Bellevue resident Reily Finnelly is a pilot in the Air Force Reserve. Finnelly gets to do what she loves: fly planes and travel the world. Photo courtesy of the Department of Defense.

Bellevue resident Reily Finnelly is a pilot in the Air Force Reserve. Finnelly gets to do what she loves: fly planes and travel the world. Photo courtesy of the Department of Defense.

Destined to fly, Bellevue resident becomes Air Force pilot

Pilot Reily Finnelly travels all over the world with Air Force

It was Amelia Earhart who said you can do anything you decide to do. She said, “You can act to change and control your life and the process is its own reward. “

For Reily Finnelly, 27, the process to become a pilot was long and, at times, discouraging.

As a child, the Bellevue native had no idea she would be flying planes all over the world with the military.

Finnelly comes from a long line of pilots. Her father’s side of the family has been heavily involved in aviation. Two of her uncles fly for commercial airlines, just like her grandfather did before them. Although she was destined to become a pilot herself, Finnelly chose a different route, and it wasn’t until she was in college that she decided to follow in her family’s footsteps.

While finishing her degree at Washington State University, Finnelly first pursued and received her civilian pilot license. She later decided she wanted to join the Air Force Reserve.

During that process, Finnelly also worked at Kenmore Air as a dispatcher and a customer service agent.

“The whole process takes a long time,” she said. “It’s easy to get discouraged [with] the timeline itself, paperwork issues, and things would come up. I would say to myself ‘is this worth pursuing?’”

Reily Finnelly has operated the C-17, a four-engine aircraft that moves cargo and people wherever they need to go in the world. Photo courtesy of the Department of Defense

Reily Finnelly has operated the C-17, a four-engine aircraft that moves cargo and people wherever they need to go in the world. Photo courtesy of the Department of Defense

Finnelly said she had the big end result in sight, and she accepted the fact that it was going to take a while to get there.

It was all worth it in the end. Finnelly now has the opportunity to fly all over the world with the military to places like Germany, Japan, Hawaii and South Korea.

Flying for the military, Finnelly has operated the C-17 aircraft, a four-engine aircraft that moves cargo and people wherever they need to go in the world. Finnelly said cargo can be anything from medical equipment for evacuation patients to vehicles, and even people airdropping from the aircraft.

Finnelly said flying in the military has given her the opportunity to see many different places and experience a lot of things.

The best thing about her job are the people she works with. Most of her “coworkers” are older, and she considers them great mentors and good people to look up to. Finnelly said she aspires to be like them one day.

Finnelly also mentioned that she’s fortunate to not have run into issues for being a female pilot.

“Luckily, I’ve been treated the same as any male in my position,” she said. “I’m lucky in that regard.”

She said the pilots she works with are welcoming. Finnelly is just another pilot and what she has to say and the experiences she brings to the table are just as valid as anybody else’s.

“Whether anybody wants to be a pilot, or ‘something’ out of the norm, people shouldn’t be held back by not wanting to venture out and forge a new path and try something different,” she said. “That could be the best thing for you — the best fit.”

“Luckily, I’ve been treated the same as any male in my position. “I’m lucky in that regard,” Reily Finnelly said. Photo courtesy of the Department of Defense.

“Luckily, I’ve been treated the same as any male in my position. “I’m lucky in that regard,” Reily Finnelly said. Photo courtesy of the Department of Defense.

For Finnelly leaving no stone unturned has brought her to where she is today.

When she’s not flying, Finnelly enjoys spending time at the CrossFit gym, downhill skiing in the winter, and hiking and swimming in the summertime.

Finnelly was also featured in a recent issue of Futures Magazine that is distrubted to 90% of high schools in the country. The top military magazine provides an in-depth look at the lives of people, like Finnelly, who make up today’s military.

For the last couple of months, Finnelly has been training to be a civilian pilot for Compass Airlines, which is based out of Seattle.

“For me, another huge perk of my job is the fact that it’s allowed me to travel the world and still stay in the Bellevue [area],” she said. “It’s always nice knowing that I get to come back home to the Pacific Northwest. You can’t beat that.”


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Bellevue resident Reily Finnelly is a pilot in the Air Force Reserve. Finnelly was born into a family of pilots. Photo Courtesy of the Department of Defense.

Bellevue resident Reily Finnelly is a pilot in the Air Force Reserve. Finnelly was born into a family of pilots. Photo Courtesy of the Department of Defense.

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