From Private Aviation to Covert Operations

Alumna makes a career in the CIA.

Patricia A. Hetu-Tkacik (’83, DB; ’90, WW) never imagined her love of flying would lead her to a job with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

The CIA was seeking someone with an aviation background, and she was hired in 1986 as a specialized skills officer at the agency. Hetu-Tkacik holds a Bachelor of Science in Aeronautical Science and a Master of Aeronautical Science from Embry-Riddle.

“When I first started, it had to do with aviation, which was my first love,” says Hetu-Tkacik, who has been with the agency 30 years and currently serves as a senior recruitment manager with the CIA’s Directorate of Operations (DO).

A pilot, Hetu-Tkacik did not fly for the agency, but was hired for her civilian aviation knowledge. She worked in the DO, primarily at CIA Headquarters in Washington D.C., but with frequent business trips worldwide.

She eventually became a manager with the DO, also known as the Clandestine Service, which is the arm of the CIA that conducts covert operations and recruits foreign agents.

“When working overseas, I couldn’t acknowledge who I worked for,” she says. “When I am working with folks overseas, it helps me get access to certain people, and it also safeguards me and my family.”

Hetu-Tkacik says contrary to popular belief, it is possible to have a family and work for the CIA. When she was out of the country, her husband, who is a nurse practitioner, cared for their son, who is now 26 years old.

She quickly discovered that she loved working for the agency. “When you see all the things going on in the world and when you see collecting some intelligence might help and protect us, it becomes an addiction,” Hetu-Tkacik says.

From Pilot to CIA Officer

Hetu-Tkacik’s father was in the U.S. Navy, so her family lived everywhere from Puerto Rico to London, to the Washington, D.C., area. After deciding to study aviation, she chose to attend Embry-Riddle.

“ERAU was the cream of the crop, the golden nugget,” she says. “It was the school you went to if you wanted to make it in aviation.”

Hetu-Tkacik says the university was the perfect school to feed her passion for flying.

Patricia A. Hetu-Tkacik speaks with Embry-Riddle students following an on-campus presentation.
Patricia A. Hetu-Tkacik speaks with Embry-Riddle students following an on-campus presentation. (Photo by Chris DeAugustine)

“I loved it from the very first moment I went down there, because by the second week of my freshman year, I was already flying,” she says. “By Christmas, I had already soloed.”

Her graduation was equally memorable. “We graduated on the tarmac,” she says. “It started raining and we all took cover in the airplanes until the storm was over.”

Upon graduating, she took a job as a pilot for a corporate charter airline carrying cargo, plus worked as a flight instructor.

“I flew a Piper Navajo up and down the East Coast—all day and in all kinds of weather,” Hetu-Tkacik says. “After doing that for a year, I kept looking for my next challenge.”

Family Ties

Although she loved flying, she wasn’t sure she wanted to make it her lifelong career, so she applied to the CIA, where her father had worked for four years in public relations. “The agency offered me a different challenge,” she explains.

In her current role she recruits U.S. citizens for jobs at the CIA in a variety of fields, including aviation. Her background as a pilot helps her daily with management and people skills.

“In 30 years, what I enjoy most about the job is the people,” Hetu-Tkacik says. “It is a camaraderie, like the military, but even more so. We are very family oriented and we really watch each other’s backs.”

Still passionate for aviation, she and her husband are currently building an airplane together. “I still fly and I still love it,” Hetu-Tkacik says.