Annie Paya
Bend, Oregon, USA

Quick Facts
Current job: Bell 407 fire/utility pilot
First aviation job: Flight instructor
Favorite helicopter: The one I’m flying

What about helicopters first captured your imagination?
I fell in love the first time I witnessed an S-64 Skycrane drop a load of water on the fire my Forest Service hand crew and I were digging line around. I tend to get bored with things quickly, but I knew I had found my calling once I started flying. It was such a dynamic experience, and I knew that it would never stop challenging me.

Tell us about your first helicopter ride.
During my second fire season, my crew was flown to a fire out in northern Idaho that had no road access. The pilot, an old Vietnam vet, let me sit in front. I babbled something about being interested in helicopters, and he made sure to give us a pretty good thrill ride on the way out there. I couldn’t stop smiling. When we landed, I realized not everybody enjoyed it as I did, and that got me thinking a lot more about flying.

What advice would you give to someone pursuing your career path?
Don’t become a pilot for the glory, because you’ll soon find out there is none. Do it because you love the view and the challenge. Be ready to take out some big loans; you’ll be able to start paying them back about six to eight years into your career. Make friends and find mentors in the industry; don’t go it alone. Get comfortable with constant studying and test-taking.

Who has inspired you?
I’ve had too many mentors to count along the way, starting with the leadership on my fire crews, to my professors at Central Oregon Community College and friends from the Whirly-Girls and The 99s. I’ve made some great friends in flight school and in fire who have inspired me and supported me along the way as well.

I also want to pay tribute to the sacrifices of the amazing women (shout-out to my mom) who put their own dreams on the back burner to support the dreams of partners and children. I want to capitalize on the opportunities they made available to my generation.

What still excites you about helicopter aviation?
I’m excited to see the industry culture start to change. I’m hoping it will eventually parallel how the airlines do things—work/life balance, better pay, and increased safety all come to mind. I feel like I get to be a part of ushering in that new era.

Complete this sentence: I know I picked the right career when …
I’m inspiring others, fostering inclusion, and have the best office view, bar none.


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