According to Denise Wilson, there are two keys to success: resilience, and a deep sense of knowing anything is possible. Wilson is the founder, president and CEO of Desert Jet, an aircraft charter, management and maintenance company based in Palm Springs. Since inception, Desert Jet has grown significantly and experienced much success.
Before she founded Desert Jet, Wilson was a professional oboist in Los Angeles. She played in orchestras and taught music while also learning how to fly airplanes on the side. Her love of flying goes back to her childhood. Her mother was one of the first female engineers and became a subcontractor for Boeing in the early 1980’s. When Wilson was 13, she got to travel to Seattle with her mother for a meeting and was able to visit the Museum of Flight. Ever since then, she has had been fond of airplanes.
When she was in high school, she asked her parents if she could do a demo flight, but they refused. On her 18th birthday, she went to a local airport in Claremont and paid 25 dollars for a demo flight. The experience was less than ideal and so she put flying aside for a time. It wasn’t until she was playing music that the flame was rekindled. She befriended a fellow musician who also happened to be a flight instructor.
In Los Angeles, her new friend taught Wilson how to fly. On one occasion, after a 40-minute flight, she recalls thanking him as they descended into the Long Beach Airport airstrip. He reminded her she wasn’t done yet because she still had to land the plane. She was nervous. She didn’t think she could do it, but with a little help from a good flight instructor she landed the plane.
As she got more flights in, she worked her way up to a commercial status change. In 2000, she decided to make a career change and became an airline pilot. She then upgraded to captain and eventually became a pilot for Aloha Airlines. As a pilot, she always felt like there was something bigger, something more.
Wilson spent a short time working for a charter company at the Orange County airport in Santa Ana in 2005. In 2007, she realized there was a need for someone with her attention to detail and knowledge in setting up flight departments and assisting with aircraft acquisitions. In 2007, Desert Jet was founded. Since that time, Desert Jet has earned an air carrier certificate, started a maintenance company that repairs jets, and opened a private jet terminal and hangar facility.
Desert Jet has been highly successful, but the journey has not been without resistance. Initially, people used to tell Wilson the idea would fail, so she started the company on her own. Since then, the team has been thrown many roadblocks along the way, but they always just keep going.
“Over the last ten years,” she says, “it’s been a series of people telling me I can’t do something, but I just keep proving them wrong.”
Indeed, Wilson has displayed resilience at every step of the way. Her work does not end at being a pilot and entrepreneur, however. She also gives back in various ways.
Wilson and her team of pilots use their aircraft to help however they can. Teaming up with Pilots N Paws, many of Desert Jet’s pilots are involved in missions to transport animals to their adopted owners, free of charge. The Desert Jet crew also partners with Angels Flight West, which is a non-profit organization that pairs children and adults with serious medical needs with volunteer pilots. Some of the missions she’s done include flying children in need to various camps. For example, burn victims and children who were born with HIV or AIDS have been flown to special summer camps. These children would not normally be able to attend camp because of economic hardship and distance.
Through her resilience, success and charity, Wilson has proven that anything is, in fact, possible.