Hail to the Chief

As the first female Chief Pilot for the Daytona Beach Student Eagles Flight Team, Aeronautical Science major Ann Marie Petrone is breaking down barriers 12,000 feet in the air.

Aeronautical Science student Ann Marie Petrone stands in front of our Diamond DA-42 Twin Star multi-engine aircraft.
Aeronautical Science student Ann Marie Petrone stands in front of our Diamond DA-42 Twin Star multi-engine aircraft. (Photo: Embry-Riddle/Joseph Harrison)

Ann Marie Petrone’s (‘22) Eagle pedigree runs deep, and her love of flying was cemented at an early age listening to stories told by her grandfather and father.

Her grandfather was an ERAU student in the 1940’s while he served in what was then known as the Army Air Corps (now the United States Air Force) at the height of World War II, and her father was a student as well. So, it was no surprise her dreams of becoming a pilot led her straight to Embry-Riddle.

Petrone’s mentor, ERAU Professor Emeritus of Graduate Studies, Dr. Guy Smith, also fostered her flying dreams when she met him as a member of the Flight Club while she was still a high school student. He was the one that encouraged her to apply to the aeronautical science program and try out for the Eagles Flight Team.

She was admittedly intimidated attending her first team meeting being one of the only females present, but she pushed through those uncomfortable feelings, tried out and made the team. She felt encouraged by her teammates going the extra mile to make her feel welcome. Eventually, that led her to run for leadership positions.

She had just been elected the group’s public relations officer when Covid hit. Suddenly, everything moved online where she worked hard to keep up team morale during an isolating time when in-person meetings weren’t possible. However, as difficult a time as that was, she learned just how capable she is and that gave her the motivation she needed to try out for a senior leadership position.

Petrone was surprised when she found out there hadn’t been a female Chief Pilot on the Daytona Beach team before her. However, she recognized the opportunity it presents to be a role model for the women and men on the team and beyond. She understands that people may be watching her more closely because of her groundbreaking role. She always saw herself as the one looking up to others but realizes people are now looking up to her, which she finds rewarding.

“My work is being recognized,” Petrone said. And she is seeing that effect in more women than usual trying out for the team.

Managing her aeronautical science studies and extensive responsibilities as chief pilot is a balancing act she navigates by adhering to a strict schedule. She also embraces making mistakes along the way and sees failing as both an inevitability and necessity in life.

“You’re going to fail. That’s how you learn,” she said.

Currently, her goal is to fly with an airline, however, she sees herself eventually getting into the management side of the industry and has a particular interest in airline safety; but she wants to keep as many doors open as possible. Fitting for a woman who has already opened a very big door of her own.