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Antonina Shevchenko

Fight and flight

Summers in Las Vegas are hot. Midday flying is out of the question, but Antonina Shevchenko was determined to earn her pilot certificates and ratings—no summers off.

Antonina Shevchenko
Antonina Shevchenko

Shevchenko would wake up around 4 a.m. to get to the airport at 6 and fly before the heat set in. Then Shevchenko, a UFC fighter and 11-time world champion in Muay Thai, K-1, and mixed martial arts, would go back to the gym to train. Those days were hard, Shevchenko said, but they were happy. She knew she was headed for the right career.

Shevchenko grew up in Kyrgyzstan, where she fell in love with aviation through the books of Antoine de St. Exupéry and Richard Bach. She came to the United States about six years ago for her professional fighting career and began flight lessons in late 2018.

“I just loved it from the first time,” she said. In the past four years, she earned her private, commercial single- and multi-engine certificates and instrument rating, and she recently qualified as a first officer in the Pilatus PC–12 for charter operator Tradewind Aviation.

Among her challenges in training was learning the language of aviation in a second language. She recalled hunkering down with a textbook from Rod Machado, translating every fourth or fifth word.

“Sometimes I was just sitting there thinking, I can’t do this. Because it’s so slowly. And it’s so much information, and it’s endless information, and I thought OK, I will digest little by little, just half a page of this book a day, but I will do this.”

When training intensively for a fight, Shevchenko couldn’t fly, so she focused on ground training. After the fight, she’d be ready for the next knowledge test and move on to training for the next rating. She also took the opportunity to explore the United States in her Cessna 172.

“I wanted so much to discover how this industry works, how the U.S. looks from above, how is flying across the States,” she said. “And I did all these flights alone. And I just wanted to know if I can do this…The moments when you’re in the air, in your airplane, by yourself, in the middle of nowhere, and you have on the ground just trees or rivers or sea or water, it’s just very precious moments.”

Now, Shevchenko is focused on learning more about the PC–12 as she flies routes in the Northeast and Caribbean. She likened flying to martial arts, where fighters continually train new techniques.

“Aviation is the same, you have to constantly be training and training and learning new skills because if you don’t, you lose it,” she said. “I’m very happy that I discovered this aviation, and then I was able to achieve some stuff, and to have it now as my next career because it is what I love to do and it’s really, really exciting.”

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Sarah Deener

Sarah Deener

Senior Director of Publications
Senior Director of Publications Sarah Deener is an instrument-rated commercial pilot and has worked for AOPA since 2009.

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