Dalton Caldwell, a native of Brownsboro, Texas, was not one of those kids who lived and breathed airplanes from the time he was born; it took a couple of years for that passion to take hold. When his mom first introduced him to his soon-to-be stepfather, she mentioned he was a pilot, a Boeing 747 captain for Atlas Air no less. Caldwell remembers not thinking much about the job then, but he was only 13 at the time.
Things began to gel for Caldwell after his new blended family moved to a small flying community near Athens, Texas, that came with a private 2,500-foot strip, where his stepdad happened to keep a Cessna 310 and Piper Aztec. “He took me for a ride in the Aztec, and we flew over my high school. I was hooked. That’s when I decided to be an airline pilot.” Caldwell’s life around airplanes became a blur from then on.
“I started my private certificate halfway through senior year and soloed in April 2016. I got my private on August 19, 2016, just after I graduated. I didn’t have much time to celebrate, though.” With a burning desire to fly, on the advice of his stepfather, Caldwell enrolled at ATP Flight School in Austin, Texas, at Georgetown Municipal Airport and began training there three days after his high-school graduation. To say he dived into his training at ATP would be an understatement. Caldwell took no vacation days during his training and earned his certified flight instructor certificate on March 20, 2017, with about 250 hours in his logbook. “I didn’t see my friends much because I really wanted to finish training and start teaching so I could build hours.” Caldwell began teaching at the Georgetown ATP location in April 2017. “The first year of instructing, I kind of went with the flow, since I was only 19. In September 2018, I became an Envoy Cadet through ATP Flight School because people had nothing but good things to say about Envoy Air. In the Cadet Program, you [instruct] for ATP, but Envoy gives you a 401(k), travel benefits, and health and dental insurance.”
Less than two years later, Caldwell was on his way to ground school at Envoy Air, where by June 14, 2019, he’d completed training and earned both a type rating in the Embraer 175 and a restricted ATP certificate. The traditional age to earn an ATP pilot certificate is 23; however, FAR Part 61.160 outlines the requirements for the certificate as someone who is at least 21 years of age. Caldwell made it just under the wire. “I turned 21 on May 4, just in time for my check ride.” Envoy actually sent Caldwell back to ATP to complete the ATP CTP course that prepared him for the check ride. “Because I was an Envoy Cadet, I also got to pick my base [at DFW] and aircraft assignment early on in our class of 25.” Caldwell says his Cadet status also helped earn him one of the best seniority numbers in his class, currently 2312.
Continuing the fast pace that he now enjoys, Caldwell remembers his first initial operating experience (IOE) trip as an Envoy first officer in the actual EMB 175, which happened just five days after his check ride. “It was a pretty full flight, and we flew from DFW to LIT. It was kind of surreal, but I knew this is what I did all the training for. That first takeoff, I felt like I was dreaming. You know it’s not a sim or an Archer when you feel yourself pushed back in the seat as you bring up the throttles.”
His first takeoff turned out to be the last of the day when he and the captain overnighted in Little Rock. “[The next day,] we flew LIT to DFW, then DFW to Shreveport, back to DFW, and over to Baton Rouge for the night. The following day, it was back to DFW before heading down to Mexico.”
On his final IOE flight, he encountered a four-hour maintenance delay before the flight finally got airborne. “As we approached Dallas, we learned the field was closed due to thunderstorms, so I had to enter a hold and calculate the holding speed. [While circling,] we were getting closer and closer to bingo fuel [when a diversion to the alternate would be necessary], but it finally opened up. The entire trip made me feel really confident knowing I could do all that. Everything in the cockpit happens pretty quick on those short legs. My first landing wasn’t butter, but it was, well, firm.”
Caldwell thinks it would be an awesome job to fly an American Airlines widebody, a dream he will realize sooner as a result of his drive, dedication, and decision to enroll in a faster-paced program at ATP Flight School. Thanks to his participation in the Envoy Cadet Program while instructing at ATP, he successfully completed the one and only interview he’ll need to someday move on to American. Of course, that won’t happen until he gains the requisite experience, at least 1,000 hours of command time from the left seat of the EMB 175.
When queried about the past three years, Caldwell says: “It hasn’t all settled in yet. I didn’t even realize how fast it all came. But it goes to show that if you want something and you want it quickly, you just need to put in the work and stay motivated. Going from a 172 to an EMB 175—it’s really living the dream.”