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San Clemente Journal

Captain Lucy Fearless Flyer

Dec 02, 2019 10:20AM ● By Donia Moore

Diamond in the Sky - Captain Lucy “Computer” Fernandez, one of UPS Airline’s first women flight captains

by Donia Moore

She flies through the air with the greatest of ease, whether she’s in a tiny Cessna 172 or a massive Boeing 767. San Clemente resident Captain Lucille (Lucy) Fernandez is one of a rare breed of pilots who has been up in the air for most of her life. 

After flying as a commuter pilot for United Air Express and US Airways Color, her most recent assignment was Captain for UPS (United Parcel Service), flying cargo to the far corners of the globe. 

Yes, that’s right: UPS Airlines. 

UPS Airlines is an American cargo airline based in Louisville, Kentucky, the third-largest cargo airline worldwide (in terms of freight volume flown), and this Airlines flies to 779 destinations, the most of any airline (cargo or passenger). A wholly owned subsidiary of UPS since its launch in 1988, the airline marked its 30th year of operation in 2018.

Flying one of those big boys requires a ton of left-seat hours. A college degree, a quick reaction time and finesse on the flight deck are also necessary to secure a commercial pilot position. With well over the 1,000 hours of PIC (Pilot In Command) airtime required by UPS, Lucille joined the company’s cargo fleet in 2001. Along the way she earned college degrees in Business and Finance.

Sitting out at the airport with her dad, watching planes land and take-off, was Lucy’s favorite “sport”. When she was 16, she won an essay writing contest sponsored by the Ninety Nines, a women’s flying club started by Amelia Earhart, Fay Gillis Wells and Ila Loetscher in 1929. The prize was flying lessons. The topic she tackled was “How Aviation Affects Our Communities.” At a time when having a career for most women meant being a stewardess, nurse or teacher, Lucy’s dad, a flight mechanic for United Airlines, encouraged her dream of becoming a pilot.
Lucy’s flying experience traverses much of the world’s airways, both domestic and international. One of her favorite stations was Cologne, Germany – the inter-Europe hub for UPS. When coming into Cologne, the pilots overflew the 12th century gothic style cathedral.  Its unusually high steeples were actually its salvation during WW II because pilots on both sides used them as a marker, especially when the fog rolled in across the Rhine river. Heavily damaged by the Allied air raids in 1944, a rare show of joint cooperation left the steeple intact. Both sides were careful not to destroy it, knowing they would endanger their own aircraft as well as that of the opposition. 
As a Captain, Lucy had the seniority to bid for the routes she preferred. She favored international flights. Working two weeks on and two weeks off per month left her lots of time to explore Europe. She also put in time as a flight engineer and flight instructor on the UPS 727’s.
In fact, she was taking the flight simulator test for her flight engineer rating when Chief Pilot Larry Parker suddenly shut down the simulator. Fearing the worst, Lucy waited for Larry to tell her how she had done. Instead, he offered her a position on the spot and she became one of the first women pilots to fly for UPS.

Lucy can fly almost anything, and has done so. Her nickname in flight school was “Computer” because she could figure out the mathematical equations needed for flying faster than anyone else in the class. This stood her in good stead one day when she talked her way out of a speeding ticket (the second one she had gotten from the same officer), by dazzling the officer with her mathematical expertise and logic about her driving.

 “Computer” Lucy is also talented at circumventing. When some new accountants came to work for UPS, they decided to redo the budget. One of the things they cut out was one of the pilots’ meal breaks and food. The next thing the accountants knew, the pilots were taking longer and longer to reach their cargo flight destinations. Occasionally this would cause a pilot to go over the allotted time. Pilots are mandated to only fly for a limited time during each 24 hours. If the timing went over, the pilot could not legally fly. Although there is more than one pilot aboard, each pilot faces the same time restrictions. In order to keep to the schedule, it sometimes became necessary to use far more expensive aviation fuel than might be budgeted for a trip. 
It wasn’t long before the CFO of the air cargo division paid a visit to the accountants to demand what they had done to aggravate the pilots. When he found out about the cut mealtime, he ordered it reinstated immediately. Miraculously, the delayed flight time was soon back on schedule; along with a greatly reduced fuel use.

Lucy gave back to the flight industry she loves by flying her Bonanza Beachcraft for Doctors Without Borders. On one favorite trip she flew to Alaska during a particularly cold Christmastime. The tower told the other aircraft in the area that Santa was on the next flight in. Needless to say, they didn’t mind holding in the pattern while such an important guest was safely delivered. 
Currently retired, Lucy mentors young women pilots through FAST (Female Aviators Sticking Together), a non-profit organization of over 9,000 female pilots world-wide.
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