When she’s flying on a commercial airline, Lt. Page Felini has no trouble telling whether the pilot served in the Air Force or Navy.
“If it’s a soft landing, it’s an Air Force guy,” Felini says. “If we hit and bounce, it’s a Navy guy.
“When you land on an aircraft carrier, you bounce because you have to be prepared to take off immediately if you don’t hit the wire and don’t stop.”
Felini (Engr ’00) knows all about that because she is a Navy pilot—in fact, the first female pilot in the Navy’s flight demonstration team. She attended UVA on an ROTC scholarship and received her commission upon graduation. She has logged 1,600 flight hours in an F-18 Super Hornet fighter jet and has made more than 250 carrier-arrested landings.
“That means I stopped on the boat,” she says with a laugh. “And that starts to wear on your back.
“Landing on an aircraft carrier is really a controlled crash. You’re coming in at a speed of around 140 knots [160 mph] and you’re stopping in less than 1,000 feet. It’s your own personal roller-coaster ride.”
Felini, 31, grew up in Cincinnati and now is a flight instructor at the Oceana Naval Base in Virginia Beach. She did two tours of duty in Iraq, where she flew 15 combat missions.
“Fortunately, it was a quiet time of the year,” she says of both her tours. “We did a lot of reconnaissance and a lot of sea patrolling in the Persian Gulf. On many occasions, we were called on to be the ‘eyes in the sky’ and talk ground troops on to targets.”
Felini considers herself lucky. She never took on fire, nor did she have to fire a missile or drop any ordnance.
As a member of the Navy’s demonstration team, she takes part in air shows across the country and around the world, including the Paris Air Show in 2007. “It’s a 17-minute thrill ride,” she says. Her brother, Lt. Cmdr. Paul Felini, a Naval Academy graduate, also is a Navy pilot, and the two have appeared together at air shows.
Page Felini has broken the sound barrier, but flying faster than 767 mph is not the big deal it was when Chuck Yeager exceeded Mach 1 in 1947. “When you’re in the airplane, you don’t even realize it,” Felini says. “But it does create a cone around the aircraft, and it’s amazing when you see pictures of it.”
Felini realized early on that the University was the place for her.
“UVA had everything I wanted and was everything I envisioned a university to be,” she said. “I knew from a very young age I would never be happy sitting behind a desk. I’ve always said I will stay in the Navy as long as I’m having a good time. And I am absolutely loving what I’m doing.”