BY SHERI TRUSTY
When Kara Clifford joined her parents on a light aircraft flight, it set the course for the rest of her life. She became a licensed pilot by the time she was 17, and now, at age 29, she is about to become the Chief Pilot at Griffing Flying Service in Port Clinton.
“We just have to get the paperwork filed with the FAA,” Clifford said.
Lee Griffing taught Clifford how to fly at Griffing Flying Service’s former Sandusky location. As she learned, she knew she wanted to fly for the rest of her life.
“My parents were in full support. They made it out like it was normal, just as if I wanted to be a teacher,” Clifford said. “I knew I wanted to make a career of it. I changed my mind a hundred different times on how I would do that, but I always wanted to fly.”
Clifford was offered an internship with Griffing, and, after graduating from Bowling Green State University with a degree in aviation in 2015, she was hired as a flight instructor at Griffing’s Port Clinton location at 3255 E. State Rd.
“I was really fortunate to be hired here as a flight instructor,” she said.
A year and a half later, she began working in island operations, flying Griffing’s air taxis to the islands of Put-in-Bay, Middle Bass, North Bass, Kelleys, Rattlesnake and Pelee. She and the other pilots transport passengers, deliver mail, and fly supplies to the islands. During the school year, they transport students from Middle Bass to Put-in-Bay for school and fly teachers to Kelleys Island.
“The U.S. islands have 500 to 600 year-round residents, and they need groceries and to get to doctor’s appointments,” Clifford said. “Put-in-Bay’s school has a basketball team, so we fly them to the mainland for games and fly other teams to Put-in-Bay. It’s funny stuff like that you don’t think about. It’s a weird job, an oddball job, but it makes people really good pilots because we fly a lot.”
It also gives them a different perspective of Lake Erie.
“It’s really beautiful to see the lake change in the different seasons,” Clifford said. “We take people to Put-in-Bay for ice fishing, and I really fell in love with how the lake freezes.”
From there, Clifford became a charter captain, flying Griffing’s clients across the country on King Air jets.
“These are private flights. It can be a fun family trip or a business trip,” she said. “I get to see the country, which is pretty cool.”
Today, Clifford is as busy in the office as she is in the air. She will officially become Griffing’s Chief Pilot when the FAA paperwork is approved, but she is already doing administrative work and is back to her teaching roots, except now she is training seasoned pilots.
“I train all of our pilots. I love teaching, so it’s pretty cool that I started as a flight instructor here and am now teaching again,” she said. “Here at Griffing, I’m not just a number, and there’s a lot of opportunity to do different things.”
Less than 10% of licensed American pilots are female, yet Clifford said she has faced no pushback in her career. Part of the reason is the atmosphere at Griffing that developed under pilot Sue Griffing, who founded the business with her husband, Harry Thomas Griffing, Sr., in 1937. Sue’s example made a woman in the cockpit or at the conference table a normal sight.
“She helped make this company culture,” Clifford said.
Clifford experiences the same respect from most of her clients.
“I fly these big, gruff ice fishermen, and they’re happy to see a female pilot. They often want to send a photo of me to their daughter or niece,” Clifford said. “I actually get more crap for being young than for being a female pilot.”