formerly "The View From Up Here"

Formerly titled "The View From Up Here" this column began in the Liberty Gazette June 26, 2007.

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Thursday, May 13, 2010

April 14, 2009 Katie Jarrett, part 1

The Liberty Gazette
April 14, 2009

The View From Up Here
By Mike Ely and Linda Street Ely

At the beginning of WWII Christine worked as an Inspector at an airplane manufacturer, but, says her daughter, “Mom had a vested interest in the war; her brother was flying P-38s over Italy–unarmed, photo reconnaissance. Mom thought she wasn’t doing enough for the war effort so she joined the Navy as a Radio Operator.”

Bill learned to fly from a WASP (Women Air Force Service Pilot) named Yvonne. He had become a flight instructor when, after the war, Christine showed up for flight lessons. Eventually they married, and have produced a nice new crops of pilots, including Katie, a pilot who manages the Williams Airport in Porter, Texas; Walter, who flies 767s out of Baltimore (and who once bought a “Pepto-Bismal pink” DC-3 from the DEA and used it to drop jumpers), and Walter’s wife Jeanne, now retired from Colgan Air.

Linda: Katie Jarrett is one of those people who is from “everywhere.” She spent a lot of time in Denver, but ended up in Annapolis, where she graduated from high school. Hired by NASA contractor, Rockwell, in 1986, she used to tell people she graduated from Annapolis, because, “everyone at NASA assumed I meant the Naval Academy.”

Of course, I wanted to know what she did at NASA.

“They wanted to see if they could train monkeys to do a back room flight controller position, so they hired me for the experiment. It turns out they can.”

Okay, sounds funny. I thought she was kidding. The idea was, they could take a person with a high school diploma and a fair amount of snap (Katie has more than a fair amount), and teach them the job.

“Basically,” she explains, “you have to be able to recognize numerical patterns and, based on those, determine when an event happened. It’s like a puzzle. I could do that.”

She was hired three weeks before the Challenger accident, “an interesting time,” she calls it. “I worried if they would keep their monkey–I really needed the job.”

But after the tragedy NASA took time to re-group, and the monkey stayed.

Eventually Katie moved to the astronaut training group where she handled crew and facility scheduling. She was responsible for simulator schedules but when people higher up the food chain realized that someone with a high school diploma was responsible for a $50,000-an-hour simulator, they removed her. So Katie went back to school.

She’d been taking a class or two here and there, but was maxed out on the lower level courses and hadn’t been able to fit a university class schedule into her work schedule–until NASA made it easier by giving her more free time.

Katie has a great sense of humor and is actually smarter than a monkey. When she graduated, with a degree in Statistics and Operational Research from the University of Houston, her dad handed her the keys to his Luscombe, saying, “It's time.”

And so began her adventure, learning to fly later in life, after raising children and finishing up her degree.

“I learned to fly out of self-defense,” is her usual explanation. “When everyone else flies, family reunions are boring when you have nothing to talk about.” Now she has plenty to talk about, and we’ll treat you to some of it next week. Till then, blue skies.

Mike and Linda can be reached at

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