Meet Melissa Wnorowski

ROTOR Staff 2020 Winter

“I know I picked the right career when I’m as happy to start my seven days on as I am to start my seven days off.”

Melissa Wnorowski;
Mays Landing, New Jersey, USA;

Current job:
Air ambulance pilot for Air Methods;

First aviation job:
Flying Robinson R44 fair tours. "It was a fun job, and the experience operating in tight LZs continues to serve me well."

Favorite helicopter:
The one I currently fly, the EC135 P2+ [also known as the EC135 P2i]

How did you decide helicopter aviation was the career for you?
I fell in love with helicopters the first time I saw one hover. I was 23 and working as a dog musher in Alaska. An AStar filled with sled dogs headed to the ice fields spooled up, lifted off, and that was it. I knew I had to do it.

Tell us about your first helicopter ride.
My first flight in a helicopter was my first trip up to the glacier camp where the dogsled tours took place. Jen Casillo [now at Era Helicopters] was the pilot, and I’ll never forget how easy she made flying look or how incredible the Alaskan scenery was. By the time we landed, my face hurt from smiling.

How did you get to where you are now?
I took the civilian path, financed most of my training with a Sallie Mae loan, and learned to fly in Robbies. After completing my CFII, I flew fair tours, did a little flight instruction, inspected power lines, flew tours in New York City, and flew charters in the Northeast.

What are your career goals?
My main goal is to have a long career during which I never hurt anyone and I learn continuously. Hopefully, I’ll retire from the program I currently fly for.

What advice would you give someone pursuing your path?
If you’re of average financial means and are considering paying your way through flight school, you better be sure you really want it. Those first few years after you finish training are tough. Knock out your certs and ratings as fast as you can, network as much as possible, and be prepared to weather a few lean years without luxuries like health insurance.

With hard work, flexibility, sound judgment, and good luck, it’ll all pay off and you’ll be able to make a great living doing what you love.

Who inspires or has inspired you?
My mom. She is brilliant, perpetually motivated, and tough as nails.

What still excites you about helicopters?
The noise, the downwash, a great sunset, and the fact that every flight is an opportunity to do my best.

What challenges you about helicopters?
The 2:00 am calls to an accident scene. Staying motivated and sharp when a few days roll by without a flight.

What do you think is the biggest threat to the helicopter industry?
Operators who cut corners on maintenance and pilot training to increase their profit margins. These shortsighted practices have contributed to so many tragedies.

Complete this sentence: I know I picked the right career when …
I’m as happy to start my seven days on as I am to start my seven days off.

Why is the EC135 P2+ your favorite helicopter?
The Bell 407 and MD Helicopters MD 500 were both great fun and have special places in my heart, but to me nothing beats having two engines and an autopilot.

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