Cheryl Stearns began skydiving in Arizona at age 17 after persuading her mother to sign for permission and loaning her the required forty dollars. Her father tried encouraging her in a new direction by paying for flying lessons. Cheryl fell in love with both activities and set her sights on success in both.
Cheryl continued developing her flying and parachuting skills while attending Scottsdale Community College on a tennis scholarship. In 1975, she graduated with an Associate in Arts degree and turned her attention to becoming a parachuting champion. She contacted world-renowned skydiving coach, Gene Paul Thacker. He agreed to let her work for him at his airport while he taught her competitive skydiving. She moved to Raeford, North Carolina, with her dog, her parachute gear, and fifty dollars in her pocket. Between flying and maintaining planes for Thacker’s skydiving center, she focused on honing her skills in the “classic” parachuting events, style and accuracy. Style consists of jumping from an altitude of 7,000 feet and during freefall completing a series of six maneuvers (turns and back loops) as quickly and precisely as possible. Accuracy involves controlling the parachute so that upon landing the skydiver’s heel touches the center of a target placed in the landing area. A two centimeter in diameter dot is a dead center score.
In 1977, after winning her first national championship and establishing a world record in accuracy, Cheryl joined the US Army and became the first female member of the Golden Knights, their elite parachute team. She served two three-year tours with the team as a competitor and performed special skydiving demonstrations. Her most memorable demonstration was parachuting with the American flag into the Statue of Liberty grounds. Cheryl completed her military service in Army Reserve and National Guard units, retiring after 29 years as a Master Sergeant.
Besides her success in skydiving, Cheryl has excelled as a pilot. After earning her instrument, multi-engine, and instructor ratings, she taught flying during her free time. She also earned degrees of Bachelor of Science in Aviation Administration (magna cum laude) and Master of Aeronautical Science from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Pope Air Force Base campus. She gained flying experience flying medical evacuation, teaching and competing in aerobatics, flying and jumping for Air Show America, and flying for Henson Airlines. In 1986, she was hired by Piedmont Airlines. She has remained with the successors to Piedmont and today is an American Airlines Captain on the Airbus 319, 320, 321.
Cheryl shares her aviation knowledge as a Captain with the Shelby, North Carolina, Civil Air Patrol Squadron cadets. She shares her parachuting skills by performing demonstration jumps as a member of the Children of Fallen Heroes Skydiving Angels team, a non-profit organization.