Pilot, Father, Author

Captain Eric Gaffney shares his story to encourage the next generation to never give up

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When COVID-19 interrupted the lives of people all over the world, many of us used the lockdown time to think about new opportunities. In April 2020, Captain Eric Gaffney decided to take a month off from flying to spend time with his wife and two children. This time at home gave him a chance to tell his unique compelling story. Gaffney was born without his right hand yet worked his way up to become a captain for a national airline.

The Journey

Gaffney’s journey to become an airline pilot was one filled with dreams, self-doubt, red tape, adjustments, and perseverance. Gaffney grew up learning about aircraft with his dad who was an airplane mechanic. He wanted to fly his whole life. Two obstacles held Gaffney back from pursuing his dream of becoming a pilot. He faced self-doubt, questioning if he could become a pilot with one hand. He also doubted if being a pilot was conducive to his other dream of becoming a family man with a wife and children.

When his college years came around, Gaffney veered away from aviation and enrolled in a pre-med program at The University of Oklahoma with his sights set on becoming a doctor. The medical field had fascinated him as well. After completing his freshman year and learning some of the basics of medicine, it became apparent that working in the medical field wasn’t what he wanted. His dream of becoming a pilot never faded. He was motivated to overcome the obstacles and changed his course of study to aviation.  

Gaffney graduated in 2010 with his Bachelor of Science in Aviation with a Professional Pilot Concentration and a minor in Air Traffic Control. He started his professional flying career as a flight instructor at OU, and then entered the University’s flow program. A year after college, he joined Pinnacle, a Delta Connection carrier with a preferential hiring agreement with OU. From there, he worked his way up through regional airlines.

Gaffney faced major hurdles along the way in the form of government restrictions due to his limb difference. He was issued a total of six restrictions and had to go through the process of completing a medical flight test for each one. Each restriction came with paperwork, waiting time, and the pressure of an in-person individual test. As an individual going through flight training, scheduling with the government often felt like a nightmare. It would sometimes take several months to hear back to continue the process of completing a medical flight test. Simple miscommunication could turn into a major setback on Gaffney’s timeline.

To prove his abilities, Gaffney had to adjust to each airplane and circumstance. There were no demonstrators that could teach him the best way to perform each task. However, Gaffney was accustomed to adjustment. Doing things differently has always been a part of his life.  As a young child, Gaffney remembers spending recess periods practicing tying his shoes because he had to learn his own way of completing the task. When it came time for him to perform each flight test, he was quick to adjust, and the physical tests proved to be the easiest part of cutting through the red tape. Gaffney proved his abilities, and every restriction was lifted.

In 2016, Gaffney joined United Airlines. Becoming a pilot for a major national airline was his ultimate career dream. He can also proudly say he has a beautiful family today. They deal with his pilot schedule and support him fully.

Captain Eric Gaffney, United Airlines

Airick Flies High

Encouraged by his wife Natalie to write his autobiography while he had time off, Gaffney decided COVID lockdown was the time to start writing. He had been encouraged to and wanted to write his story for years, but while at home, Gaffney was faced with a new dilemma. How could he focus on writing when he had two energetic, young children excited to have their father home for a month? It was difficult to find the time.

Gaffney kept his idea for an autobiography on his mind and continued to enjoy time with his family. One day, Gaffney and his children, Cameron and Austin, were playing around as usual. They acted like airplanes, holding their arms out and “flying” around the yard, making sound effects to complete the scene. It dawned on Gaffney that his right personal airplane wing was shorter than his left. He thought it a great analogy for children to relate to and understand limb differences. The idea for Airick Flies High was born.

Symbolic of his own story, Gaffney wrote the tale of Airick, a young plane with a wing difference. With one wing shorter than the other, Airick wishes to fly like the other planes. With determination, he learns his own way of flying.

Gaffney stands with a Piper Cherokee like the ones he flew in flight school at The University of Oklahoma. Airick was illustrated to resemble this plane.

Gaffney talked about his project with his wife and friends and was lucky to be connected to the perfect illustrator, Alisha Wenaas, who created adorable visuals to accompany the story. The planes throughout the story hold significance in Gaffney’s life, representing its different stages and the planes he encountered along the way.

The newest iteration of Gaffney’s book has been translated into Spanish with the help of Red Universitaria, a network of Costa Rican universities through the country’s Ministry of Education. In Spanish, the book is titled Airick Vuela Alto.

To purchase Airick Flies High directly from Gaffney, visit https://aerocrewnews.com/airick-flies-high. To purchase Airick Vuela Alto, available through Amazon, visit https://aerocrewnews.com/airick-vuela-alto.

Since writing his story, Gaffney has visited numerous events, schools, libraries, and children’s centers to do live readings and share his story. He has met children with limb differences and many other differences as well. His message is always the same – never give up on your dreams.

Resources:

Medical Flight Tests: https://www.aopa.org/go-fly/medical-resources/medical-flight-tests

Eric Gaffney, SOA Alumnus: https://www.ou.edu/ags/news/express-spotlights/2022/eric-gaffney

Airick Flies High Emerge Publishing: https://www.emerge.pub/airick

Airick Flies High purchase directly from Eric Gaffney: https://checkout.square.site/buy/X6UKJ2NUNWTXALWSZFYDV4BG

Airick Vuela Alto – Available through Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Airick-Vuela-Alto-Spanish-Gaffney/dp/B0BYLVMSJQ




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