Incredible Pilot: Jessica Koss

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There are many trailblazers to celebrate in the world of aviation. Some well-known names wrote the first chapters of aviation history decades before each of us fell in love with the sky, and their accomplishments and pioneering are well worth celebrating. It’s also important to recognize the men and women making history today—many of them forging paths and inspiring the next generation of pilots.

Jessica Koss, lead transportation pilot and safety coordinator at Garmin in Olathe, Kansas, is one of those quietly opening the doors to that next generation, whether flying with her three daughters, nurturing the skills of pilots she trains at Garmin Aviation, or introducing young people to aviation through the company’s outreach efforts. 

Koss became interested in flying in high school, when her dad took her to an air show.. She started taking lessons at 17 when her uncle helped her connect with an instructor. Koss stayed in Iowa for college, and earned her certificates and ratings. She worked as a flight instructor before joining Garmin 14 years ago in August. She started out in support and training, worked in public relations for the company for about seven years, “and then I transitioned to the hangars in July 2020,” first as a pilot and safety coordinator before moving into her current role.

The job allows for some variety in responsibilities. On any given day, Koss might be teaching ground school on the Garmin campus, giving lessons in the air, flying work missions in one of the company’s many aircraft, or meeting high school students or younger members of the local community to give them their introduction to aviation. 

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Flying the different types of aircraft in the company fleet is a joy and challenge for her. “I may go from flying a Citation or King Air to flying a Bonanza the next day—or maybe even later that day—or a 182,” Koss says. “It keeps you on your toes. You don’t get bored easily.” 

The Beech King Air 350 is among her favorites to fly. The iconic King Air is “a complex airplane. It’s a busy cockpit,” she says. “It makes me a better pilot. But because it’s also a single-pilot airplane, I love having somebody up there with me who isn’t familiar with it and may not be even a pilot. I flew a group of engineers to Indiana back in September. This young gal, a Garmin employee, was sitting up there, and she said, ‘This is so cool!’ I think, seven times. And it is so cool.”

Inspiring others is one of the highlights of the job for Koss. In March, she took a group of high school girls flying to celebrate Women in Aviation month. Introducing “young ladies to aviation and the rewarding career fields in this industry, such as engineering, human factors, aircraft maintenance, and, of course, being a pilot—it’s very fulfilling when a company like Garmin values exposing young ladies to an industry you love,” she said. 

Many people experiencing aviation for the first time are overwhelmed by the requirements for certification and the potential cost of training. Looked at altogether, the hurdles can seem impossibly high. So Koss breaks it all down into smaller steps when she talks to prospective aviators and also asks them what about aviation interests them. “More times than not, they’re not just saying it’s because it looks cool or anything like that,” she said. “They want to take their kids flying, or they want to travel. I say, ‘Perfect—me too,’ and I try to relate to them a little bit and let them know that it is attainable.

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“Visualization is huge,” she said. “You look at a mountain and think, ‘I could never get up that thing,’ but actually you can.” And she tries to show others how to do just that. Sometimes people are worried about their lack of math skills, but Koss tells them she’s not good with numbers either, but she did it. Cost can be a significant barrier in flight training, and sometimes people are intimidated by that.

She stresses that you don’t have to be the next Albert Einstein or Bill Gates to succeed in flight training.  People tend to follow individual timelines based on their budget and other commitments—and Koss can use her personal story to highlight that for others. “There is no silver spoon, nothing in my court that made me any more fortunate than the next person,” she says. “I feel really fortunate that my career has led me to this point. And if I had any advice for people in terms of their careers, it would be to take advantage of any and all opportunities that come your way. Because I haven’t done anything that’s made me lucky in any way.”

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