Queensbury grad’s future takes flight

Stephanie Hand wasn’t entirely sure what her future held when she graduated from Queensbury High School in 2017. 

The middle child from a large, athletic family, Hand won a scholarship to play Division 1 field hockey at Siena. Unfortunately, Siena discontinued the field hockey program after her first year. Woman stands next to plane

Also during her freshman year of college, her father, Kenneth Hand, passed away at age 55 following a battle with bile duct cancer. He was a pilot for UPS.

Before her father died, Stephanie told him she was interested in ROTC and wanted to be a pilot too. 

“It was always kind of a thought because my dad was in the Army and he flew for UPS,” Hand said. “It was just always back there in my mind, but I didn’t think it was actually what I was going to do.”

She took flight lessons at the local airport with Leaf Air from the summer of 2018 until she graduated from Siena in 2021. She was commissioned as a second lieutenant and sent to Vance Air Force Base in Enid, Oklahoma. 

Woman fixing planeHand did two months of initial flight training in Pueblo, Colorado and learned to fly the Diamond Aircraft 20, known as the DA20. She is currently in the T-1 program for several months, and then she finds out what she will fly for active duty Air Force.

“It’s so amazing that I’m getting paid to do this,” said Hand, now 24. “I think that the best part for me was how steep the learning curve was and how rewarding of a process it was, because I went from not knowing how to do anything really, and by the end I was able to fly 10 feet away from another plane in formation solo. It’s really cool. I love the learning part of it.”

She credits the athletics program at Queensbury Union Free School District for teaching her the skills she needed to work as a team in the Air Force. 

“I had amazing coaches,” said Hand, who lauded Queensbury’s field hockey coach Jeanne Chirgwin. 

The two still stay in touch, Chirgwin said. Air Force pilots

“Steph was one of the most skilled and dedicated players that I have ever had the pleasure to work with,” Chirgwin said. “Her positive attitude and commitment to her team and sport made her a natural leader.”

Hand’s teammates truly admired her and looked up to her, Chirgwin recalled. 

“She has always led by positive example,” Chirgwin said. “It is no surprise to me how successful Steph has become in her chosen field. When she is determined to do something and being the best she can be, nothing can stand between Steph and her goals.”

Hand admits that when she was a high school senior, a career flying planes seemed a bit out of reach. 

Pilot stands with mother“I think once you learn more about yourself and get a little more experience, you figure out what would best suit you,” she said. “I think it’s important to do things that you might be a little bit scared to do.”

Hand plans to stay involved in the Air Force, whether it’s in the guard or the reserves, but still has another plan in the back of her mind. 

“I think eventually,” she said, “I would want to fly for UPS.”