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  • Joan Schweighardt

Spotlight on R.D. Kardon

Updated: Sep 10, 2023

We had the great pleasure of interviewing R.D. (Robin) Kardon, who has just published the final novel in her amazing Flygirl Trilogy. We’re so happy to have had a chance to talk with her about her thrilling career, the similarities between writing and handling a plane, where she’s headed next … and much more.


At what age did you know you would become a pilot?


I always loved flying. Growing up in New York City, my grandfather would take my brother and me to Kennedy Airport on the weekends to watch the planes take off and land. I told my mother I wanted to be an astronaut. Her response was, “Girls don’t do that,” which, at the time, was true. Career options where and when I grew up were limited to doctor, lawyer, or teacher. So I became an attorney.


It wasn’t until I was practicing law in my thirties that I understood I could be a pilot. That’s when I began taking flight lessons. For over a year, I worked full-time as an attorney during the week, studied for flight school at night, and flew on weekends. When I earned my flight instructor qualification I quit practicing law.


What character strengths do you have that assured you you would be able to succeed in what has been, for many years, a man’s domain?


I believe I can succeed at anything I put my mind to. Flying is no different. At the time I was learning to fly, I never considered that being a woman would create obstacles. I truly did not realize how difficult it would be. The barriers to success in aviation for women showed themselves early in my career, continued throughout, and still exist today, sadly.


Please speak about how you came to fly both small and commercial planes and how the experiences differ.


As a non-military pilot, my initial flight training took place in small airplanes at out-of-the-way airports. I don’t believe the flying public realizes how many small airports there are in major cities. I was living in Chicago at the time, and my primary training didn’t take place at Midway or O’Hare airports, but at DuPage airport, located in the western suburbs.


Just like in other careers, I started at the bottom, flying single engine propeller-driven airplanes, and as I built flight time, I flew more sophisticated aircraft. The differences included mechanical and system complexity, and, of course, speed. Flying smaller airplanes when I was learning piloting skills helped me establish good habits I could use in the larger, faster, more complex planes I flew, such as the Boeing 737.


In addition to flying and law, you have degrees in journalism and sociology. Have you had careers in these disciplines as well?


I believe that all my education has contributed to my success in each of my four careers—lawyer, pilot, consultant, and author. No education is wasted, and each discipline has augmented and broadened my professional capabilities. I learned to speak and think on my feet as a litigator, write succinctly and with purpose as a journalist, and understand the dynamics of groups as a student of sociology. These basic skills are useful in any career.


You have just completed the last book in a trilogy of novels, all of them with the same protagonist, Tris Miles, a pilot like yourself. Please tell us about Tris. And tell us something about the plots of each of the three books and the expanse of time they cover.


Yes, the books in my trilogy—Flygirl, Angel Flight, and Flying Home—feature a thirty-something female pilot, Patricia “Tris” Miles, as we follow her aviation career and personal life for approximately five years, from 1997 through to 2002. I also address some important issues facing women in the aviation community in each of my novels. All three books are based on my personal experiences as a professional pilot.


Tris is ambitious but haunted. In Flygirl, we find her having scrambled to a level of success flying for a small airline as a co-pilot/first officer. She yearns to sit in the captain’s chair, driven by a will to succeed and the tragic death of a loved one that she feels responsible for. She becomes an unintentional trailblazer, taking a job at a company as their first female pilot, and she feels the resistance to her hire from her very first day. Will she get to the pilot-in-command seat? When her opponents hatch a plan to block her, will it succeed?


In Flygirl, I squarely address the issue of harassment and marginalization of women in the aviation workplace. Every reader, every person has faced situations where they were unappreciated or their opinions belittled, so all readers can relate to the challenges Tris faces in this book.


Angel Flight joins Tris a bit further along in her career, flying for a company where she is wanted and appreciated. She cautiously enters a relationship with another pilot she meets and ends up competing with him for a promotion as she prepares to fly an angel flight, so named because she will transport a critically ill passenger from the remote regions of Canada to the United States for specialized medical treatment. Their passenger has some deadly secrets, as the crew learns during that tragic flight.


One of the major issues facing women aviators is the relative ignorance of the aviation community about health issues, particularly mental health. Pilots are required to take periodic medical exams to keep flying. These exams discourage pilots from attending to mental health issues and can punish them for seeking therapy when they are troubled. Angel Flight squarely addresses this problem.


In Flying Home, Tris has risen to the top in a very small “pond” and is offered a position to fly for the largest airline in the world, tantalized by the opportunity to train and mentor thousands of female pilots. She’d leave behind her current mentee, Jannat Madden, a woman of color with a deep secret she’s keeping from everyone, including those closest to her.


The story is set against the backdrop of 9/11, and for the first time in fiction, we see the tragic events of that day unfold from the eyes of pilots stranded thousands of miles from home. Tris learns that her best friend, someone she’s developed stronger feelings for, has died in one of the airplanes that toppled the towers. Flying Home addresses how the losses affect Tris and her crew, and how the events of that day transformed them. At its core, Flying Home is about the way people love, the lifestyles they choose, and the true meaning of success.


Do flying planes and writing have anything in common?


Incredibly, yes! They are strikingly similar. Preparation and relevant research are key to success in both fields. As a pilot, I was required to think ahead of the airplane and the flight and be prepared for all contingencies that could arise. Flight crews arrive long before a flight is scheduled to take off to prepare by reviewing route weather, weather at destination, the condition of the airplane, the number of passengers, passengers with special needs, etc.


Writing a book takes considerable preparation. Each of my books has required special research, particularly into the locations where I set the major action—Vienna and Luxembourg in Flygirl, Bangor and Iqaluit, Nunavut, in Angel Flight, and Edinburgh, Scotland, in Flying Home. Also in Flying Home, I was writing a character from a culture different from my own, and I had to be extremely careful to honor her background appropriately.


I don’t sit down to write a first draft until I have an idea of what the plot will be and who the characters are. I layer my research on top of the story and characters as the draft takes shape. As a pilot, I had to be prepared to react to unexpected conditions, and as an author, editing a draft often takes my writing to a place I hadn’t originally intended.


What does it take for a novel to be popular, as yours are, with book clubs?


Book clubs are social and intellectual endeavors, so providing a good story and raising debatable issues are key. All three of my books are page-turners that keep readers engaged until the end. They also place characters in difficult situations where they are both stoic and vulnerable. Readers also enjoy the conflicts between the characters and like to posit different solutions to their problems in book club discussions.


I love attending book clubs in person or online to hear different perspectives on the issues I raise in my books.


You are now beginning a new novel. Will this one also be about a pilot?


My current work-in-progress is historical fiction, set in the 1950s. I haven’t chosen or created any characters yet, but I doubt any of them will be pilots. I’m still turning ideas around in my head, which is how each of my novels have been created. Let’s see what happens next!


Award-winning author Robin “R.D.” Kardon is a native New Yorker, a pilot, and the author of the Flygirl Trilogy. Flying Home, the third in that series featuring Tris Miles, is the first novel to give readers a view of the terrorist attacks of 9/11 from the perspective of pilots who were flying that day. Find out more about Robin and her work at https://www.rdkardonauthor.com or at one of the social media links below.


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