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By Lyn Burks

RPMN: What is your current position?

I am a test pilot for Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation. I currently conduct production and completion test flights of Sikorsky S-76 and S-92 helicopters, aircraft deliveries to customers, domestic / international ferry flights and pilot instruction all over the world.

RPMN: Tell me about your first flight.

My first helicopter flight was as a US Army Low Level Voice Interceptor during a night insertion. I rode outside on the skid seat of a 160th Special Operation Aviation Regiment (SOAR) MH-6 “Little Bird”. My rope holding me on had a bit too much slack and I was slipping off the seat for the entire flight – so I held onto the dangerous end of someone’s M-16 to keep from slipping off.

RPMN: How did you get your start in helicopters?

I was a Russian linguist in the US Army; working at the National Security Agency when I found out I got accepted for the Army Warrant Officer Flight School (WOFS) program.  It had been my dream for so long; I could hardly believe I was FINALLY on my way!

RPMN: When and how did you choose to fly helicopters? Or did they choose you?

I knew I wanted to fly helicopters when I was about 12 years old. Fire contract helicopters used to fly over my central California home all summer long and I was always looking up. I was a shy kid, and flying wasn’t something many little girls pursued. After a few people laughed at me, I didn’t tell many more people about my dream of flying helicopters – I just decided to go after it.

RPMN: Where did you get your start flying commercially?

After getting out of the Army, I moved to Las Vegas and got my first commercial job with Sundance Helicopters flying Grand Canyon tours. I still have so many great friends and memories from working at Sundance! It doesn’t seem that different in Vegas today – except the number of women flying there has increased quite a bit! In 2002 - 2003, I was the only woman flying helicopter tours there.  Burl Boyd, the Chief Pilot at Sundance Helicopters, was one of my first mentors. He hired me and helped me to break into the commercial

RPMN: If you were not in the helicopter industry, what else would you see yourself doing?

I love technology, travel, foreign languages and cultures.  I think I would have probably continued to pursue a career in foreign intelligence if I hadn’t been able to fly helicopters.

RPMN:What do you enjoy doing on your days off?

I love to travel, but I don’t really have many “days off.” It seems I’m always at work, or doing schoolwork towards my degree. It’s a little sad really, but I’m hoping it’ll pay off one day!

RPMN: What is your greatest career accomplishment to date?

I have been really lucky to have the opportunities I’ve been afforded in the helicopter industry. I know how many people have taken the time to guide me throughout my career, so I’ve tried to find ways to help other pilots. I love to mentor people that are going after their dream – there is a huge feeling of satisfaction I get when I see them succeed.  

RPMN: Have you ever had an “Oh crap” moment in a helicopter?

Inadvertent IMC, a few malfunctions, some high pressure and even some self-induced situations have come my way.  I’m very lucky to have learned from them. I’ve had a few friends along the way that didn’t make it through their “oh crap” moments, so I try to humbly keep that in mind.  

RPMN:If you could give only ONE piece of advice to a new helicopter pilot, what would it be?

Remain positive. In this industry - and in life - it’s much too easy to forget you are part of a small percentage of the population that does something they love for a living. We’re lucky – try to remember that!

RPMN: In your view, what is the greatest challenge for the helicopter industry at this moment in time?

We are due for change, both in terms of technology and in terms of our industry moving towards a culture of professionalism. Ultimately helicopters save lives and we must safeguard the future of the helicopter industry by being professional, highly skilled crews that are known for making responsible decisions.

Posted in: Human Interest


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