Women of Aviation Week celebration highlights helicopters

Student helicopter pilots Heidi Hoefer, Sarah Bachand and Jody He.

Twenty-year-old Sarah Bachand was studying physics at the University of Alberta when she decided to take a different career path.

“I always loved math and all this technical stuff and it didn’t feel like the right fit,” she says. I definately wanted a job I could travel with. And piloting (a helicopter) just fit. It feels right.”

In January, Bachand began work on her commercial helicopter licence at Synery Flight Training, based at the Villeneuve airport. The company specializes in helicopter flight instruction. Bachand was one of five female pilots from the company who took part in Women of Aviation Worldwide Week celebrations at the Alberta Aviation Museum’s on Saturday.

With 25 hours of flight time, and a solo under her belt, she feels right at home at the training operation.

Student helicopter pilot Sarah Bachand being interviewed by CBC TV.

“We have so many female pilots, more female than male right now, even a couple of female mechanics.”

But she admits being a woman in such a male-dominated field still raises eyebrows. “Every now and then people will ask you ‘what do you do ?’ It’s hard to casually bring up, ‘I’m studying to be a commercial helicopter pilot.’ It definitely has that cool factor.”

Heidi Hoefer, 26, was also drawn to helicopters. She grew up in a mining industry family in Yellowknife and was always around them.

“I hit a point where I said ‘I don’t want to be in these, I want to be flying these.’ ”

When she attended the event on Saturday Hoefer was a few days away from taking her commercial helicopter check-ride, with more than 100 hours of flight time. For her, the decision to train on helicopters was the right one.

“There is something about the elegance of a helicopter. I would be lying if I didn’t say it’s very empowering.”

Jody He, an airport screening officer who decided she wanted a more fulfilling career, agrees.

“It’s very exciting and amazing…it feels like freedom and a little scary.”

Captain Ilona Inman of 408 Tactical Helicopter Squadron chats with the group from Synergy Flight Training.

Captain Ilona Inman, the keynote speaker at the Women of Aviation event, welcomes the influx of young women into the rotary-wing field.

Inman flies CH-146 Griffons with 408 Tactical Helicopter Squadron based at the Edmonton Garrison.

“It’s really great to see that it’s just not in the military that people are getting into helicopters and moving forward in that field.”

To find out more about Synergy Flight Training go to their website, flysynergy.ca.

Thanks to all those who took part in our annual event celebrating the growing role of women in aviation. Special congratulations to newly-minted commercial helicopter pilot, Heidi Hoefer.