It wasn’t always rotors and horizontal blades for Erin Martin. In fact, Erin’s initial foray into aviation was the pursuit of a fixed-wing Private Pilot License, however, for her, it never took off. Fortunately, on her 21st birthday back in 2014, some friends coaxed her into the cockpit of a Robinson 44 and, from that day, she was sold.
Inspired by the extraordinary maneuverability of helicopters and the freedom that comes with the ability to take off and land anywhere, Erin immediately devoted herself to the aviation industry with all the gusto of a young person with purpose.
“I take a lot of inspiration from women who put their heads down and work hard, regardless of what they do, and I’ve met a lot of women pilots who have achieved so much by their own hard work and skills. I decided early on I wanted to be like that.”
Erin immediately realized the importance of strategically positioning yourself in the industry. Some say it’s not what you know – it’s who you know – and, although that’s not entirely true, she still maintains that picking up an entry-level job is one of the best ways to propel yourself into aviation.
“I wanted to understand the business and gain some knowledge and experience before I’d be applying for my first flying job anyway, so I began ground crewing for a Sydney-based helicopter company until I was ready to begin training. Starting out by sweeping floors, briefing passengers and refueling aircraft demonstrates that you can run from the bottom to the top and you’re so much more valuable to an employer if you have more to offer than just a license.”
Foot-in-the-door jobs with the potential to develop into a guaranteed first commercial flying position make a lot more sense than having to distribute CVs fresh out of flight school. All it really takes is the right attitude.
“You just need to be willing to do anything to learn. Your personality and past experiences all contribute, making you that much more of an asset and, without it, you could expect your first job to be a much steeper learning curve, or to take you a lot longer in terms of getting into the flying.”
Training commenced on the Sunshine Coast, where Erin learned in a Robinson 22. Completing her training took around seven months and the best thing about doing it so intensively was the confidence and capability Erin gained from flying so often. Fortunately, there was the option of FEE-HELP – an Australian government lending scheme that offers eligible students an interest-free way to repay course costs and tuition fees once they are earning in their field.
“It had only just been introduced into aviation at the time, in fact. Obviously, finances are a hurdle in this world, so FEE-HELP is certainly what enabled me to obtain my license, especially in such a short amount of time.”
Graduating with a CPL and Diploma of Aviation in June 2017, Erin began her first, real flying job – working for the Melbourne base of the company that she originally crewed for in Sydney and flying the very Robinson 44 that she flew in on her 21st birthday. She obtained her Gas Turbine Endorsement on the Bell 206 Jetranger & Longranger and was soon flying scenic tours of the Melbourne city and coastline, along the Great Ocean Road and the beautiful Yarra Valley.
It’s been a wild ride.
“I’ve already lived in three different states for a job and – as settled and happy you can be in one company – you really never know what can happen next.”
“The nature of our industry is that it is always changing and some contracts don’t last forever, so pilots often have to be willing to move around with the seasons.”
For this reason, Erin chants a mantra one of her instructors drummed into her very early on – ‘blessed are the flexible!’
“Every flight is a flight closer to where you want to be. It is difficult for pilots with families. It can be hard if you have to live in a remote place or away from loved ones. But, if you keep your mind set on the bigger picture, you can achieve your goals and – perhaps – soon you’ll be able to move into something a little closer to home. That’s always the dream.”
Currently, things are rosy. She’s back in New South Wales, hovering over the stunning Hunter Valley and Newcastle area on the daily.
“I fly mostly scenic flights and charters, as well as crew on other aerial jobs. The very best day here consists of blue skies and flying people around the coast and valley, visiting winery cellar doors and restaurants. When I witness people enjoying everything there is to see and experience here – that’s when I have the best time.”
There are still the menial tasks, of course, like back in the beginning – paperwork, cleaning, administrative jobs. But all this does well to remind you how far you’ve come and how much you’ve achieved.
“When I remember that some of the pilots I still work with were the pilots I crewed for in the very beginning, I feel very humbled at how they helped me on my journey and how much we’ve grown together. It was only a little over three years ago and, back then, I still didn’t even think I could ever afford to do a license.”
Not one to rest, Erin continues to focus on moving forward in her career, always with the goal of getting into a job that will enable her to assist people in some way.
“I always wanted to fly and somehow help people but I never knew what the perfect job would be so, initially, this just felt like a passion.”
Nothing has fanned that passion like witnessing the recent bushfires decimate Australia, though.
“I was born in Moruya, on the south coast of New South Wales where a lot of violent bushfires are currently raging, and when I think of my family down there fighting to save properties and neighbors I desperately want to be there, too, doing something helpful.”
“A lot of firefighting aircraft have flown into Cessnock over the past few months and seeing them fly in with their buckets to refuel reminds me of the sense of purpose and responsibility that we are able to realize in jobs like ours. That’s what makes it all so very worth it.”
First published in HeliOps Magazine – Issue 124 (Kia Kaha Media) in ‘A Greater View’, a column profiling women in the heli industry