C-2 Pilot - Lieutenant Emily Davidson

 "I had no idea all that it entailed, but I knew that I wanted to be in the Navy... I felt that I would be proud of what I was doing if I was serving. I think that’s what anyone wants - to be proud of what you are doing and to have an important role in the community."

What do you do and what is the mission of the C-2?

My name is Emily Davidson, and I am a C-2 pilot in the U.S. Navy. The primary mission of the C-2A Greyhound is carrier onboard delivery (COD), which means we support the carrier strike group by transporting high-priority cargo, mail, and passengers to and from the aircraft carrier. 

What does your typical day look like?

I don't know what my schedule is for the day until the night before. As a student in training I have one flight or simulator event a day. It's exciting because every day is different, however that can be overwhelming at times. I drive onto Naval Station Norfolk, park at my squadron building, and head inside to prepare for the flight brief with the crew. There are specific items we go over in each brief and the instructor makes sure that we have general knowledge of each working item, including aircraft systems, emergency procedures, and the operating limits. The flight brief with the entire crew is usually only about 15 minutes. After that, the instructor will talk about what we are going to do during the flight, which takes about an hour. After the brief, we get our flight gear and head out to the plane.

The flights usually last 1-2 hours. We start with general familiarization which includes a lot of landing pattern work. When we practice the landing pattern, we are at the same airfield the whole flight. We then move onto instrument flights, and that is when we go on cross-country flights out of the local area.

After every flight, we debrief and then I head home. I decompress for a bit and if I have a flight on the schedule for the next day with new briefing items on the syllabus, I spend a few hours studying. Some phases in flight school require more studying than others, but as you progress through the flight program you become a lot more efficient about how you study best. 

Lt. Davidson in the squadron ready room before a flight.

Lt. Davidson in the squadron ready room before a flight.

As a student pilot, you debrief after every flight. What kinds of things do you discuss?

It depends on your performance. In the beginning, the flight instructors will coach you through the landing and say things like, “ a little power”, “or angle of bank,” etc. Once they see that you are getting it, they will let you fly the flight with fewer interruptions. The instructor asks us if we have any questions or if we saw anything unsafe during the flight and then discuss what we need to improve. Personally, I like constructive feedback, and after landing, I can appreciate when an instructor tells me what I did well and where I can improve. I have had a few flights that were less than perfect and it affected me more than I would have liked. But I go home and know that I have to go back tomorrow and not make the same mistake. Being confident is essential to your performance during flight training.

Do you land every flight like you are landing on the aircraft carrier?

No, not initially. During the first phase of training in the C-2, the primary focus is to just land safely. We are actually instructed to add some power and a little more flare because carrier landings are tough on the airframe. We really don’t fly the ball until FCLP’s (Field Carrier Landing Practice). The initial flights are meant to ensure that we can handle an emergency if one did arise. There is a different goal for each training mission so that you learn something new on each flight. Once you progress through the program, you eventually get to the point where you practice landing on the carrier. We land at a field first and then our training culminates in 10 landings on the aircraft carrier.

What is it like to fly the c-2?

It is definitely the biggest aircraft that I flown so far, which was overwhelming at first. It has a lot more power than anything I’ve ever dealt with. It requires a lot more strength and when I first started flying the C-2 my legs were actually sore when I would get out of the plane. Up until this point in my training it has been a lot more finesse and mental skill, and not as much physical strength. But with the C-2, you have to put this where you want it to be, and then trim it out. Also because of the age of the C-2, there can be a lot of issues to address during flight that are difficult to diagnose. With older aircraft, problems kind of compound. Safety, however, is always a focus and the pilots within the community discuss any mishaps even when they are at fault. I appreciate the transparency and that personal pride doesn’t interfere with learning.

When landing on the carrier, because the C-2 is so big, we are really close to the edge of the landing area. Throughout training, centerline is the main focus for us and the instructors will ask, “Where were you when you touched down there?” after every pass. You are looking to the left at the ball (lens), the lineup, and the angle of attack, so you keep a circular scan going, but it’s hard, and you could end up focusing on one thing.

Lt. Davidson landing the C-2 on an aircraft carrier.

Lt. Davidson landing the C-2 on an aircraft carrier.

What is the lifestyle like for a c-2 pilot?

In my opinion, the greatest thing about the C-2 lifestyle is that you get the experience of landing on the aircraft carrier, but you don't have to stay on the ship during deployments. The  aircraft is designed to deliver high priority cargo, mail, and passengers to and from the carrier, but the C-2 detachments are mainly based on land due to the size of the aircraft. I have a passion for travel, so this aspect of the community has always really been attractive to me because it means that I will get to see more of the world during deployment.

The initial draw for me was that I had heard that lifestyle as an aviator is a bit more laid back. Particularly in the C-2 community, I have noticed that there is a really good work/life balance. Compared to other communities within the Navy, aviators have a longer training pipeline. Some people that I graduated with from ROTC, have been leading a division of sailors from the start and are nearly finished with their commitment. Because the training is so extensive, I’ve have been focusing solely on becoming a pilot. Now that we are complete with that, we will move on to the fleet, and every day has more consistent work hours. I will pick up additional responsibilities including being in charge of a division and have a separate ground job other than learning to fly.

After 4 years of flight training, you are now joining the fleet and working in an operational squadron. What has it been like to be a student for this lenght of time?

I graduated from college in May 2013 and I just finished training in the FRS (Fleet Replacement Squadron). I honestly didn’t know what to expect, and hadn’t known people who had gone through flight school. I really didn’t even know the different phases and had no idea what was going to happen, however each time it was really exciting, and I enjoyed moving a lot. Throughout flight training, I moved 5 times in 4 years, but now I am ready to settle for a little longer in one place. Throughout training, changing aircraft so often can be daunting. I put so much time learning every facet of each aircraft and when we move on to the next plane, a lot of those specifics don’t matter any more. To finally get to the FRS and start training specifically on the C-2 was an awesome feeling because it is the aircraft that I will be flying for the rest of my commitment.

When did you know you wanted to fly for the U.S. Navy?

I knew that I wanted to be in the Navy before I knew that I wanted to be a pilot. I grew up in Maryland, near Annapolis, and my family would take the boat over to the Naval Academy. I remember seeing the uniforms when I was 5 years old, and I thought it looked cool. I had no idea all that it entailed, but I knew that I wanted to be in the Navy. I really respected people in the military, and I felt that I would be proud of what I was doing if I was serving. I think that’s what anyone wants - to be proud of what you are doing and to have an important role in the community.

Davidson after her first solo flight in the T-45, one of many trainer aircraft flown throughout flight school.

Davidson after her first solo flight in the T-45, one of many trainer aircraft flown throughout flight school.

Which pathway did you take to become an officer in the Navy?

I applied to different commissioning sources, including the Air Force and Naval Academies because I heard good things about both service branches. My grandfather was in the Air Force, and I always loved the water. In high school, I went through a phase where I wasn’t sure of my direction, but I went through with the application process for the Naval Academy, Air Force Academy, and Navy ROTC. I worked hard to get good grades so that I could pursue a career in the military.  That was a huge motivator throughout my schooling and it paid off.

Each commissioning source is fit for different people, and I don’t think one is better than another. Once I was nearing the end of high school, I realized that ROTC was the best balance for me. I could be a 'normal college student’ while doing the military thing. I did Navy ROTC at Villanova University and had an awesome experience. It gave me motivation to do well in school and I had a strong sense of purpose. I knew that I had to finish well in order to get a commission into the Navy.

What was your major in college? 

The Navy encourages technical majors, and I always liked science and math. I declared an engineering major, but honestly the second year I thought, “this is not going well.” I didn’t really know what I was getting into and 4 semesters of calculus later, I thought about switching my major. But, my dad kept telling me, “ You are going to be really happy that you stuck with it, and you ARE going to make it.” I honestly thought, “what if this just isn’t my thing because it’s hard.”  He told me that I just wasn’t used to not getting something right away. I’m glad I heeded his advice and stuck with it, because I figured out how to push through the struggle to learn something that wasn't natural to me. That also came into play in flight school - realizing that sometimes you don’t get it right away and you just have to keep at it.

Davidson on the flight deck during a cruise as a midshipman.

Davidson on the flight deck during a cruise as a midshipman.

You were in ROTC at Villanova and had a commitment to serve after graduation. when did you start to pursue the aviation community?

Going into college, I considered the nuclear route because of my major and interest in science. After my sophomore year, I did a month long summer cruise with ROTC. We did a week of each community and at that point, I had no insight into a pilot’s life. I spent a week on a submarine and the sub guys were super nice and the food was the best (which was weird). During a week spent on the aircraft career, I wanted to see what the lifestyle was like for officers working with the reactor on board. I didn’t know what I wanted, and I could either sit in my room or go talk to people on the ship. I walked around and saw a lot of different jobs. I went down in the reactor and spent some time on the flight deck. I got a helicopter ride off of the carrier and actually got to take a flight in a C-2. We got a cat shot off of the boat... it gives me chills just talking about it. It was awesome. But the pivotal moment for me was when I was on the flight deck at night, in the middle of the ocean, with tons of stars in the sky. I was with one of the shooters, the guy who gives the signal to fire the plane off, and I was watching all of the jets take off one after another. It was a powerful thing to me. At the end of the cruise we flew off of the ship and landed in Pearl Harbor. I left the cruise knowing that aviation was what I wanted to pursue.

Of course, throughout my junior year, I was still hesitant about the time commitment for aviators. I knew that I wanted to serve, but I wasn’t sure if I was prepared to go that length - 8 years after winging (It will be 11 years total for me because of the length of the C-2 training pipeline). I did an aviation cruise in Oklahoma with an E-6 squadron that solidified everything. I went in my senior year and put in my package to fly.

how has your experience been as a female within the aviation community?

I get this question a lot, because there aren’t really many women in the C-2 community. There are some social things that are different, but overall I have had a fantastic experience. I was a little nervous at first and going to each squadron I wondered what the dynamic would be like. I do think, "how many women are in this squadron?" and "will I have a female to be able to relate to and talk with?", because you need someone for that. Overall, I don’t feel much of a difference. I think that is largely in part to the men that I work with. They are all very accepting and respectful.

Of course there are women that I talk to that don’t feel the way I do, but my personality has always been of a social nature. I had a lot of guy friends my whole life, and I was really close with my dad growing up. We hung out a lot and did a lot of fun activities, so I can relate to guys with that. I have always gone into work with an open mind and never go in thinking that people will offend me. I think that's really what it is. I never walk in thinking that someone will say something offensive, because it really hasn’t happened. I think it is important to be open and to not see yourself as different, because we aren’t when it comes to the job. You are all doing the same job, and you can easily relate to that.

The specific aircraft an officer selects is largely up to the Navy, but what would you say to someone interested in flying?

Don't lose sight of the big picture, and don’t give up on it. It is attainable, and although 10 years ago I didn’t know if I had what it took, I am so happy that I didn’t let anything get in the way. If you do end up going to flight school, go in with an open mind. I went in not knowing what I wanted to fly and being open to change was helpful to my success in flight school.

In primary flight school, I thought that fixed wing was cool. I figured that I would try for the tailhook community and see what happens. I didn’t know what the C-2 did and honestly it was a cool ride on my midshipmen cruise, but it was old and I thought it smelled. I ended up selecting jets and while in intermediate flight training I started to realize that C-2  lifestyle sounded great. When that ended up being the platform I got, I was super excited. Some students have wanted to fly a specific aircraft their entire lives, but some are undecided. Some people do attain the specific platform that they wanted, but it could be disappointing if you aren’t open to changes. Because the Navy’s needs take priority; timing is the greatest factor. You must be flexible and open to changes in ‘your plan’ if you have one.

WHat could a sophomore or junior in college do right now if they want to be a pilot in the navy?

In general, the Navy looks for more technical majors, but pilots have varying backgrounds and different degrees. Engineering taught me how to learn, and it prepared me for the type of learning that is required to fly. Regardless of what it is, if you want to be a pilot, you need a strong GPA and you need to meet the physical requirements. Look into applying to OCS(Officer Candidate School)  if you aren’t already attending a service academy or enrolled in ROTC at your university. Study a lot, because that’s what flight school is going to be. Although it's not required and I personally had never flown a plane prior to my commission, getting some flight time might be beneficial to see if it's something that you want to pursue. You can get the answer 'no' many times before it’s really over, but don't give up. Try again because it's worth it.