About Cheryl

   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 in Raeford, North Carolina, while he taught her competitive skydiving. She moved there 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 7,500 feet and during freefall completing a series of six maneuvers (360-degree 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 to become 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 the 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 or 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 remained with the successors to Piedmont and retired as an American Airlines Captain in July 2020. She is currently employed by Eastern Airlines as a Boeing 767 flight simulator instructor.

   Cheryl’s greatest achievement wasn’t winning a competition or receiving an award. Recovering from a head injury, after being hit by a car while biking in 2014, was her greatest achievement. As is characteristic of her, after setting a goal of recovering in two years, she used her determination and diligence to do the hard work to rehab her brain. Two years and one week after the accident, she passed the neuropsych test, regained her FAA medical certificate, and returned to work as a Captain on the Airbus 319, 320, 321 for American Airlines. 

   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 non-profit organization, Children of Fallen Heroes, skydiving team.