In the Cockpit: Q&A with Lamont Darling

What inspired you to get involved in aviation?

I remember my dad taking me to look at planes at the Lynden International Airport in Nassau, Bahamas (formerly known as Nassau International Airport) as far back as I can remember. I think I might have been three when we started doing that! I loved watching planes take off and land, and I knew even from that early age, that I needed to find a way to be around planes.

After high school, I got a job at the airport.  I started as a baggage handler and then I started cleaning planes. After that, I became a ticketing agent, then a boarding agent and eventually, I became a pilot. Each job got me one step closer to my dream.

Lamont Darling

When did you know you wanted to be a pilot?

I don’t remember ever not wanting to be a pilot. Everyone I went to school with knew I wanted to be a pilot! So many airlines would fly into Nassau and I would always stare out the window in my classroom at the planes. A teacher once told me I would never make any money looking out a window. Years later, I was piloting a plane and that same teacher came on board. I reminded her that I was the student she said would never earn money looking at planes.

While I was working at the airport in various roles, I enrolled in flight school in Daytona Beach. I’d complete a training and then come back to the Bahamas to work at the airport and earn money for the next class. It took me longer than most pilots to complete flight school, since I was always back and forth between Daytona and Nassau.

I had two mentors who played a significant role in my becoming a pilot. Sharell McSweeney was a pilot at Lee Air Charter, while I was a baggage handler and she would fly me around and teach me what she was doing. My other mentor was Captain and Check Airman Buscheme Armbrister. He took me out flying and pushed me to be my best. He taught me to be patient, take my time and go research what I didn’t know and come back with the answer. He played a significant role in my becoming the pilot I am today.

What is your most memorable moment since becoming a pilot?

When I was a kid, I knew I wanted to be a pilot, but I never saw any pilots that looked like me.  Any time I put my pilot’s uniform on, it’s memorable to me. It shows the world that as a black man, I can do anything and overcome any challenge. I love walking through the airport in my uniform, holding my head high. It makes me proud when people come up to me with their kids and tell me I am a role model. I give out my number and tell people to call me if they want help becoming a pilot. I tell them how I came from a poor, very violent area in the Bahamas, but I persevered, and they can too.

What is the most interesting cargo you have ever flown?

Human cargo! At my last airline, I particularly liked flying children, as they like to see what’s going on. I enjoyed showing them around the cockpit and explaining how things work.

What’s your favorite origin?

I used to love flying from LGA because it is challenging. There are lots of delays with weather and it was always a challenge, but I like a challenge! At Southern, I love flying from Rockford, Illinois. It’s easy in and easy out.

What’s your favorite destination?

Of all the places I’ve landed, my favorite was Ontario, Canada. I flew there once, and it was so different than anything I had ever seen. I’m from the tropics and this was just so different. I was unable to go sightseeing then, but I’d love to go back and explore.

What’s the best place to watch planes land?

The best place to watch planes land is in Miami. There is a variety of planes coming into that airport, and there are many different places at the airport to watch them land and take off. It’s an awesome spot.

What’s your favorite place to watch a sunset – in the air or on the ground?

In the air!  The views I get up there, watching the sun rise or set, there are no words to explain. A painter cannot paint a portrait of how beautiful it is. Sometimes it’s behind the clouds or on the ocean, but either way, it’s amazing.

What’s the best part about being a pilot?

The best part of being a pilot is actually being in control of a machine. It’s amazing to move a machine like that. You take the plane from point A to point B. Once the wheels leave the ground, it’s an amazing feeling.