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Larissa Hamilton | My Aviation Story

Posted 1 years 240 days ago ago by Admin

When I came back to North America after nearly 30-years of flying overseas, my main goal was to try to put an end of what was in my mind an unacceptable helicopter accident rate in the USA, specifically, in the HAA industry.  While flying abroad, I witness a new paradigm, a much safer way to operate that if adopted in the USA would undoubtedly significantly lower the accident rate.

One of the fires person I met was a young lady by the name of Larissa Hamilton.  Larissa bought a copy of my first book, The Golden Hour, which I wrote to act as a bellwether for the industry to say if the same attitudes and procedures were followed, more people would die.  Sadly, that book became prophetic, like glancing into a crystal ball foreseeing things to come. It was her ultimate dream to become a HAA pilot.  She and I kept up a correspondence and I would give her tips on how to succeed.  Just recently she graduated from the US Army’s Warrant Officer flight program.  I couldn’t be more proud of her accomplishments and her dogged stick-to-itiveness to accomplish that dream.  As this will be my final blog I thought it only fitting to ask Larissa to please recall the journey she took to obtain her ultimate goal.  Here is the recollection in her own work.          

My love for aviation began at a very young age. I grew up near Fort Bragg, North Carolina when Pope AFB was still an active Air Base. I can still remember every time I heard a C-17 flying overhead. I would bolt out the door and run down the road barefoot to watch it.

Fast forward to high school in 2010 I picked up a copy of Randy Mains’ book “The Golden Hour” and read through it in less than a day. That book introduced me to the idea of Helicopter EMS. I had always wanted to fly, but never really knew all that was involved in HEMS until after reading Randy’s book. I also had family members who flew Fixed Wing and Helicopter EMS, so when I connected the dots, I started showing interest in potentially flying EMS in the future.

My junior year of high school, I got enrolled into a “Women in STEM” program, where advisors focused on introducing women to trades and science or math-based career opportunities. Through that program, I was given the opportunity to check out Hillsboro Aviation (now Hillsboro Aero Academy).  There, I was able to fly some of their fixed-wing simulators. I remember being shown the yoke and rudders, and a very quick demonstration of how to take-off. After a demonstration, the instructor let me have the controls and told me “Go ahead and try to take-off. I’ll talk you through it.” A few seconds later we were airborne and the instructor was impressed; saying “Wow, have you ever flown before? You did that like it was no problem!” It was hearing that encouragement that I decided I wanted to learn how to fly.

After that field trip, I immediately sent in an application to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott AZ. A few months later, a letter came in the mail saying I was accepted. I quickly did the math and figured out that I was not going to be able to afford it, even with scholarships, so I passed on the offer. I figured I needed to learn how to fly some other way.

For my 18th birthday, my grandfather bought me a one hour flight lesson at Hillsboro Aviation. When I showed up on the ramp, I had no idea it was actually a flight lesson, I thought it was a “ride-along” of sorts. The flight instructor quickly briefed me on the controls of the aircraft and told me “You ready to make a radio call? Let’s go!” A few short minutes later, we were airborne, and I was in heaven. I had the controls, and I was flying. That reignited my drive to find a way to flight school.

I graduated from high school in 2014 with no plan for college or work. I enlisted in the Oregon Air National Guard as an Aerospace Ground Equipment Technician for a total of six years, hoping that it would be a source of income to help me go to flight school. I also got my first job as a ramp agent for a local MEDEVAC company, helping them prepare their LearJet 36s before each mission. Shortly after I enlisted in the guard, I took a job with the company next door to work as a ramp agent. It was an FBO that was in charge of fueling and ramping the transient MEDEVAC aircraft that came through the Portland Metro area. I enrolled at Portland Community College hoping to attain an Associates in Applied Sciences (Aeronautics).  I couldn’t stick with it due to the cost so I decided I was going to try to get into HEMS as a paramedic.  I figured that way I could at least get in the air even if I wasn’t the pilot. I also thought that if I worked as a flight paramedic I could save up enough money for flight lessons.

In the meantime, I decided to dedicate myself to the studies of Crew Resource Management (CRM) and Air Medical Resource Management (AMRM) as well as volunteer with the Air Medical Memorial and Vision Zero. Around May of 2015, Randy Mains reached out to me and offered me a CRM online class. He told me I would be his ‘test case’ to see if he could teach and facilitate CRM on line.  During that one-day one-on-one class with him I learned the human factors to ensure the safe outcome of HEMS flights, and ways to mitigate risk factors that lead to HEMS crashes.

Later on that year, I decided to attend the Air Medical Transport Conference (AMTC) hosted at Long Beach, California that year where I finally got to meet Randy in person for the first time.  I was also able to network with many of the pilots and air medical crews across the nation. I enjoyed that experience so much I went back to AMTC 2018 in Phoenix AZ to continue my networking and assess training opportunities. Attending the air medical conferences paid dividends as it allowed me to make lifelong friends and memories that I cherish dearly.

Fast forward a few years.  I got my EMT certification and was still in the Air National Guardsman in the Portland Metro Area but I still found it a challenge to find a way to pay for flight school or paramedic school.

In 2019 the Guard sent me to Vandenberg AFB in Lompoc California for Airman Leadership School. During my off weekends, instead of spending my time studying or getting ahead on school work, I’d drive all over California to visit air medical bases (Mercy Air was one) and talk to the flight crews. I met several pilots who were prior Warrant Officers in the US Army, and they recommended that I check out a program through the Army called IERW (Initial Entry Rotary Wing training at Fort Rucker, Alabama.) After several base visits and ride-alongs they took me on, I learned very quickly that flying helicopters was once again where I wanted to be.

After I graduated Airman Leadership School, I took a chance and applied for a company in Southern Oregon called Mercy Flights, a ground and flight-based EMS company. I wanted to apply there because there were scholarship opportunities for paramedic school, and, if accepted, I would work hand-in-hand with flight teams. I got hired as an EMT in April of 2019.  I worked there for a full year when my career path changed yet again.

January of 2020, I was working at my Air National Guard base when a very important email landed in my inbox. It was titled “Applications Open for IERW Training.” I sent an email back and got in contact with the Strength Management Officer, asking if it was going to be a problem if an Airman applied since I still had 10 months left on my Air Force contract. He told me that it wouldn’t be a problem so, together, we worked through the application process.

In May of 2020, I stood before a board of Commanders and a State Aviation Officer, and competed for a Warrant Officer Pilot position. Two days after the board met with me I received a letter stating I had been selected to fly Black Hawks!  Whoopeee! Thus was the start of my aviation career.

I shipped out to Army Basic Combat Training at Fort Jackson SC in September of 2020. In March of 2021 I completed Warrant Officer Candidate School, and graduated as a Warrant Officer one, WO1.

In October of 2021 I was learning how to fly helicopters. August 25th, 2022 was a real red-letter day for me, the culmination of all my hard work and years and years of dreaming to be a pilot when I joined the ranks of the Army Aviators, and followed the footsteps of those that motivated me to get here. It’s been a phenomenal journey, and yet it is only the beginning. Now you know the story of the path I took to become an Army Aviator.”

…and I will cap off her story by saying “Well done Larissa.  I feel I can now pass along the torch for you to carry on and I wish you a long, safe and adventurous life in aviation.  You certainly have earned it.

About Randy:
Randy Mains is an author, public speaker, and a CRM/AMRM consultant who works in the helicopter industry after a long career of aviation adventure. He currently serves as chief CRM/AMRM instructor for Oregon Aero. He may be contacted at [email protected].

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