Director of Flight Operations
Lisa Lewis knows from experience that Purdue's elite aviation technology program can give alumni a head start when they seek jobs as professional pilots.
In fact, Lewis — who is Purdue's director of flight operations and a 2001 aviation technology alumna — credits her time in the aviation technology program with helping her land previous jobs as a corporate pilot for two Fortune 500 companies. Now, in addition to overseeing student flight courses, simulation operations and University business flights, Lewis teaches and offers advice to Purdue students who wish to become professional pilots themselves.
As director of flight operations, what are your responsibilities?
I'm in charge of all University flight operations, including student training, aircraft maintenance and ensuring the execution of all aviation technology flight courses. For example, in aviation technology our professional flight majors take multiple classes that involve flights in our aircraft or simulators. I ensure these courses are executed based on the curriculum set.
I also teach three of our advanced flight courses that focus on the Phenom 100 jet. I teach a flight course in the actual jet, a Phenom 100 simulation course and a systems course, which involves everything students need to know about the aircraft before they can actually fly it.
One thing that sets Purdue's flight program apart is our Phenom 100 jet, which Purdue acquired in 2010. Manufactured by Embraer, the jet's primary use is for student training. Students fly more than 600 hours each year in this jet aircraft, and we are one of the few universities — if not the only university — to train flight students in an actual jet aircraft.
Additionally, I oversee all University business flights, which are taken in our Phenom 100 and Beechjet. Business flights can involve any office, academic unit or other official Purdue entity — basically, any Purdue user can get approval to utilize a jet on official business.
How are Purdue's business flights related to the aviation technology program?
Our University trips are quite literally learning laboratories because every flight includes a Purdue student as co-pilot. A staff member always serves as the pilot, so our students are getting invaluable, real-world experience learning from some of the best pilots in the business. At the same time, we're accomplishing important University business, so these flights are doubly purposeful.
It's important to note that becoming a student co-pilot requires a lot of work and skill. All student co-pilots must complete a certain level of coursework, obtain the required license and receive instructors' recommendations. As part of those requirements, student co-pilots carry anywhere from 300 to 700 flight hours before they take a business trip. For that reason, our student co-pilots are mostly juniors and seniors.
How does serving as a co-pilot benefit students?
The experience students receive while co-piloting business trips is invaluable. Very few graduates of other professional flight programs can say they actually have experience flying a jet in real-world operations, so it gives our graduates a big advantage in the job market. A lot of our graduates have success finding jobs due to their overall experience at Purdue as well as their experience flying on business trips — in fact, co-piloting Purdue business flights gave me the necessary experience to land a job as a corporate pilot.
What are the details of your background as a corporate pilot?
I spent 10 years total in business aviation, and during that time I spent two years at Cummins Inc. as a first officer and more than eight years with Coca-Cola Co. as an international captain. While at Coca-Cola, I was pilot-in-command of trips all over the world, so I was in charge of everything flight-related, from the actual flying to coordinating the necessary international permits and other logistical tasks. As a corporate pilot, every day was an adventure — I flew to every continent except Antarctica and Australia, for example.
Why did you decide to return to Purdue?
Due to my experience in the corporate aviation industry, I was asked to participate in the aviation technology department's advisory board, so I was aware when this job opened in early 2013. Even though I loved business aviation, I was ready for a job with greater quality of life. I also figured that joining Purdue would allow me to give back to the University I love, and that was very important for me — to help students pursue the same or a similar path I did.
I've been in this job since March now and of all my duties, working with students is the best. Seeing in my students the same love of aviation I have — seeing that they just can't get enough of learning and flying — is a feeling I wouldn't trade for anything.