Coast Guard Helicopter Pilot

My name is Liz Booker and I’m a search and rescue helicopter pilot for the
United States Coast Guard. I live in Arlington, Virginia with my family; my
husband Robert, my son Lance who is 17, my daughter Brooke who is 6, and
our dog Meadows. Right now I manage the pilots in the Coast Guard—we
have 1200 pilots at 27 air stations around the U.S. Each of our pilots spends
about 4 years working in one place; then they get to move to a new air
station. I’m the one who decides where they go. This job is fun, but I can’t
wait to get back to flying!

For some reason, I was just drawn to aviation as a child. I was about 6 or 7
when I figured out that to be an astronaut pilot, I had to be an airplane pilot
first, and I was finished with my career search. While my parents were not
aviators, they were very supportive. I went to Johnson Space Center in
Houston on weekends and for my 11th birthday my mom took me for a flying
lesson.

I enlisted in the Coast Guard in 1991 when I was 18. I set aside my aviation
goals for a few years while I learned how to navigate ships and be a good
sailor. I was accepted to Officer Candidate School while I was stationed on a
ship that had a helicopter deployed. I sat in the copilot’s seat for a flight
around the coast of Haiti and I was hooked—I instantly remembered my
childhood passion and knew I had to go to flight school as a Coast Guard
Officer.

Coast Guard pilots are either hired from other military services or we go to
training with the Navy in Pensacola, Florida. I spent 18 months there learning
how to fly both airplanes and helicopters. By the time my 6 year old son
pinned my “Wings of Gold” on my uniform in 1999 I had also earned a
commercial fixed and rotary wing license. After training I went on to a 5 week
transition course for the HH65 Dolphin helicopter in Mobile, Alabama.

As a qualified copilot, I moved to San Francisco, California, where I flew for 4
years and learned the arts of hovering while hoisting baskets to small boats
in the water, lowering the helicopter to within 15 feet of the ocean so the
rescue swimmer could jump in to help people in trouble, and landing on the
backs of ships. I qualified as an aircraft commander, flew lots of exciting
search and rescue and law enforcement cases, and even flew when I was
pregnant with my daughter, Brooke. I have great memories of flying near
mountains and ocean cliffs, around fog and under—yes under—the Golden
Gate Bridge, and helping lots of people in trouble around the Bay Area. After
4 years in San Francisco, I was assigned to Miami, Florida for another 4.
There, I enjoyed new scenery, flying over the beautiful waters along the
Florida coastline and deploying around the Caribbean.

As a Coast Guard Pilot I am first and foremost a Coast Guard Officer. When I’
m not flying I’m managing something or someone. I had worked hard on my
own time to finish college and, after my tour in Miami, the Coast Guard
rewarded me by sending me to graduate school at Harvard University to help
make me a better officer. I had a wonderful year off at school and now I have
a great job in an office for a couple of years before I return to flying. When I
do fly for the Coast Guard again, I hope to go as the chief pilot, or
Operations Officer, at an air station and ultimately be a commanding officer.

Meanwhile, I’ve been working on my multi-engine rating with a civilian
instructor in my spare time. Just as I expected, flying civil aviation has
expanded my awareness and ability as a pilot. It had been a long time—10
years!—since I had landed a fixed wing plane and with all the new information
I’m learning it’s almost like starting all over again. I love the challenge and I’m
convinced it will make me a better, more professional pilot.

Flying is fun, but what makes flying for the Coast Guard really special is the
great work that we do with our aircraft and the amazing people we work with
every day. Saving people who might die if we don't answer their call is
tremendously rewarding. So is stopping bad guys from doing bad things out
on the water. The pilot community that I work with is fantastic and so are the
mechanics and rescue swimmers who take wonderful care of our planes and
fly with us on every flight. A bonus is our tight network of women aviators
who encourage and support each other even though we are stationed all
around the country. Those of us who are moms provide guidance and
support to the ladies who want to have families and fly too.

I hope that when you grow up, you’ll get to do something you love as much
as I love my work! If you want to know more about the great work that we
do in the Coast Guard, go to our website http://www.gocoastguard.com/
Using aviation to entertain
and educate girls about
their limitless
opportunities...
Using aviation to entertain
and educate girls about
their limitless
opportunities...
Using aviation to entertain
and educate girls about
their limitless
opportunities...
TM
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Using aviation to entertain
and educate girls about
their limitless
opportunities...
Using aviation to entertain
and educate girls about
their limitless
opportunities...
Using aviation to entertain
and educate girls about
their limitless
opportunities...
TM
Read about Liz's recent
requalification in her
blog:
H65 Rescue Mom