I Spy a trailblazer
By Senior Airman Baylee Belanger, 152nd Airlift Wing
/ Published May 03, 2021
NEVADA AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, NV. -- Maj. Sarah Spy, C-130 Hercules pilot for the 152nd Operations Group at the Nevada Air National Guard, knew she wanted to be a pilot from the time she was eight years old and took a flight for a family trip to Florida.
“From the moment we started rolling down the runway, I was glued to the window,” Spy said. “I just thought it was amazing. I never grew out of that.”
Now Spy is an accomplished Air Force pilot with more than 4,500 flight hours, numerous deployments, multiple exercises, and many certifications under her belt. This year she will be adding a new accomplishment to her list— first female instructor pilot in the Nevada Air National Guard.
“Women are becoming more normalized in the field, and hopefully that encourages more to consider becoming pilots,” Spy said. “It can be intimidating to consider entering a career field in which a person would be a distinct minority, and even more so in such a competitive one.”
Aside from being a minority in her career field, Spy also overcame many hurdles dating back to her youth.
“I ended up living full-time with a parent who eventually had a significant substance abuse problem that resulted in eviction from our apartment when I was still in high school,” she said. “This meant I was supporting myself before I even graduated.”
Spy said it seemed like good timing that she found the Air National Guard at a college preview day at her high school. Shortly after that, she enlisted as a crew chief with the 180th Fighter Wing in Toledo, Ohio in 2002, and used the Guard as a tool, along with her hard work and drive, to reach her lofty goals.
“I am lucky to have found the Air National Guard around this time,” Spy said. “The opportunity it offered made it possible to achieve my dreams. Without the Guard, I may not have ever been able to start flying.”
After joining the Air National Guard in 2002, Spy attended a long list of schools. She started training to be a pilot in 2003 at Kent State University, and graduated in 2006 with a degree in Aeronautical Studies. She also earned a commercial pilot certificate, and became a certified flight instructor. In the Guard she continued to work as a crew chief until she earned her commission in 2007 when she was selected by the 180th Fighter Wing to become a fighter pilot.
Things didn’t go as planned.
“If you can't tell by now, I was not successful in this course,” said Spy. But quitting wasn’t in her spirit. She quickly began looking for other flying units where she could take a chance flying a different aircraft.
“Giving up has never been an option,” she said. “I never felt like any of the challenges I faced during my career were insurmountable. I never wanted to be the person who said ‘I wanted to be a pilot, but…’”
Spy said after visiting the 152nd Airlift Wing during a drill weekend she was sold. In 2009, she attended the Pilot Initial Qualification Course at Little Rock Air Force Base, and began flying C-130s for the 152nd Airlift Wing, Nevada Air National Guard, in 2010.
“Not making it through that fighter pilot program was upsetting, but in the end, I fly an aircraft that is more suited to my personality,” Spy said.
Years later she is living her dream as a pilot and looking forward to what her new duties will entail. She said instructor pilot school will prepare her for anything, including flying with the newest pilots who have little experience, as well as flying with experienced pilots who are cross training to fly C-130s or are not current in the aircraft.
“Instructor school will likely be the last formal flying training I attend in the Air Force, and I am honored to be trusted with the responsibility to help shape the future of our squadron,” Spy said. “To anyone with a goal, know that a roadblock is not necessarily the end of the road, there just might be a detour or two you have to take to get there.”