Tuesday, July 23, 2024

‘You either win or learn’: Young Diné pilot Caitlyn Begay getting a bird’s-eye view as flight instructor

‘You either win or learn’: Young Diné pilot Caitlyn Begay getting a bird’s-eye view as flight instructor

Editor’s note: Lee Carson, a Cheyenne pilot, passed on Monday, April 29, at the time of this writing. Caitlyn Begay said his passing deeply impacted those who knew him.

WINDOW ROCK – Diné flight instructor Caitlyn Begay said teaching her students has been the proudest moment of her life thus far.

The avid 23-year-old, who is from Oak Springs, Arizona, said she enjoys being able to share her story and experience with her students to prepare them for certain outcomes in life.

“I really want to help someone else,” said Begay, who is Honágháahnii and born for Tódích’íi’nii. Her maternal grandfather is Tó Dík’ǫ́zhí, and her paternal grandfather is Tsi’naajinii.

“Hoping to find inspiration to be that guide,” which is what she is teaching her students because she didn’t have that when she applied herself to aviation.
There’s a lot of opportunity in aviation, said Begay.

“I think with Native American youth there’s a lot of issues here (Navajo Nation),” which Begay referenced suicide, substance abuse, and alcoholism.

“They (youth) don’t really have a person to look up to (or) a person to help them push through that process,” she added.

Begay is a flight instructor at a flight school in Deer Valley in Phoenix.

Zero hours

The one thing that stuck with Caitlyn Begay growing up was aviation.

“As a kid, I always wanted to do something different,” Begay said. “I just didn’t know what it was,” she broadened her horizon in construction, agriculture, and photography.

After graduating from Window Rock High School in 2018, Begay pursued an associate of applied science degree at the University of New Mexico-Gallup in 2020.

Begay attended summer programs between high school and college at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona.

After that, she planned on studying civil engineering for land surveying, but because of the pandemic, Begay chose to move to Phoenix for flight training.

Begay worked for the Navajo Department of Transportation in airport management at Window Rock Airport. Now, Begay has been flying for roughly two years, from the time she began “zero hours” from start to finish.

She holds a private pilot license, commercial single-engine land, and commercial multi-engine land, with an added instrument rating, certified flight instructor, and certified flight instructor—instrument. But she’s not done yet.

The go-getter pilot is on the waitlist for multi-engine flight instructor training, which she is studying daily to prepare.

Lending a hand

“I never really met a Native American pilot before, especially a woman,” Caitlyn Begay shared.

But that changed. Based on the hurdles she overcame, such as paying out of pocket for flight training and being redirected by the Office of Navajo Nation Scholarship and Financial Assistance, Begay had to make connections independently. One recommendation came from Arlando Teller, the assistant secretary for Tribal Government Affairs at the U.S. Department of Transportation, who suggested the Window Rock Airport.

According to Begay, an ONNSFA representative informed her that ONNSFA could not fund her field since it was a vocational school, leading her to seek other options.

It is how she was introduced to Lee Carson, a Cheyenne pilot, who had done some previous work with the Navajo Nation and partnered on a few projects.

“(He) broaden my job opportunities,” Begay said, leading her to teach in the first place.

“I love to teach,” which, by surprise, was unexpected, but she has grown fond of it.

Going into a whole new field with very little Native American representation, especially Native women, she admitted there was little guidance aside from the ones she has received so far.

“You either win or learn” has been Begay’s motto for tackling such a challenging field of sacrifice, discipline, and long hours of training.

But it is ultimately worth it as Begay “wants to help people.” She aims to advocate for funding as some scholarships do not align with one’s field.

She hopes to continue to pursue this and be a prime example of how it is “not easy.” She added that when she arrived on her first day of flight training, it was a “fire hose” of information.

“You either win or learn,” which means that, according to Begay, one can either curl up in a ball or learn how to navigate a situation to create a better outcome.

About The Author

Boderra Joe

Boderra Joe is a reporter and photographer at Navajo Times. She has written for Gallup Sun and Rio Grande Sun and has covered various beats. She received second place for Sports Writing for the 2018 New Mexico Better Newspaper Awards. She is from Baahazhł’ah, New Mexico.


Weather & Road Conditions

Window Rock Weather


72.0 F (22.2 C)
Dewpoint: 44.1 F (6.7 C)
Humidity: 37%
Wind: Southeast at 8.1 MPH (7 KT)
Pressure: 30.36

More weather »