Sept. 4, 2018

Three gleaming white aircraft are parked neatly inside the John Deere Global Aviation Services hangar in Moline, IL – a pair of Cessna Citation X business jets and a Gulfstream 550.

And for Susan Potter, John Deere’s first female international captain, the view is still breathtaking.

“Every time I walk into the hangar, I’m excited,” she said. “The feeling takes me back to when I was younger. I remember seeing those big Gulfstream jets taxiing around and thinking, ‘wow, will I ever get to fly something like that?’”

At this moment, Potter may be cruising above 40,000 feet, flying John Deere leaders to see dealers in Finland, customers in China or employees in North Carolina.

“I used to fly for an airline and they do a great job, but we can get our passengers to places commercial aircraft might not be able to go, or to places that might take several days and several connections to get to,” Potter said. “That saves us time and money.

“I absolutely love what I do but it’s not particularly glamorous. We fly in the middle of the night, on weekends, over holidays, and we can be away from home for a while,” she said. “But it’s important to keep in mind that John Deere considers our corporate fleet essential to business. In other words, they’re business tools. These planes enable our leaders to work and conduct meetings while they travel. And that’s exactly what they’re doing from wheels-up to wheels-down.”

While attending Central Michigan, Potter earned her private pilot’s license, and after graduation, went to a flight school near Chicago to complete her certification. “They hired me as an instructor, which was really important because to progress in your career, you’ve got to accumulate flight hours and gain experience,” she said.
She then took a job working as a charter pilot for a Wisconsin-based company, flying small planes to small midwestern towns.

“On one of my charter flights, I had to fly people from Dodge County airport in Wisconsin to Moline. After we landed, we had a short break. I got a crew car, drove over to the John Deere hangar and handed in my resume.

Susan Potter, John Deere’s first female international captain

“I ended up getting an interview at John Deere and got hired in 1998,” she recalls. “It was like a dream come true. When I was a charter pilot, I flew a turboprop and thought ‘if I had to fly this for the rest of my life, I’d be a happy woman.’ Then, you get into the Citation X, and you’re like ‘wow, this is really cool!’”

Twenty years later, she’s made her mark.

“What makes Susan a capable pilot and teammate is her experience and vast knowledge of the aviation industry,” said John Deere senior global pilot Robert Fleming. “She’s built her skills from corporate and commercial aviation experience. I’ve flown with Susan many times and I can tell you that she is very detail-oriented and leaves no stone unturned, so to speak, while organizing and flying a trip.”

Read more about Potter in The John Deere Journal.