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The Journey of Linda Sollars from Airliners to a Sling High Wing

Linda’s love affair with aviation was born as a young girl reading Snoopy and the Red Baron and watching movies like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, she realised at that young age that she belonged in the sky. In the 70s this was easier said than done, aviation was and still is a male-dominated world but Linda wasn’t about to let her dream die.

Photo eBella Magazine / Karen Hanlon

While in high school Linda approached her career counsellor with the revelation that she wanted to be a pilot, but the answer she received was not what she wanted. The counsellor told her that she should apply as a stewardess as girls couldn’t become pilots. Linda believes she was wrong for the right reasons as the first woman to fly for major US airlines was 1973, and the military only started with a few women flying in the 70s but not as the more publicized fighter pilots until the 90s.

In 1985, while Linda was working on her Masters of Business Administration in Finance, one of her professors had mentioned he had a small plane that he flew out of the local airport. It had never occurred to Linda that one could just choose to fly and do it. She drove down to the airport that day, took an introductory lesson, and has been flying ever since.

Linda looked into becoming an airline pilot at that stage and discovered that her vision was a problem with getting what is called class one medical and being competitive for the airlines. Desperate, to achieve her dream she attempted to improve her vision through biofeedback with Accomotrac therapy, but she did not get the improvement needed and had to abandon the idea as it was simply too expensive to continue with the treatment.

Linda continued to fly for fun and achieved her private pilot's license, driven by her dream she attempted to find jobs that included flying. Her first job out of college was at an aircraft brokerage and the compensation included access to a small plane to fly. That job morphed into an Aircraft Insurance job and before she knew it, was working at a different Aircraft Insurance company and talking to people who flew, but not being able to afford to fly as much as she wanted herself. She later switched to a job on Wall Street and eventually bought a small aircraft of her own.

Recognizing she was going to have to continue to earn a significant amount of money to afford to maintain her aircraft, she decided to increase her options by bringing the cost down by learning how to maintain her aircraft herself. In the 90s Linda took a two year sabbatical from her career to go to school to become a licensed Airframe and Power-plant Mechanic and learn about aircraft electronics.

The Federal Aviation Administration announced they were to drop the 20/80 correctable to 20/20 requirement for the Class One Medical opening a path for her to achieve her Commercial Pilots Licence, the general feeling at the time, was that the airlines would follow suit on their requirements. From that moment on Linda focused on becoming a professional pilot. She assumed a corporate pilot would be an obvious choice as she had her MBA, extensive leadership background and aviation maintenance credentials.

Linda attended a National Business Aviation Association conference to learn about the possibilities and what she needed to do to qualify. At the conference many pilots recommended she aim for the airlines first as they were hiring and that while some corporate jobs are better than any airline job, most were not, she could always go corporate later if she wanted and should take advantage of the hiring climate at the airlines.

After researching the airlines Linda determined United Airlines was the best option at the time, they were the largest airline, with a diverse fleet and many international destinations. United was not as focused on the military as some other major airlines in addition they had to interview women as a result of an earlier lawsuit.

Linda was 35 years old and made a pact with herself that she would be a United Airlines pilot by 40 or head back to her finance career. She invested in multi-engine aircraft to gain the necessary experience but unfortunately spent more time working on maintaining the twin than flying it. She did however accumulate enough flying hours to secure a job at a charter company, then a regional airline, and in her 39th year, 2001, she was both hired and furloughed at United Airlines. She returned to the regional airline she had worked for and took on the role of their first female Chief Pilot.

Linda was headhunted by JetBlue when the airline was only two years old, to start and head a department that would be responsible for the process level safety audits of all the operationally critical areas of the airline, including flight ops, inflight, maintenance, dispatch, scheduling. When Linda got the call she graciously advised them she did not feel she had the background they were looking for and forwarded them resumes of other candidates that they might find more qualified, Linda however, was their first and only choice.

Once Linda had successfully started the department she applied for a pilot position and did both for a couple of years. Working primarily in the office and flying a few times a month, she then swapped it around and started flying full time and doing the office work on the side. In 2019 Linda was upgraded to Airbus Captain for the airline.

Through all these years Linda never stopped flying and maintaining her own aircraft and when the time came to replace her trusty Cessna T210 she looked at many different aircraft. After much thought and consideration, she decided on the newly released Sling High Wing. The remarkable little South African designed four-seater seemed to tick all the boxes. Linda wanted a new aircraft that had a modern engine and avionics, had good performance, a useful load of over 500kgs and of course the aircraft had to have a range of over 1000nm at a decent speed. Maintenance cost was also a large part of the decision.

Linda having previously met James and Mike, the owners of Sling Aircraft and had the opportunity to fly their low wing aircraft, both of which made a very positive impression on her, decided to order a Sling High Wing and complete the build herself with the assistance of the Sling Factory in Johannesburg. Linda's Sling High Wing would become the first production built High Wing in the world.

Flightline had the honour to meet this remarkable lady at an EAA event held at Krugersdorp Airfield where Linda and her husband Gordon were flown to the field by Derek Hopkins and Mike Puzey in their Vans RV8s.

Linda and Gordon are planning on flying her newly completed Sling HW from South Africa to the EAA AirVenture at Oshkosh later this year, we wish you all the best on your future journeys and thank you for flying the South African flag high all around the world.



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