Cleared for Takeoff
Chief pilot Scott Noss flies the friendly skies for the University of Mississippi.
Written by Shanna Flaschka | Photographed by Joe Worthem
Since 2001, Scott Noss has been taking Ole Miss to new heights. As the chief pilot for the University of Mississippi, he has achieved the dream of turning a passion into a successful and fascinating career.
As far back as he can remember, Noss wanted to be a pilot. He started flying at the age of 16, turned professional at 21 and has been working now for 35 years. Although his love for flying is deeply instilled in him now, his family played more than a small part in guiding him to his vocation.
“My mother’s father was a car mechanic at Rebel Chevrolet in Oxford,” Noss said. “He bought a WWI surplus airplane, assembled it, and taught himself to fly it on his farm, which later became the Oxford Municipal Airport south of town. He became one of the first pilots in the area. And my father was a flight instructor in the Navy. So I think it was in my blood from both of my parents.”
That’s not to say that cracking into the business was easy. Noss worked his way up just like a dishwasher works his way up to head chef.
“When I graduated high school, I couldn’t afford to go to flight school, so I went to aircraft mechanics school,” Noss said. “I had a huge break at my first aircraft mechanic job: I was allowed to fly as well, and build my flight time.”
Even as a chief pilot, Noss still puts those early skills to work, since part of his responsibilities are doing scheduling and light maintenance on the airplane, as well as actually flying. In addition, he oversees two other UM pilots: Nick Belvedresi and Preston Powers.
One of the big parts of the job, however, is transporting the football team’s coaches and other support staff for away games. It’s not all work, though: If the schedule permits, the pilots get to watch the game. Those flights are ones Noss especially relishes.
“This is a very rewarding job in that we fly a great group of people working together for the greater good,” Noss said. “There have been many memorable flights, looking back. Flying to away games is always exciting, especially when we bring home a win — the mood is electric.”
On home game days, Noss and the rest of the crew at the University-Oxford Airport have to contend with an especially amped-up weekend.
“The volume of aircraft on a game weekend will go from the usual five to 10 airplanes a day to hundreds of airplanes a day,” Noss said. “It is not unusual to have 200 to 300 aircraft fly in and out on a home game weekend. Air traffic controllers come in and operate a control tower on home game weekends, and the airport staff does an excellent job managing the high volume of aircraft and people flying in and out of the airport.”
In addition to his work for the team and other folks at the university who need his services, Noss transports notable people like commencement speakers who are coming from far away, such as news anchor Tom Brokaw, who gave a memorable, lighthearted roast of Alabama in his speech to the 2016 graduating class.
What’s especially notable is that in all his years as a pilot, Noss can’t recall any dangerous emergencies that might have caused him to second-guess his life path.
“I’m very lucky,” Noss said. “My 35 years in aviation have been fairly uneventful as far as emergencies. I have flown mostly jet aircraft, though, which are very safe and have multiple backups. We keep the university airplane well maintained, as safety is our No. 1 goal.”
It’s a lot of work, but a job that still gives him a thrill. And what Noss loves best about it is what brought him to his career in the first place:
“Definitely the flying!” Noss said. “There are definite challenges to the job, keeping up with schedules, and weather can throw us a curveball sometimes. But it is rarely boring. Every day is different.”