquake, forcing the air traffic controllers to keep her flying 360's in the downwind until she was cleared to land. In April 2004, despite working three jobs to pay for her flight training, Claudia earned her Private Pilot certificate.

Maybe there is something to this flying, she thought. So a few months later she relocated across the United States to Sanford, Florida to attend Delta Connection Academy (now known as Aerosim Flight Academy). Flying every day, seven days a week, she obtained her instrument in a 172, commercial rating half in a 172 and half in a Piper Arrow, multi-engine in a Piper Seminole. She also became CFII in both single and multi.

But Florida was hot and humid, unbearable in the airplanes, and not where Claudia wanted to be living. She returned to San Carlos and began making her living as a flight instructor and flying Bay Area Tours, though soon enough the flight school closed making her move back to the Monterey/Salinas area.

Life became a bit harder. By now she had two young children, Nicolas and Nathaniel, there were no flying opportunities, but she had earned her Bachelor's degree at CSUMB in computer science, and turned to the computer world to support her family. Her flying world sat on the back shelf. Her currency lapsed, medical expired, and she couldn't afford the CFI renewal course.

Four years later, living with her parents, working hard to save money, she found herself looking at flying again. Full circle, she found herself with Carol, her introductory flight instructor, and after less than three hours flight time was signed off on her flight review. That same month she joined SOPA.

Back in the airplane, her first flight was to Pine Mountain Lake for the annual SOPA luncheon with Jim and Louise. There was no GPS in the airplane, flying the entire flight VOR to VOR. But she couldn't find PML and had to ask NorCal for vectors. Once she found the airfield, she had to make three go-arounds just to get the airplane on the ground. The altitude, the trees, the short runway, all contributed to her nerve-racking flight. And to make matters worse, there was a band of SOPA members on the ramp watching her. But she made it.

She's now a board member for SOPA and Chapter Chair of Monterey Bay 99's as well as Technology Chair for International 99's. Aerodynamic Aviation employs her as flight instructor as well as United Flight Service in Watsonville. She's building time to someday land a regional airline job. Claudia is back in a big way and that's no joke.



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