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Physics alumnus will soon be able to fly commercial planes

Already a pilot while at Kenyon, Ryan Funk is now getting his Airline Transport Pilot license.

Ryan Funk’s ’16 first flight was a trial by fire. He wasn’t just taking a quick practice flight to get him acquainted with the controls — he was bound across the country, from California to New Hampshire.

“That feeling, it’s unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced,” Funk said. “You’d have to do it yourself to understand, but I guess the closest thing is total freedom, like a bird.”

Just last week, Funk was hired by Piedmont Airlines, an east coast regional airline that flies under American Eagle Airlines.  Funk doesn’t yet have all the hours necessary for an Airline Transport Pilot certificate, the highest form of pilot’s license that allows for the piloting of airplanes for scheduled passenger routes. The company has essentially pre-hired Funk, so when he finally gets the 1,500 hours of flight time required for the license, he can move on to a new job.    

Funk decided he wanted to learn how to fly during the summer after his sophomore year at Kenyon. His father, a pilot for American Airlines, wanted to teach him. They found a seller for a two-seater propeller plane, flew to California (on an airline this time) and bought the plane. Some parts of the plane were less than glamorous — in one instance, the plane’s alternator malfunctioned while landed in Pittsburgh, so they had to rent a car and drive home while it was being repaired. Still, Funk found the experience highly influential. By the end of the summer, Funk had his private pilot flight license. After graduating from Kenyon, Funk enrolled in the ATP Flight School in Nashville, Tennessee, an accelerated program through which pilots quickly obtain their commercial license. Funk received his last October.

Funk is now an instructor at the flight school, which frequently hires students who have done well in their program, allowing them to build up their flight time to take the Airline Transport Pilot certificate test. 

While there are no classes at Kenyon that offer pre-professional training for pilots, Funk said his physics major is a big help in his career.

“Flying is essentially an energy management problem,” Funk said,  “and physics has helped me to use information to solve tough problems.”

Funk has been around airplanes all his life. His father has been a pilot since before Funk was born, and his mother worked as a flight attendant.

“They were what sparked my interest,” Funk said. “Growing up, I was like, ‘Hey, I don’t want to work in an office all day, and I love traveling.’”

It was only in college that Funk started seriously considered becoming a professional pilot. He knew reaching that goal was not going to be easy. To get an Airline Transport certificate, a pilot has to obtain something called an unrestricted first class medical — a clean bill of health, with the strictest requirements. Funk has a color deficiency; he is not color blind, but he does not see colors perfectly. While that disqualifies him from passing the medical examination, an aspiring pilot can choose to take a special test with the Federal Aviation Administration to appeal the decision. Funk passed.

“It was a pretty big deal to pass the test,” Funk said. “If I passed, then I got to be a pilot, but if I failed then the FAA would have considered me color blind forever. I was so excited. I knew I could go for my dream of flying a plane for a living and seeing the world.”

Funk said the ultimate goal of his pilot career is to fly long haul international passenger routes, or services that regularly fly on long trips across the globe. For now, Funk is happy to be able to do what he loves for a living.

“Every time I go up, I like to take in all the steps that humanity has had to take just so I can do this,” Funk says. “Today, I’m flying at 8,000 feet, but maybe in a little while I’ll be flying at 30,000. Like I said, it’s absolute freedom.”