WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio (WDTN) — There are few women C17 pilots in the U.S., but one very determined aircraft commander is flying right here in the Miami Valley.

Cecilia Photinos, or CJ for short, is a C17 pilot with the Air Force Reserve and a First Officer with American Airlines.

Ever since she was little, she’s always had her sights set on the skies.

“My dad was a pilot in the Air Force Reserve and also a commercial pilot. So growing up I would just see him coming home from trips and just–I was exposed to the military life; and I got to see him in all of his different uniforms; and I’d always steal his hats and those were my Halloween costumes. So for me, being a pilot was really the only path that I saw myself taking,” describes Cecilia.

Cecilia joined a flying club in high school to get her pilot’s license.

“I was just flying small Cessna’s when I was 16, 17, 18,” says Cecilia.

Enlisting in the Air Force when she was 17 years old, she went through pilot training and officer training school.

“I actually came here and I packed parachutes for four years while I finished my degree,” says Cecilia. “I just bugged the pilots here every single day, like, ‘I want to fly for you. I hope you know I want to fly for you.’ And they said ‘alright give us your degree and we’ll interview you and give you a shot.’ And it worked out! And so here I am almost ten years later!”

Cecilia has been flying for about a decade. She’s been flying C17s for about four years.

“You start in a prop aerobatic plane. So that one is a lot of fun. And then they work you up to like business– 7-person business jet I’d say. And then after that, they’re like here’s a C17,” smiles Cecilia.

“My first year I flew about 1,000 hours in this aircraft,” Cecilia points to the C17.

Commanding a half-a-million-pound aircraft, Cecilia is breaking barriers in the male-dominated aviation industry.

“At air shows you’ll get gentlemen who come up and I’ll be sitting here, and they’ll be like, ‘you’re not the pilot.’ And it’s like, well, yeah I am,” says Cecilia.

One of her most recent missions was flying in Afghanistan during evacuations.

“It was definitely very challenging, one of the more challenging ones I’ve gotten to do. But they sent us out as a crew, and you just work as a crew, and get the mission done,” states Cecilia.

Spending most of her time in the skies and living her dream in the air, she has advice for young girls aspiring to fly.

“There’s a stigma about girls in fields like this. So I would just tell them you absolutely can do this. You’re going to get push-back because it might not be the most popular field but if your heart’s set on it, then absolutely go for it,” says Cecilia.