Hannah Hartung, Cleared for Takeoff

The easy answer, if there ever was one, would have been for Hannah Hartung to suit up as a Nebraska gymnast—being the daughter of Husker gymnastics legend Jim Hartung and having grown up competing under the Nebraska School of Gymnastics—but she’s never been one to take the easy road.

Never one to back down from a challenge, Hartung decided against staying in Lincoln for college. Her choice was driven by wanting to contribute to lineups and be wherever she could do that to the best of her ability. 

Her path into the cockpit began more than 4,000 miles away on a recruiting trip in Anchorage. She had been invited on an official visit while being recruited by Alaska when then-graduate assistant coach Marie-Sophie Boggasch showed Hartung around her plane. At that moment, she was sold on competing as a Seawolf on her way to becoming a pilot. On a subsequent visit to Eastern Michigan she was initially hesitant, warming up to the idea and eventually signing with the team upon learning they have two aviation streams available for study. The final reason, in her words? “Michigan just felt a little closer to Nebraska.”

Once enrolled at Eastern Michigan in the fall of 2019, Hartung began what felt like a double major. Between ground school and flying, she had a full schedule. The school offers two tracks within the aviation industry: flight and management. She began in the flying courses, but due to financial constraints and the university having outsourced their flight options, she moved into the management field.

In her junior year she began learning to dispatch flights. Akin to a gymnastics coach doing everything but the actual routine, Hartung assumes responsibility and does everything she can in this role to ensure planes travel safely. In her words, her job is to “tell them what the weather is, what routes they have to take, alternate routes if there’s bad weather, how much fuel goes on board.” Becoming certified as a dispatcher was no simple feat, consisting of both a written test and a 6-hour practical. She currently has her student pilot license, works as a dispatch intern, and is awaiting her 23rd birthday when she can receive certification for her successfully completed dispatch certificate.

The overlap between the two is where Hartung thrives, controlling what appears dangerous. While flying, she adds “what you’re learning up there is how to handle what happens in bad situations. If the airplane fails, you have to learn how to handle that and how to continue flying.” Game-time decisions and knowing when to make which one is key in both fields for her, but on the record she’ll affirm that “flying is way less scary than gymnastics.” 

Her schedule includes four days a week that keep her busy from morning classes through to 10:30 p.m. between school, practice, lifting, and work. By the time the weekend hits there’s still a mix of practices and lifting, with meets added during season. From her perspective, the demand in her workload is what makes an athlete an athlete: “loving that pressure and loving being in that spot, it definitely takes a toll, but going into my senior year I told myself that no matter what happens, you’re making it the best.”

Her work ethic is noticed by teammates and staff. Head coach Katie Minasola notes “she has a pretty busy schedule with aviation, but she makes it work pretty well. She’s been able to be in the bulk of practice, and the team has been really accommodating.” 

Hartung is spending the 2023 season capitalizing on her time left in the sport, slotting consistently in the bar lineup during the second half of the Eagles’ schedule. Having competed on her team’s deepest event after being injured since her sophomore year is easier said than done though. Continuing to score personal bests? Even more so. At Michigan’s preseason quad exhibition, she scored a 9.775 in the leadoff spot. She was shocked, having a running gag with teammates about how hard it was for her to break the 9.700 barrier. Less than two months later came her first 9.800 on the event, and she still has two opportunities left to achieve her next goal: the MAC rarity of an uneven bars 9.850. Just over 20 gymnasts in the conference have achieved that mark so far in 2023 across all seven teams. 

Looking toward graduation in the spring and beyond, she’ll proudly boost the number of women in a male-dominated industry. For any women looking to undertake a STEM major, she adds point blank “in aviation, the time is now.” Hartung highly recommends the industry and is usually found stirring up change no matter what role she’s in. 

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Article by Peri Goodman

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