Reach New Heights - Gabby Abner's Journey with EKU Aviation

Gabby Abner

"The desire to fly is an idea handed down to us by our ancestors who, in their grueling travels across trackless lands in prehistoric times, looked enviously on the birds soaring freely through space, at full speed, above all obstacles, on the infinite highway of the air."  
— Wilbur Wright


In the spring of 2012, something happened that changed Gabrielle Abner's life forever: she got on an airplane. A chain of events began, which led Abner to EKU. With the help of EKU’s faculty and staff, her determination and laser focus, Abner accomplished what seemed impossible to her a few years earlier. She became a pilot.

Abner grew up in an environment where expectations were low. With the exception of her mother, Abner had no encouragement to go to college -- but she knew she wanted more. "I was determined to get a college degree,” she explained. “I encountered many struggles along the way and various problems came into my life that I never would have imagined facing.” 

Gabrielle Abner's Story

Sometimes in life things find you and sometimes those are the most amazing and life-changing experiences anyone can be lucky enough to have.

An opportunity came for me to go on a free business trip. The catch was: I had to fly. People from my small town do not get on airplanes. You will crash. You will be lucky to get to your destination alive. I struggled to find the courage to accept the offer and decided to take a chance.

From the moment I arrived at the airport I felt a sense of curiosity, excitement, nervousness and, oddly enough, belonging. I watched the arriving and departing traffic and I was amazed that those huge chunks of metal could actually fly. Standing there that day, in the midst of all things aviation, I had no idea my small town outlook was about to be changed forever.

I boarded the plane. The time passed slowly, unbearably so, until the door was latched. The option to change my mind was slipping away. We began moving. Looking out the window made the situation more confusing. There were many little roads -- like a web. I could not predict where we were heading next. The engines roared. "This is it. Ready or not. No turning back now."

As the brakes were released, I said a silent prayer and then…wow, what a rush. Free of the ground, I was flooded with emotion. The flight was over all too soon and despite the dire predictions from my family and friends, I survived.

On the return flight, I was so excited. I couldn’t wait to get back up into the sky. Days after, I couldn’t get the flight out of my mind. I became more and more obsessed with flying. This bug was hard to shake off. 

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The idea tossed around in my mind for a few weeks as I weighed the pros and cons of becoming a pilot. The support from my mother was enough to keep the fire burning. I began to look at careers in aviation. Once I set the goal to become a pilot, a new challenge arose. I knew what I wanted to do, but how? I began researching what the training process looked like, the costs, and the requirements.

I found out that the majority of airlines require at least a bachelor’s degree. Many schools promised a quick training experience that would render you job ready in months. True, within months a student could finish flight training with airline minimums and gain enough general knowledge to pass required tests. However, the majority of these quick-train-schools did not equip students with a college degree. 

After exploring the EKU Aviation website and finding just what I was looking for, I decided to call the office and see for myself if the program was too good to be true. From that first call, my EKU experience was exceptional. For the first time since making this decision, I was treated respectfully. The staff were very helpful in explaining the structure of the program and the process of applying.

The staff set up a personal meeting for me and my family to come to visit the campus, talk with the Director of Aviation Ralph Gibbs and to see what EKU had to offer. Hearing success stories of students and encouraging words from staff members was motivating. In comparison with other college flight schools, the program at EKU was significantly more affordable.

Thanks to EKU I then knew what it would take to make my dreams a reality and I had a plan to get where I wanted to be.

Aviation and EKU have changed my life forever. Without the help and guidance I received from EKU faculty and staff, I would not have pursued aviation. I am especially grateful to Carole Moores, who truly cares about each student’s success.

Because the program is well-structured, I graduated ahead of schedule and I can without question say that I am job ready with my bachelor’s degree, flight training, competitive multi-engine time and restricted 1000-hour ATP eligible. Thanks to Eastern Kentucky University, my dreams are reality. I am now a pilot.


I learned to watch, to put my trust in other hands than mine. I learned to wander. I learned what every dreaming child needs to know — that no horizon is so far that you cannot get above it or beyond it. These I learned at once. But most things come harder.

— Beryl Markham, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west.

Published on April 26, 2016

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