Q&A with a Republic Pilot: Mike Droese

At LIFT, our mission is to train aviators for success as airline professionals at Republic Airways, and for us, there’s nothing better than seeing that mission in action. We love catching up with our LIFT alumni to hear from them how their time at LIFT best prepared them for their airline career.

Mike Droese, Republic Airways IND-based First Officer, started as a student at LIFT Academy after successfully working in the financial industry for over 20 years. Mike had always been interested in aviation and decided to follow his dream after taking a discovery flight not too long ago. Now Mike is staying busy, flying as a Republic Airways pilot and is loving every minute of it.

What made you want to be a pilot/what drew you to aviation?

Mike Droese – I have enjoyed going to the airport and flying on planes since I was a child. I really didn’t think of it as a potential career option until I was given a discovery flight as a gift a handful of years ago. After taking that flight, I was immediately hooked. I had been looking for something adventurous to do that would give me the same thrill that another passion of mine, scuba diving, had given me. It turns out that flying was that very thing. I had a successful, 20+ year career in the financial industry, but I was ready to move on from that. I wanted to find a job that was maybe a little more fun and one that potentially offered a better work/life balance. I thought that becoming a pilot might be just the ticket!

When were you a student at LIFT?

Mike – After taking my initial discovery flight, I earned my private pilot certificate and instrument rating at a local airport in the Indianapolis area, thinking that flying would be just a hobby at that time. When I eventually made the decision to pursue aviation as a career, I enrolled at LIFT Academy and began my training in January of 2019. I earned my commercial and CFI certifications by September of that same year. I became a flight instructor at LIFT in October 2019 and continued in that capacity until May 2021. While instructing, I was simultaneously able to earn my CFII, multi engine add-on and my Multi Engine Instructor (MEI) certificates.

What was your experience like as a student? Instructor?

Mike – I really enjoyed my time at LIFT as both a student and an instructor. Don’t get me wrong–while I had a great experience as a student, it required a significant commitment on my part and the same from my family and friends who were supporting me. I felt like the leadership team at LIFT, as well as my instructors, all wanted to see me succeed. I put a great deal of pressure on myself to do the very best I could and to put in the hours in the plane, in the classroom and at home that were necessary to make sure I accomplished my goal. Getting through the training and earning my certifications gave me a great sense of accomplishment. I should add that the Diamond DA-40 and DA-42 were amazing aircraft to fly!

As an instructor, I really wanted to help others realize their own dreams of becoming pilots. I tried to adopt the best qualities of those who had instructed me and also to incorporate some of my own techniques and personality into it. Flying should be fun, and I never wanted my students to lose sight of that. I also took safety and risk management very seriously, and I tried hard to instill that attitude in my students. In addition to having my own students, I also had the privilege of being a stage check instructor. This meant that I was helping evaluate the other instructors’ students to ensure they were meeting LIFT’s training goals and objectives. While a big responsibility, it was exceptionally rewarding, and I got to know many more students this way.

What made you excited to go to Republic to fly?

Mike – Since LIFT is affiliated with Republic, I had already become somewhat familiar with Republic as a company, and I was excited about the opportunity to continue to be part of that culture. I liked the idea of working for a hometown airline that is based here in Indianapolis. I also loved the idea that I could fly a great airplane, the Embraer 170/175, for Republic and also represent three different carriers – American, Delta and United. My family and I have travel benefits with all thres carriers which is fantastic! Given that I am 47 years old, and this is a second career for me, I wanted to work for a company and an airline that I could stay with until I eventually retire. I believe I have found that at Republic.

What was training at Republic like?

Mike – Transitioning from being in “instructor mode” at LIFT to being a student again at Republic was a bit of a struggle. The sheer amount of information I needed to absorb seemed daunting at first. However, my fellow trainees and the instructors at Republic were great resources for me to leverage. Learning about the systems of the Embraer 170/175 was both fascinating and challenging. A highlight for sure was training in the full-motion simulators. They are incredibly realistic and a valuable tool for learning to fly the aircraft safely and within the standards set by the airline and the FAA. The simulators pretty much run 24/7, so one thing I won’t miss was the 10 p.m.-2 a.m. time slots that my sim partner and I got on occasion!

How did your education at LIFT prepare you for the airlines?

Mike – I think LIFT prepared me very well for my role as a First Officer at Republic. LIFT has made a concerted effort to incorporate as many Republic procedures as possible into their curriculum and training methodology. I also think that LIFT made a great decision in selecting the DA-40 and DA-42 for its training fleet. While not a jet aircraft, the Diamond’s glass cockpit, auto-pilot and FADEC system are similar to what we have in the Embraer 170/175. I do think this made the transition easier.

Did you feel like you had an advantage compared to others in your class because of your training at LIFT Academy?

Mike – I believe my training at LIFT gave me a bit of a leg up with respect to my training at Republic. First off, the culture and training methodology at Republic was already somewhat familiar since LIFT’s approach was modeled after it. Checklists, call outs, cockpit flows and emergency procedures also were quite similar. With that stated, I have tremendous respect for the 20+ pilots in my training class who didn’t come from LIFT. They were all professional, helpful and great pilots in their own right, and I’m excited to be colleagues with them at Republic.

What tools did you rely on the most during your training at Republic?

Mike – My training partner, Jason Shank, who was a fellow instructor during my time at LIFT, was a huge asset. We worked really well together, and I’m confident that we will be lifelong friends as a result. The support of my family and friends as well as my own tenacity and desire to succeed played a significant role in successfully navigating the training process. I also had to keep reminding myself that at the end of the day, despite the speed and the awesome technological capabilities of the Embraer 170/175, it still has wings, a tail, a rudder and ailerons just like any other airplane. With that being the case, I was able to rely a great deal on my training and experience in single engine aircraft.

What is it like to be a commercial airline pilot?

Mike – I’m really enjoying being a commercial airline pilot. The camaraderie of the crew is great. We all work together as a team to get our passengers safely (and hopefully on time) to their destinations. Personally, I love seeing new cities or parts of the country that I may not have spent much time in before. I also take a lot of pride in being part of the transportation industry. I like the idea that I’m playing a role in helping families and friends get together, to connect. I like the thought that I might be assisting people see and experience new places and cultures through travel. I’m also playing a small part in facilitating business and commerce across geographic areas. All of this is exceptionally rewarding to me, and I like the responsibility that comes with it.

What do you have to look forward to in your career as a pilot?

Mike – I’m looking forward to continuing to enhance my skills, and I’d like to eventually upgrade to Captain at Republic. While some view regional airlines like Republic as stepping stones to a career at a major airline or cargo carrier, I think I’d like to spend my whole career here. I’m excited that Republic is building its new headquarters and state-of-the-art training center a short drive from my house as I might like to become part of the training staff at some point. I’d also like to keep my CFI rating current, so perhaps I can share my passion for aviation and this new career with others who might want to get a glimpse into what it’s all about.