What do you want to do when you grow up? Emerald Mountain School alumna Ciar Colgan, class of 2007, flies the F/A-18 Super Hornet, one of the most sophisticated fighter planes in the world. In addition to operating highly advanced computer and weapons systems, Ciar is currently in training to master a jet with a top speed of Mach 1.8, or about 1,190 mph. Her love for the endeavor is clear in her gleeful tone, as she describes the thrill of traveling beyond the speed of sound, of crushing G forces, and of striving for excellence while serving her country. She states, “The most exciting thing I’ve done is basic fire maneuver training. You’re trying to gain positional advantage in order to employ weapons. Some of my friends have thrown up after every single flight. I love it. Contorting your neck, head and body, and experiencing five to six Gs during the flight. You and your instructor want to win. You want to understand what to do in those sorts of situations.”
Ciar studied biology and chemistry at St. Lawrence University, assuming that she would eventually attend medical school. But, even as a young kid, she held an affinity for military service, and, after completing her undergraduate degree, she was accepted into the Navy’s Officer Candidate School. During several months en route to becoming a flight officer, she completed a series of intense qualification courses, including learning flight regulations, flight physics, preflight aviation indoctrination, and avionics. Her classes were typically concentrated within ten-hour spans of time across six weeks, conditions meant to be highly demanding on her mental and physical endurance, and all while wearing, in her words, “an uncomfortable tan uniform.” In January of 2018, her training continued in Pensacola, FL, where she began flying a turbo prop as preparation for service on an aircraft carrier.
Ciar anticipates that her carrier service will begin in February of 2020. In the meantime, she loves the pressure, complication, and camaraderie involved in pursuing her dream. Ciar notes, “There are more people playing in the NFL then there are in naval aviation.” Within such highly select company, she is one of only eight female students in a field of over eighty, and she finds a deep and meaningful bond within her cohort. She states, “We sit together and help one another out. It is way more of a helpful environment than it is competitive, especially because the field is so dangerous, so classmates look out for each other. You don’t want to do anything that would endanger your squad, so it’s really about teamwork, making sure no one misses anything. We all want to be the best, and we help each other to get there.” During the past year, her studying has been more or less non-stop. She practices six or seven times per day in preparation for each simulator event, rehearsing all of the things she needs to do and say throughout an entire flight to minimize risk and increase predictability. Following each simulator event, she rehearses again as preparation for her instructor debrief, during which she receives scrupulous feedback and makes adjustments for the next round of rehearsals. However demanding, she revels in the dynamic challenge of flying, including earning badges to fire weapons and conditioning herself to fly at four Gs for upwards of 45 forty-five minutes. She describes her confirmation as a strike fighter as “a total blast.”
Growing up in Steamboat and attending EMS certainly helped to shape Ciar’s perspective. After moving here for 5th grade, she was an alpine racer with Winter Sports Club and skied nearly every day during the season. She states, “There is not a better place to grow up than Steamboat.” She loved being with other kids who enjoyed the same activities and were focused on their own improvement. Likewise, she loved the small classroom setting at EMS, which she says helped her to develop an appreciation for critical thinking and close relationships with her peers. In particular, she fondly remembers Mick Paulice’s science classes, his passion for teaching and how engaging his classroom was. She credits Mick as a strong influence on her own passion for science and her decision to study the field in college. As advice to current EMS students, she states, “Be sure to seek out individuals who are doing things you are interested in, and ask them for advice. They could be a teacher, another student, or a coach. Ask questions about how they got to where they are. Take advantage of being in a small community, since people want to help others. And don’t be afraid to ask for help.”
Ciar’s next adventure will take her to the Central Valley in California with Squadron 122. There, she’ll begin the new challenge of flying a fleet jet, rather than a training jet. She states, “this is everything I’ve worked for, and it’s just the start.”