A Pilot’s Life
Bob Schmelzer ’74, ’75, is a Chicago-area designated pilot examiner, a United Airlines captain and Boeing 777 line check airman. He has been an active flight instructor since 1972.
“Okay—I’ll admit it—my aviation career has been a Cinderella story. Discovering early in life that becoming an airline pilot was my perfect ‘dream job’ really helped me remain focused on that goal and to make several excellent career-path decisions. Funded entirely by my part-time grocery store job, I began my initial flight training at age 16, emerging as a flight instructor while still a high school senior at age 18. After spending a year at the University of Illinois in mechanical engineering—intended as a ‘fall-back’ career option—I soon realized that no matter what, I was destined to land in aviation. So I transferred to Florida Institute of Technology in 1973, where I managed to complete a four-year degree program (Bachelor of Air Commerce) by December of 1975, all while working as a flight instructor at Melbourne Aviation, preparing dozens of fellow Florida Tech students for their own pilot certificates and ratings.
Upon graduation from FIT, I continued to advance my pilot skills by flying air taxi, air mail and commuter airline services before joining United Airlines as a new flight officer in 1978 at age 24. I began my United career as a flight engineer before advancing to co-pilot and finally captain in 1990. I have enjoyed flying United’s Boeing 727, 737, 757, 767 and 777 aircraft along the way. With just two years remaining in my 40-year career with United Airlines before reaching the mandatory retirement age of 65, I am living my dream as a senior captain and line check airman responsible for training and checking other United Airlines pilots transitioning to the Boeing 777 aircraft.
I was selected to become an FAA Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE) in 2001, which has enabled me to administer flight test examinations to new pilots as they complete their training programs. I was also honored in 2007 to become a regular contributor to Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’s (AOPA) Flight Training magazine for their “Checkride” column, where I offer bimonthly articles that include helpful insights and “tips for success” to student pilots preparing for their FAA checkrides.
As fulfilling as my achievements have been for me, the truth is I owe much to the education I received at Florida Tech. Thank you Florida Tech and to all of the great teachers I was fortunate to encounter along the way. You helped me reach my goals!
DEGREES: ’74 Associate of Flight Technology; ’75 Bachelor of Air Commerce
FAMILY: Wife, Dolores; David, 32 and Kathryn, 27
CURRENT CITY: Antioch, IL
LITTLE KNOWN FACT: I was NOT a participant in the highly entertaining “streaking” sensation of the time!
NOTABLE ACHIEVEMENT: Earning several of my pilot certificates at the earliest possible age, making “seniority” especially valuable to me during my long and rewarding airline career.
FAVORITE FLORIDA TECH MEMORY: Spending my first year at the old “Doherty Hall,” also referred to as the “Tradewinds,” in Indialantic, was a fantastic experience. I met many lifelong friends there and have tons of great memories from that year.