First Officer Robert Melchionda, a United States Air Force retiree, has been with Atlas for more than two decades and has enjoyed introducing his son Thomas to the world of aviation.
“Thomas was born while I was in the Air Force and he grew up looking at the airplanes circling over our home,” said Robert. “He and his brother Matthew loved to look up and know dad was flying in the sky.”
Robert continued, “In my previous career with the Air Force, I was a C-5 Instructor Pilot and Director of Training at the Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Delaware. When I started with Atlas in 1999, Thomas was three years old. We continued to live near the base, where we loved watching the 747s.”
When Thomas was in middle school, Robert made plans to take him to the Miami Training Center, which was an eye-opening experience for Thomas.
“I was always fascinated with airplanes but being in the simulator was an amazing experience,” said Thomas. “It made me realize how much I wanted to be a pilot. I loved seeing the training center and meeting other pilots. I was like a kid in a candy store.”
“We were so lucky,” recalled Robert. “Atlas Flight Sim Instructor Frank Haigney was too kind to give me the opportunity to share this experience with Thomas.”
After middle school, Thomas entered PolyTech High School of Kent County in Delaware, which offers specialty training in 22 technical programs of study.
“I applied to PolyTech specifically for the aviation program,” said Thomas. “Once you are accepted into the school, you have to compete for your ‘shop’ or technical area. I applied for and was accepted into Airway Science, which was a program through Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFJROTC).”
“During my sophomore year of high school, I had to apply for a flying slot, which was paid for by the high school and enabled you to get your private flying license,” explained Thomas. I had to interview, submit a resume, and have a GPA of 3.5 or higher. I was extremely excited when they confirmed my acceptance. It was the first step towards starting my aviation career.”
“Thomas was the only student to successfully complete the program that year,” said Robert. “He was the AFJROTC Group Commander and won numerous awards for his outstanding work.”
While he was a senior in high school, Thomas had the opportunity to concurrently attend Delaware State University (DSU) to earn his instrument rating. He enrolled in DSU and commuted between the college and high school. Upon graduation from high school, he transitioned to DSU full-time and entered the university’s aviation program.
In 2017, while Thomas was at DSU, Robert took the opportunity to approach Greg Kappen, Atlas Senior Director Flight Ops in CVG, to inquire about whether Atlas had an internship program his son might qualify for.
“He received a call that he won the internship and we were asked how quickly he could get to Miami,” Robert recalled.
“While I was in Miami, I had the opportunity to work for Ron Barber, Director Flight Ops in Performance Engineering (PE) and Ray Marois, Manager of Performance Engineering at the Training Center,” said Thomas. “I worked hard. I didn’t want to appear naïve, so I studied every night, and I called my dad regularly to ask a multitude of questions relating to my job.”
“It was a great experience to see firsthand how an airline operates,” said Thomas. “I got a behind-the-scenes look that many pilots never get to see.”
“Those life-lines helped him build confidence. He became a real problem solver under Ron and Ray’s tutelage,” said Robert. “Once the internship was over, the PE team offered Thomas a position as a contractor for the Company.”
While working as a contractor, Thomas continued his studies at DSU and earned all his ratings. After graduating from college, he took a full-time job working for DSU as a flight instructor and check airman.
In February 2020, Thomas heard about and applied to Atlas’ Pilot Pathways program. He was one of the first to apply. Thomas completed the program as well as the 737 program and joined Atlas as a First Officer in November 2020.
“Thomas is only 24 now and has already accomplished so much,” said Robert. “He wanted a career in aviation early on, since the age of 13. I can remember that little boy sitting in N499MC at Dover AFB and I now see the young man sitting in the 737. I could not be prouder of my son and what he has achieved.”
“Growing up, I always knew I wanted to fly cargo and I saw a future with Atlas,” said Thomas. “I was familiar with the operations; it was where I always wanted to go. My dad taught me to be goal-oriented, and I never fell off track. I am so lucky and so blessed to be in my position to have the opportunities that this Company has given me.”