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Meet a Rotorcraft Pro - Natalie Jones

Posted 8 years 176 days ago ago by Admin


What is your current position?

I am currently employed with Erickson Aircrane as a command pilot flying the SK64 Skycrane since June of 2012.

Tell me about your first flight.

When I was in my early 20s, my older sister was living in Skagway Alaska, which is one of TEMSCO helicopter's operation bases. While I was visiting her, she arranged for me to take a ride on one of their tours that lands you up on a glacier. It was one of the most incredible experiences, which stuck with me through the years and never let go.

How did you get your start in helicopters?

When I was working my first desk job out of college, I used to go to lunch with my co-workers and we would have the same conversation time and again: "If you could do anything else for a job in the world, what would it be?" My answer was always the same: "I want to learn to fly a helicopter.” So I started researching helicopter flight schools and found a one-man operation flying a Bell 47D1 at an airport near my house. I went for an introductory flight and was hooked.


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

I think it was a combination of both. Helicopters have always been my first love over fixed-wing. While I was working on my private rating, I would fly in the mornings before work and do ground school in the evenings after work. Only six weeks later I received my private rating on May 1, 2004. After obtaining that, I quit my desk job and moved up to Skagway, Alaska, to work as a tour attendant for TEMSCO. I really wanted to figure out if I could commit to the lifestyle of a pilot, as it is not for everyone. I wanted to be around newer pilots that were trying to build hours and see an actual helicopter operation first hand. It wasn't too hard to figure out this is exactly what I was searching for and wanted to do with my life!

Where did you get your start flying commercially?

After the Alaskan summer tour season was over with TEMSCO, I decided to continue my aviation endeavor at Precision Aviation located in Newberg, Oregon, flying a Schweizer 269C. There is where I achieved my additional ratings: fixed-wing add-on to my helicopter private, commercial helicopter, instrument airplane and helicopter, and helicopter CFI. I continued to instruct at Precision for a couple of years to build my hours and then moved straight into the world of flying a heavy helicopter as second in command (SIC) in a copilot position. I quickly concluded that a heavy helicopter is where my heart belongs. Not only do I love flying utility in the “big iron,” I also enjoy the camaraderie that comes out of working with so many different people from such diverse backgrounds. In this industry we have a bond because of our shared goals and experiences. You don’t necessarily have to be best friends with everyone in the group to know you have their support or that you are there to support someone else.

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

I can honestly say that I hope to never have to go back to a desk job. Flying a helicopter is what I love to do. I do not see myself doing anything other than what I am doing now.


What do you enjoy doing on your days off?

My husband and I are in the process of a huge home remodel so a lot of our free time is spent doing various projects around the house. When we are done with that our downtime consists of enjoying a movie, sipping on a glass of wine, or taking a dip in the hot tub.

What is your greatest career accomplishment to date?

I recently became Erickson’s first female Skycrane captain. It is a tremendous accomplishment that I am very proud of and I hope that it helps to inspire other women to consider a career in aviation. It is still a very male dominated industry, but more and more women are breaking barriers every day and it's exciting to be a part of. With the combination of the right mindset, some basic skill, and an amazing support system, any girl can fly to new heights!

Have you ever had an “Oh, crap” moment in a helicopter? Can you summarize what happened?

I have had a few incidents in the helicopter that are significant as learning experiences but not necessarily noteworthy otherwise. My biggest “Oh, crap” moment was actually flying instruments in a Cessna 182 heading north from Redding over the Siskiyou Mountains. The cloud tops were higher than forecasted and visible moisture and freezing temperatures surrounded us. By the time we climbed up through the clouds there was so much ice buildup on the aircraft that it was almost impossible to maintain altitude with maximum power without settling back into the cloud layer below us and accumulating more ice. Luckily, a hole in the clouds opened up and we were able to safely divert to the nearest airport and land without incident. Ever since then I am extremely aware of conditions conducive to icing and I try to avoid any similar situation from arising again. Lesson learned: It is perfectly acceptable to say “no go” when conditions are beyond your limitations.

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

My journey has had many challenges, but also many rewards. I found that when one door closed another would open and that anything is possible if you are truly willing to commit yourself and put in the work to make your dreams a reality. This isn't only true in aviation but every aspect of life. My one piece of advice is to have a goal, stay focused, embrace the positive experiences, and learn from the negative ones.


In your view, what is currently the greatest challenge for the helicopter industry?

I think the greatest challenge for the helicopter industry is the burden of more new rules and regulations that are imposed upon operators when trying to get a job done. Simply by choosing a career that is inherently dangerous, it is implied that we are already accepting the responsibility that comes along with the dangers of this industry. The safety of each flight is always a primary concern for myself and the network of people I work with. By establishing more rules and regulations to try to make a job seem less dangerous, it almost makes helicopter jobs impossible to complete sometimes. Utility helicopter operations started from a spirit of pioneering and we should be allowed to continue forward with that same daring character in order to invent new ways in which to utilize such amazing machines. Yes, what we do is dangerous, but safety guides us in each and every one of our flights. We should be allowed to accept that risk through our employment and continue to strive forward, unimpeded by so many regulations.