Life is Short, and When I’m Flying, I’m Happy

by Robert Thomas Jordan-Webber on Nov 04 2020

My name is Robert Thomas Jordan-Webber, and I am a winner of the L3Harris Future Pilot Scholarship. My journey to L3Harris was anything but standard or pre-determined. In fact, I had not considered pursuing aviation at this level until late last year. To paint a picture of just how dramatic this left turn in my life truly was, I must give you context as to what my plans were prior.

My childhood and adolescence were primarily defined by music. Growing up in California’s Wine Country, performing at wine events became the usual weekend gig, but I never let it interfere with school, which remained my top priority. I had the opportunity to travel the world during my academic breaks, performing as a guest artist on high-end cruise lines and serving as the opening act for notable touring bands.

With a performance background, I soon became interested in the live industry and took an internship at a local promotion company, which sent me down the entertainment business path. During my undergraduate years, I led the Stanford Concert Network, which was the student run concert promotion group for most large-scale music events on campus. I worked on strategic teams for music festivals during my summers and even spent some time in the artist management sphere at Scooter Braun Projects, which manages the likes of Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande. By the time graduation was in sight, I had determined I would likely go into either software or consulting (as most of my peers did), but the ultimate goal was to return to live entertainment once I had that foundational work experience. I had fallen into the typical Stanford trap, which culturally convinces students that tech, consulting, or investment banking are the logical first steps for any and all careers.

Little did I know, I was in for a massive wake up call. As sometimes happens, something horrible led to immense personal growth and discovery; crisis led to opportunity.

“A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” - Paul Romer (Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences Recipient and Stanford Professor)

My life inverted completely when my dad died suddenly in an airplane crash last year (2019). The event triggered a critical series of events, which led to this very chapter of my life. Upon graduating from Stanford, I was unable to accept the tremendously exciting job opportunity I had been offered in Palo Alto, CA due to the many outstanding fiduciary duties within a very complicated estate. These included addressing ongoing creditor claims and managing several business entities among other responsibilities.

Even well into executorship, though, my inherent curiosity and intellectual vitality was chipping away at my core, begging for more understanding of what happened that fateful day. I had sat in the right seat of his Bonanza A36 hundreds of times growing up, watching my dad play superhero as I dreamed of one day learning to fly myself. Now, over a decade later, I was at a crossroads: I could either fear flight, given the tragedy, or pursue my love of learning with a renewed respect for these machines.

Before I explain the next chapter of my story, I should provide background into the type of man my father was, and thus, the type he raised. My dad was an avid snow skier. We would frequently vacation in the mountains as a family, and even at his final age of 66, I’ll admit he had better technique than me. In 1986, his father, my grandfather, died in a tragic skiing accident in Oregon. I imagine my dad felt equally conflicted in how he would regard skiing. However, he proved his strength to not let fear determine his path, as he got back on the mountain the very next season.

Just as skiing was a love his father shared with him, flying was a love my father shared with me. Seven months after my dad’s accident, I earned my certification as a private pilot. In all honesty, I was not much closer to understanding what happened to him, but in a strange, unexpected way, the process led me to discover my passion by way of enormous respect for aviation and its seriousness. This informed humility, in combination with utter enthusiasm, is what I hope to bring to L3Harris and the professional aviation community. Since my certification, I have taken more than 30 passengers flying with a profound understanding of my responsibility to them.

There are major turning points in life, some that knock you down completely, but I can proudly say that crisis forced me onto a learning curve I could never have experienced in any other capacity. I wish the path to that discovery had not been so complicated, but my father left me with an incredible final lesson. Only this time, failure was not an option. Now, I am ready to optimize my future by continuing my love of learning. I have the strength to pursue passion.

My dad’s life motto was advice he gave frequently: “Have fun, make money, and don’t get the order confused.” According to a Pew analysis of Labor Department data, American employees spend an average of 1,811.16 hours at work annually. Should that time not also be spent doing exactly what you love? Life is short, and when I’m flying, I’m happy. It’s that simple! No matter how far I might have made it as a consultant, for example, the office view would never be as beautiful as the one from the flight deck at sunset.

As pilots, we are intensely driven by a pursuit of knowledge and self-betterment. Why? Because failing to do so has more serious consequences than in nearly every other capacity. Nobody respects the resulting responsibility of this more than I; it is no small thing to take passengers’ lives into your own hands, asserting “as PIC, I will return them safely to the ground.”

Pilots take pride in our knowledge and are even more proud of our ongoing development. That is the type of field in which I know I can thrive. It is one where learning is paramount and endless.

You can follow Roberts Pilot Training Journey on Instagram at @rob_hundo