by Dave Weiman
Published in Midwest Flyer – August/September 2019 issue
Cheri Rohlfing of Cleveland, Minnesota, first became interested in aviation while taking an Aerospace Science class her junior year in high school in Elk River, Minnesota. That summer she attended the first Minnesota Aviation Career Education (ACE) Camp and has been involved with the camp ever since!
Cheri started flying lessons at the age of 17, became a flight instructor while attending Minnesota State University Mankato (MSUM), and started flying for the airlines shortly after graduation. Currently, Cheri is a First Officer with Delta Air Lines flying the Airbus A320. In addition, she is a pilot recruiter, ambassador and propel liaison for the airline.
Cheri and her husband, Andy, met while she was attending MSUM. She was hired by Northwest Airlines (NWA) in May 2001, was furloughed for more than 5 years after 9/11, then recalled in 2007, shortly after NWA and Delta merged. Andy flew corporate for over 20 years, then applied at Delta and has been with them for a little over 4 years. Cheri has approximately 8,500 hours, and Andy more than 10,000.
Flying the Airbus A320 hasn’t been that difficult, Cheri says, but as with flying any aircraft, it took some time to feel completely comfortable with all the systems and how the airplane handles.
“When I first started with NWA, I was flying the DC-9 – something I’m super proud of because it was a challenging aircraft at times,” says Cheri. “The Airbus is fly-by-wire and we use a joystick to fly it.
“Now that I’ve been flying the Airbus for over 9 years, I love it, and I’ve figured out some techniques that make the flight smoother and more comfortable for the passengers. In addition, it has a very spacious flight deck, which makes it a great environment to work in.
“Weather can be an issue for any scheduled airline, but Delta is very proactive about cancelling flights and communicating with our customers early to try to help them reschedule their travel plans. The most challenging thing for me is getting to the airport with our crazy Minnesota winters!”
She says that the most rewarding aspect of flying for Delta has been the opportunities to give back and promote aviation to the next generation – “Something I am very passionate about.”
For personal flying, the Rohlfings belong to a flying club in Mankato that has a Piper Archer III. “We joined two years ago as a way for me to teach our sons to fly. It’s a great group of people and an awesome airplane. It has way more bells and whistles than what I did my flight training in!”
When not flying for Delta, Cheri teaches at Minnesota State University Mankato as an adjunct professor, and is involved in college programs, as well as aviation career education (ACE) camp.
Cheri enjoys working with college students and preparing them for careers in aviation. In addition to teaching, she is an advisor to the school’s student aviation organizations and helps with the Aviation Learning Community (ALC) on campus.
ALC is a program that allows freshman in the aviation program to live in the same dorm and on the same floor, and to take all of their first-year classes together. The group has a coordinator, who is an upperclassman in aviation, who guides the group with activities and study groups, and is there for them as an advisor for the year. This group also takes a course together called “First Year Experience,” which is designed to assist them with their transition from high school to college and helps them to succeed.
“One of the biggest concerns of incoming freshman is ‘will I have friends?’” says Cheri. “This program almost eliminates that concern. It’s been very successful!” This year, MSUM had such a huge interest in the program that the school added a second ALC!
For over 22 years, Cheri has volunteered with the Minnesota Aviation Career Education (ACE) Camp and is currently the camp director and chairperson.
ACE Camp is a week-long, overnight camp designed to introduce high school students to careers in aviation. The camp was founded in 1991 by the Minnesota Department of Transportation Office of Aeronautics in partnership with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Cheri says she loves seeing the smiles on the faces of the students after they take their first airplane ride, when they visit an air traffic control tower or participate in any number of other activities while at camp. The dates for the last of three ACE Camps in 2019 are July 14-20. For additional information, visit www.mnacecamp.org.
But that’s not all… In 2015, Cheri worked with Delta Air Lines to create the Women Inspiring our Next Generation (WING) Flight. High school girls fly to a fun, educational destination to encourage them to follow their dreams and achieve their goals. The entire flight is coordinated and operated by women pilots, flight attendants, charter coordinators, maintenance technicians, ground operations personnel, dispatchers, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) personnel, and air traffic controllers. This summer will be the 5th annual WING Flight (https://news.delta.com/all-female-wing-flight-if-they-can-do-it-i-can-do-it-too).
Cheri is a founding member of two Women in Aviation chapters in Minnesota – Stars of the North and Northern Lights. Visit www.starsofthenorth.org to learn more. She is also a board member and the banquet chairperson for the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame. This was her third year heading up the planning committee for the banquet which was held in Bloomington this past spring (www.mnaviationhalloffame.org).
As proud parents of three sons, Cheri and Andy enjoy spending time with them, watching their sporting events and assisting with Boy Scout activities. Most recently, Cheri taught their oldest son, Daniel, how to fly, which she said she really loved! Daniel received an aviation scholarship earlier this year to help him become a professional pilot like his parents. He started his Professional Flight Bachelor’s Degree at Minnesota State University Mankato in May.
“We are really excited for him as the industry is really booming right now. He also helps me with the Minnesota ACE Camp.
“Eric and Jacob both plan to follow in the family footsteps and pursue airline careers as well. I’m hoping to start flying with Eric this summer.”
The Rohlfings enjoy traveling, camping at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, spending the summer on the lake, and playing with their golden doodle “Murry.”