Read More: Meet Melissa Wnorowski
January 17, 2020

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.

Read More: Meet Annie Paya
December 10, 2019

Annie Paya
Bend, Oregon, USA
 
Quick Facts
Current job: Bell 407 fire/utility pilot
First aviation job: Flight instructor
Favorite helicopter: The one I’m flying


What about helicopters first captured your imagination?
I fell in love the first time I witnessed an S-64 Skycrane drop a load of water on the fire my Forest Service hand crew and I were digging line around. I tend to get bored with things quickly, but I knew I had found my calling once I started flying. It was such a dynamic experience, and I knew that it would never stop challenging me.

Tell us about your first helicopter ride.
During my second fire season, my crew was flown to a fire out in northern Idaho that had no road access. The pilot, an old Vietnam vet, let me sit in front. I babbled something about being interested in helicopters, and he made sure to give us a pretty good thrill ride on the way out there. I couldn’t stop smiling. When we landed, I realized not everybody enjoyed it as I did, and that got me thinking a lot more about flying.

What advice would you give to someone pursuing your career path?
Don’t become a pilot for the glory, because you’ll soon find out there is none. Do it because you love the view and the challenge. Be ready to take out some big loans; you’ll be able to start paying them back about six to eight years into your career. Make friends and find mentors in the industry; don’t go it alone. Get comfortable with constant studying and test-taking.

Read More: Meet Matthew Bednar
August 30, 2019

Matthew Bednar
La Habra, California, USA

Quick Facts
First aviation job: 
UH-60 Black Hawk mechanic for the US Army
Current job:  Pilot for Fontana Police Department
Favorite helicopter: Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk

Your current position?
I am a full-time pilot with the Fontana Police Department, and I also serve as a chief warrant officer flying the UH-60M for the California Army National Guard. For the National Guard, our biggest mission is when the state calls us to assist in wildland firefighting.

How did you decide helicopter aviation was the career for you?
Out of high school, I knew I was going to join the army but I wasn’t sure exactly what direction I was going to take. When I sat down with the career manager, he gave me a list of jobs to look at. As soon as I saw UH-60 Blackhawk crew chief on that list, I immediately knew that’s what I was going to do. My first few flights as a crew chief, I told myself, “One day I am going to be the guy up front.”

How did you get to where you are now?
I spent seven years in the active-duty army. My last year on active duty, I put together my flight school packet with the intent to join the California Army National Guard and become a pilot for them. I got accepted within the first six months in the guard and was on my way to flight school not long after.

Later, I went to HAI HELI-EXPO in Las Vegas and came across a helicopter flight school that offered training for veterans, using the GI Bill. I flew with them, getting signed off in the R44 and R66.

A couple years before receiving my Robinson training, a pilot buddy of mine told me about how Fontana PD hires civilians to fly for them because of their operations using R44s and R66s. I called the police department and got linked up with the sergeant who was in charge of the air unit.

What are your career goals?
I love doing the law enforcement work. I am comfortable doing this for a while but one day hope to get into rotary-wing firefighting at some point. I do it with the National Guard, and it’s some of the most challenging and fulfilling work I have done as a helicopter pilot. 

What advice would you give to someone pursuing your path?
First, take some serious time to consider if you truly feel it’s the right path to take. It takes a lot of time and dedication to work your way into a flying job.

If it is truly your passion, do not let anything stand in the way of your dream. Don’t get frustrated if things don’t click for you right away. Keep pushing yourself and things will fall into place.

What still excites you about helicopter aviation?
Nothing can match how dynamic a helicopter can be. One day you are flying instruments through the clouds, the next landing on the peak of a mountain, or the next flying 100 feet off the ground under night-vision goggles in the middle of the night.

What do you think is the biggest threat to the helicopter industry?
With large quantities of pilots retiring or moving to the airlines, I think there will be massive shortages of pilots with experience. The expensive cost upfront to civilians to become pilots and the airlines picking up a lot of the military pilots getting out of the service will be big problems in the future.

Complete this sentence: I know I picked the right career when …
… I dropped water during a forest fire to help save someone’s house.

Read More: Meet Lisa Rezende
May 20, 2019

Lisa Rezende
Edinburg, Texas, USA

Quick Facts
First aviation job: 
Working for Air Florida Helicopter in Orlando, Florida
Current job: Air interdiction agent for US Customs and Border Protection
Favorite helicopter: Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk

Your current position?
I am a dual-rated pilot currently working as an air interdiction agent for US Customs and Border Protection and flying the Eurocopter AS350. Our mission is to be guardians of our nation’s border and to safeguard the American homeland, both at and beyond the border.

How did you get to where you are now?
When I was working for Air Florida Helicopters in Orlando, Florida, one of the pilots who worked there was a contractor for a military training program based out of Titusville, Florida. He saw me working about five different jobs at the same time to pay for my fixed-wing training.

As I completed my advanced ground certificate, he offered me a job to train Air Force pilots. He became my mentor in both aviation and in life. They eventually invested in my training to become a helicopter pilot with commercial, CFI, CFII, and NVG ratings.

Read More: Meet Jennifer Mulkern
November 13, 2018

Quick Facts:
Located at: Concord, New Hampshire, USA
Current job: Commercial pilot
First aviation job: Flight instructor
Favorite helicopter: Bell 407

Your current role?

I currently fly for JBI Helicopters based out of Pembroke, New Hampshire. We do everything from utility work, to charter work, to agricultural assistance. I mainly fly the Bell 206 and 407 and am currently being trained on the Bell 429.

Read More: Flight Path
August 07, 2018

Q Your current role?
In addition to being a pilot, I manage aircraft scheduling, plan routes, and ensure FAR/GOM compliance for on-demand charters to ensure optimal business output.

QYour most memorable  helicopter ride?
My most memorable flight was the first time I flew into New York City and circled the Statue of Liberty. Being from a small town in the heartland, New York City was a place I had only seen in movies, and I never imagined I would end up flying here.

Q What still excites you about helicopter aviation?
Walking out to the helicopter each day still excites me. The quick pace and challenge of using noise/traffic abatement routes, calling FBOs, hovering between parallels, calling out traffic, and getting a landing
clearance all at the same time is something I never would’ve imagined myself capable of in a solo pilot environment. Now it’s all in a normal day’s work.

Q What advice would you give to someone pursuing your career path?
Shake as many hands and make as many friends as possible. The people you meet will be your network of colleagues and friends throughout your career. The rotorcraft
community is very tight-knit and getting