Flying a Thrill Handed Down From Mother to Daughter, Eventually

This child of a private pilot was in the right place at the right time to make a change.

Summer McLaughlin didn’t know the college she was attending had one of the top aviation programs in the country. [Courtesy: McLaughlin family]

As Summer McLaughlin waited to board a commercial flight with her family, she saw the crew board the airplane and thought about how their careers allowed them to travel.  She commented to her father, “Maybe I could become a flight attendant.”  

Summer McLaughlin

His (very wise) response changed her career focus. He said, “Maybe you could fly the plane.”

And with that parental suggestion, Summer decided that she could actually travel as a pilot in the cockpit, instead of serving the passengers in the back of the airplane.  

She should have had this realization much earlier, as her own mother, Kellylynn McLaughlin made an excellent role model as a private pilot herself.

Once Summer determined she wanted to see the world as a pilot, she reconsidered her major in public health at Oklahoma State University (OSU).  

“One of my advisors pointed out that OSU has one of the top pilot schools in the country,” she said.  So, she took advantage of the training so close to home and enrolled in the aviation program.

Currently, Summer is taking courses focusing on obtaining her commercial certificate. She will need to master single-engine and multiengine training first. “I’ve been flying for a little under two years now, and I will probably have another three semesters before I’m fully certified,” Summer said.

When asked about the ratio of women to men, Summer said the program is still male dominated.  

“[During] my freshman year, there were upwards of 300 pilot students but only 14 women in the whole program. That number has increased a little bit over the last couple of years, but women are still very much in the minority,” she added. “The same is true with my professors—I have only had one female professor in my entire six semesters at this school,” she said. 

Although Summer admits she struggles with the regulations and the economic side of the industry, she enjoys her time in the air. 

“My favorite part of this degree would have to be the view from the plane,” she said. “It’s never going to be the same and it’s always stunning, [and] every time I look out the window, I’m reassured that I chose the right career path.”

Mom’s Path

Summer’s mom, Kellylynn, is supportive of her daughter’s quest to be a commercial pilot. Her own aviation aspiration was to become a military fighter pilot. She applied for the U.S. Air Force Academy and was offered the slot after their top choice washed out after his first week. The timing wasn’t right, as she had already decided to take some time to travel. The next year, she reapplied, but vision restrictions removed her from the opportunity.

"I’m reassured that I chose the right career path."

Summer McLaughlin

Kellylynn’s advice to Summer (and her sister Paige) is to do whatever they want and to be able to support themselves. 

“I believe I have guided and encouraged her to follow her heart, [to] understand that there is no timeline or rush to decide life’s paths, make good friends and try to give people the benefit of a doubt when they hurt us,” Kellylynn said.

Summer’s goal is to earn her CFI certificate and work for Oklahoma State as an instructor to build her hours and obtain work experience. Ultimately, she plans to be a commercial pilot for an operation that would allow her to fly without having established routes.  

“I’m looking for something a bit more versatile and exciting,” she said.

Her mother supports her fully and is one of her biggest fans.  

“Summer is such an extraordinary young woman,” Kellylynn said. “She’s smart, has the kindest heart ever, is strong, has a strong sense of right and wrong, has been goal driven from a young age [she’s just about to complete her fourth-degree black belt in taekwondo, was completely fearless as a child,” Kellylynn added. “I know moms exaggerate but it’s all true lol,” she smiled. 

Ellen is not only an avid pilot, she’s also an internationally recognized speaker and authority on gender diversity and inclusion for women working in non-traditional careers in transportation. Have a story Ellen should tell? You can send her ideas at

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