Wis. Wing Pilot Honored as National FAA Safety Team Representative of the Year
As a child, Karen Kalishek enjoyed vivid dreams about flight, and on her first flight at age 19 as an airline passenger she was thrilled to find the low-altitude sight similar to her dreams.
Kalishek, a captain in the Wisconsin Wing’s Brown County Senior Squadron, has turned those dreams into reality. She recently was recognized with a National General Aviation Award as 2019 National FAA Safety Team (or FAASTeam) Representative of the Year — “an unexpected honor,” she said.
“I was warmly welcomed into the aviation community, and involvement is a means of both giving back and paying forward. I’m trying to do my part to attract and retain aviators by sharing the joys of flight,” Kalishek said.
“My devotion to aviation safety comes from personally knowing several people who died in airplane accidents, none of which were caused by mechanical problems. These friends might still be alive if pilots were engaged in a program of ongoing proficiency training.”
Kalishek’s first flight lesson was at 33, but after soloing she continued work in the business world until earning her private pilot certificate at age 50.
Once the aviation flame was lit, there was no turning back. “It simply became a matter of determining what type of aviation career would be the best fit and creating a transition plan,” she said.
Given Kalishek’s many years of experience as an educator, flight instruction was a natural choice. Her 10-year plan worked out well, with pilot certification, part-time instructing and fun along the way. An independent Master Flight Instructor, FAA Gold Seal instructor and a Cirrus Training Center instructor, she provides about 700 hours a year of flight instruction.
She also sits on the board of directors of the National Association of Flight Instructors, is a member of the Wings Industry Advisory Committee, serves as a treasurer in her local Experimental Aircraft Association chapter and is a past officer in Women in Aviation International and The Ninety-Nines chapters.
“It’s an honor to help others achieve their goals and to share in their delight when they achieve a milestone, whether successfully completing a new maneuver, solo flight, earning a certificate/rating or returning to the skies after time away,” Kalishek said.
“There’s simply nothing that compares to the sensation of flying. On certain flights challenge, precision, freedom and romance all come together. It’s fascinating to observe what sparks excitement about flying in each person.”
A cadet for two years in her youth, Kalishek rejoined Civil Air Patrol five years ago, intending to serve as a flight instructor. In addition to flight instruction, check pilot duties and mission pilot flying for CAP, she serves as safety officer, public affairs officer and assistant aerospace education officer, and she previously parlayed her experience as a certified public accountant into serving as finance officer. Last year, she chalked up 420 hours in CAP volunteer time.
“Our squadron has an excellent aerospace education team, and working as part of an effective team has always been rewarding,” Kalishek said. “My underlying passion is aviation safety. Being the squadron’s new safety officer provides additional opportunities to combine AE (aerospace education) and aviation safety with public affairs.”
As a member of several aviation organizations, she finds her CAP public affairs role is a good fit. “It becomes relatively easy to put on a show and host or cohost public outreach activities such as seminars and fly-ins,” she said. “Squadron members have been wonderfully supportive of the 10-12 activities we run each year.”
Her squadron interacts with cadets via AE programs, ground training, orientation flights and inter-squadron activities.
“CAP provides great opportunities for cadets to develop a wide variety of life skills and to build resiliency. They learn how to work effectively in a team, enjoy camaraderie and gain experience that will reap benefits for the remainder of their lives,” Kalishek said. “I’m always impressed with the cadets’ professionalism, discipline and respect.
“And, of course, they have the opportunity to fly aircraft!”
A FAASTeam lead representative for the Milwaukee Flight Standards District Office since 2015 and a FAASTeam representative since 2013, Kalishek recruits new FAASTeam representatives, mentors them and works with members of the Northern Wisconsin FAASTeam to organize 15-20 WINGS Pilot Proficiency Program safety seminars a year.
She has validated about 1,000 WINGS credits and volunteers as a WINGS Pro, promoting WINGS involvement and activities throughout Wisconsin.
“Becoming active in WINGS is an excellent means to gain and retain pilot proficiency,” she said. “The FAA WINGS program offers many benefits to pilots yet is still underutilized in the aviation community. One of the benefits of WINGS involvement specifically for individual CAP members is the ability to set up a link which seamlessly grants CAP safety education credit for completion of WINGS online courses and attendance at WINGS seminars and webinars.”
The WINGS program offers several opportunities for CAP squadrons, Kalishek added. “Hosting WINGS events creates public awareness of CAP, attracts new members, provides aerospace education to the public and can be designed to actively involve cadets,” she said. “Also, a squadron’s internal safety presentations can easily be structured to give WINGS credits to attendees.
“Becoming a FAA Safety Team representative is straightforward, and it would be a win-win for every CAP squadron to have a FAASTeam rep in its roster. A safety officer, AE officer, flight instructor or anyone interested in aviation safety would qualify,” Kalishek said.
In 2014, Kalishek spearheaded the development of an aviation training program for first responders, teaming with a captain in the Green Bay Fire Department who is a pilot. Along with squadron members she has co-presented the program — since adopted by the Wisconsin Bureau of Aeronautics — six times (including once at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh) and has shared it with EAA chapters.
The third owner of a Van’s RV-6 aircraft, Kalishek — whose two grown sons and five siblings are very supportive of her aviation passion — has always been drawn to antique and homebuilt aircraft.
“A common statement by antique aircraft owners is their sense of being a caretaker of the plane for the next generation, and that strikes a chord,” she said. “Flying over the countryside in an aircraft from the early years of aviation feels like a link with the past, looking down on farmland and knowing that someone decades ago experienced similar sights and sounds.
“There’s always more to learn and tantalizing aviation adventures await,” Kalishek added. “I have a bucket list of new experiences yet to explore and have enjoyed aerial treats such as wing-walking on a Stearman’s top wing during loops, rolls and hammerhead maneuvers.”