Career Profile

Canelon: 'Never take no for an answer'

January 17, 2014

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Francesca Canelon admits she didn’t have the best grades in high school. But she did have a determination to succeed, and that is taking her far.

Canelon will graduate in May from the U. S. Naval Academy and then will begin training as a naval aviator at the Naval Air Station Pensacola.

The 24-year-old didn’t take the usual route direct to get to this spot, however. Most go directly from high school to military academies or ROTC programs at local colleges. Instead, Canelon enlisted in the U.S. Navy after graduating from high school “because it didn’t feel right to go to college.” She says she knew that option would help pay for her education through the GI Bill, something she couldn’t afford on her own.

She first trained and worked as an aviation mechanic, and then as a flight engineer. Along the way, however, her interest in flying was piqued, and she applied to and was accepted into the Naval Academy when she was 21.
“Aviation was all I had done in my enlisted time,” she says. “It engrained in me the love of aviation and the community within.”

Canelon’s major is aeronautical engineering; she says that also has been her biggest challenge.
“I picked a tough major,” she says. “Aeronautical engineering is one of the hardest majors, and I didn’t have a good foundation coming out of high school. But that was my fault because I wasn’t that focused in high school.”
But for other students at the Naval Academy, learning how to deal with stress is probably the biggest challenge, she says. “A lot is thrown at you all at once, and you have to learn to deal with that,” she explains.
Canelon says she has been successful because she had a plan and was very determined.

“In the military, you need goals because it is a very stressful environment, and if you are not determined, you don’t get there,” she says, noting that she is speaking only on her behalf. “But if this is what you want to do without doubts, you will be successful. I’ve invested a lot into becoming a Navy pilot, and I have no doubt I will make it. It really comes down to how much you want it.”

But you do need to be proactive, she says. Do your research and make sure you know what you are getting into.
Canelon knows what is ahead for her, and she realizes it won’t be easy. As a Navy pilot, she won’t just be flying, but she will also have other duties. “In the beginning, it will be very hectic because you are trying to get qualified as a pilot and there is a lot of studying and simulators, all while still doing your collateral duties. For the first three years, I’ll have time for nothing but my job.”

And once deployed, it will become a 24-hour-a-day job, she acknowledges.

Still, it’s a job she is looking forward to doing. She isn’t a pilot yet, and doesn’t know what type of plane she’ll eventually fly. But she is looking forward to learning to fly as a naval aviator.

For others wanting to become a military pilot, her advice is to study hard in high school and to be involved. “Don’t just be a bookworm,” Canelon says. “You need to be well rounded and involved in a lot of clubs or community service. At the end of the day, the Navy will teach you everything you need to learn, but you need to be able to relate to people and be open minded.”

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