Above: 2022 HAI Instagram LIVE contest winner Valerie Smith stands in front of a Sikorsky UH-60 operated by San Diego Gas & Electric. Courtesy Valerie Smith.

Valerie Smith of San Diego Gas & Electric receives a free three-day pass to HAI HELI-EXPO 2022 in Dallas.

HAI has chosen the winner of the association’s annual Instagram LIVE contest, which debuted this year. The winning entry was submitted by Valerie Smith, a fixed-wing CFI and fixed-wing commercial pilot who is currently a licensed helicopter dispatcher and aviation services specialist with San Diego Gas & Electric at Gillespie Field (KSEE) in El Cajon, California. Smith will receive a free three-day pass to HAI HELI-EXPO 2022 in Dallas, Mar. 7–10, (exhibits open Mar. 8–10) as the contest prize.

Smith was 1 of 16 contest participants, each of whom was required to answer four questions about their career as well as their interest in attending HAI HELI-EXPO. The contest ran from Oct. 28, 2021, to Jan. 8, 2022, and contestants submitted their responses to HAI Ambassador Cooper The Pilot via direct message on Instagram.

Contest participants were asked to describe their aviation background and goals, state whether they currently fly helicopters or aim to, and explain why they want to attend HAI HELI-EXPO.

Smith is working toward her aviation safety graduate certificate at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Her aviation goals include obtaining her rotor-wing add-on rating this year so that she can become a helicopter pilot; becoming a helicopter safety advisor; and obtaining her fixed-wing multi-engine instructor (MEI) rating.

In her winning response, Smith, a first-time Expo attendee, said she looks forward to the show and the opportunity to meet “so many professionals” in the industry and to see up close many of the utility helicopters whose impressive performance she’s witnessed firsthand working in utility aviation. “I’m also looking forward to learning more about what’s next in the rapidly growing eVTOL and UAS markets,” Smith wrote. “So many changes are coming to our industry—what a time to be in aviation.”

She plans to give back to the industry she loves and hopes to inspire others, especially women, along the way. “Whether I’m in the flight deck or out, I’ll always encourage the next generation about the joys and career opportunities in aviation,” Smith says, “while emphasizing the importance of aviation safety and good aeronautical decision-making from everyone involved in a mission.”


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