Concord woman living pilot dream

Brittany Badgett's grandmother called her every time she saw a female airline pilot.

"In 10 years, I can't wait to get on a plane, and you're talking over the intercom: 'This is your captain speaking,'" her grandmother would say.

"My mom was the same way," Brittany told me at Concord Regional Airport last week. "She knew this is what I wanted to do."

Brittany, 20, has already earned her private license to pilot single-engine planes. She's certified to fly up to 18,000 feet.

She was downright serious when, as a junior at Northwest Cabarrus High School, she approached her mom about taking lessons.

She did just that during her senior year, driving to the airport for once-a-week, hour-long lessons at Fly Carolina.

The topic of her senior year exit project? "The Influence of Women in Aviation."

Now Brittany is a junior pursuing a bachelor of science degree in aviation management-flight management at Middle Georgia College's Aviation Campus in Eastman.

She studies aviation regulation, aviation safety, aerodynamics and other aeronautical subjects toward a four-year degree and a career as a pilot.

"We're exposed to all aspects of the aviation industry," she said.

She was president of her school's Heart of Georgia Chapter of Women in Aviation, International in 2008-09, was membership chairperson the next year and is vice president this year. The chapter has about 20 members. And she's vice president of the school's Student Government Association.

Brittany is also the only remaining woman from the crop of students she started with in the college's flight department in fall 2008.

"I just want it to be not such a surprise," Brittany said of women choosing to be pilots. "I don't want women to feel they have to prove themselves over and beyond what men have to do."

She flew solo for the first time at the school in October 2008, earned her private pilot's license in March 2009 and took some good-natured ribbing along the way, she said.

"People were like, 'They let you fly a plane?'" she said with a smile.

Her most exciting airborne moment came during a night flight with her instructor in 2009, when they flew a single-engine plane above large commercial passenger jets near Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta. They were so close she could make out the airline names, she said.

Brittany was hooked on flying the first time she got into a plane.

She was 11 and a passenger on a commercial flight from Atlanta to Denver. She just stared and stared at the clouds.

"I was completely fascinated the whole time," she said. "My mom says I couldn't stop talking about it."

She was likewise awestruck at the de-icing machines and the ground crews scurrying about when the return flight sat on the tarmac at Denver International Airport delayed for two hours. Other passengers grumbled, but she couldn't have been happier, she said.

Brittany grew up north of Atlanta. Her family moved to Concord when she was 16, including brothers Joe, 19, and Tim, 11, and sister, Caroline, 12.

She said she always felt called to flying and could use her degree for work piloting corporate craft or planes used for missions. She's done missionary work through the church she attends Georgia, House of Grace in Cochran.

"For me, it's a blessing," Brittany said of her pursuit to become a pilot. "I'll fly wherever, whenever. I just need some food and a place to sleep."

Brittany credits her mom and grandparents Don and Ceil Cadwallader with encouraging her along the way. Her grandparents were longtime residents of Athens, Ga., where Don was a professor in the University of Georgia's pharmacy school. Ceil died in 2009, and Don now lives in Davidson.

Lynn Badgett, a single parent and a registered nurse at Carolinas Medical Center-Northeast, never questioned her daughter's passion for aviation, Brittany told me. "She never said, 'You want to do what?'" Brittany said.

Her mom likes to kid with her, telling Brittany, "I'm paying now, but someday you'll be flying me wherever I want to go."