The twists and turns of one’s career and life are always a curious thing. Is it best to act through conscious choice? Do we subconsciously open ourselves to opportunities based on our thoughts and beliefs at a given time? Or is it all just a collection of happy coincidences?
Some people know what they want to do from a very young age; for others, values and the propensity to say yes seem to be the main propellers – they often achieve massive amounts throughout their lives and make the whole thing seem effortless. Whatever it is, Natalie Davies-White’s life so far has been immense and an interesting one to watch.
HeliOps last spoke to Nat back in 2018 – then flying missions for the Royal Australian Navy. Helping people had always been her primary driving force and, for a 17-year-old straight out of high school, the Navy offered the means, the platforms, and the training to do so. Nat signed up and, attracted by the versatility of helis, decided that she’d be able to use her strengths best in that role – despite previously logging 200 hours fixed-wing experience on military pilots course.
In a compelling interview with aviation podcast, Up and Away, Nat said, “I wanted to join to help people and [flying helis in the Navy] I found that space. I always liked Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Relief (HADR) operations and the fact we were short notice to move all the time. We did OP Queensland Assist when cyclone Debbie hit in 2017, and Vanuatu Assist that year… and those humanitarian operations… I loved that we were there and ready to help – to use that skill set – and I really enjoy that kind of work.”
Nat did 500 hours on the AS350 squirrel, then, following the Navy training timeline, posted to fly the MRH90 – a glass cockpit, 4-axis, IFR machine specializing in utility and amphibious operations. The MRH90 is her favourite. Nat laughs, “Just because they always say you’ll have a special place for the first big helicopter that you fly. And it is a big milestone in the career continuum, you know, to fly big aircraft in the Navy and get your captaincy. And that was the aircraft that I did it on. I did some really cool things on that aircraft, so I think I’ll always have a special place for that one.”
During her time in the Navy, Nat’s deployments focussed around HADR in the southwest Pacific. Still, she was trained in all amphibious operations and disciplines, such as fast roping, aerial mine disposal, operations to small boats, and surface search.
“We had a lot of scope with what we could do, being a utility and multi-role helicopter – as the name suggests – but we operated more in that HADR space, in Search and Rescue and Medevac.”
Well, it turns out that training set her up perfectly for a career move even Nat didn’t know was coming – and here we pick up from where we left off. It wasn’t an easy decision – she’d poured 15 years into progressing in the Navy – but today, she’s pursuing a different kind of flying: bringing emergency and life-saving medical treatment to seriously ill and injured people.
Established in 1979, LifeFlight has been Queensland’s leading medicopter service for over 40 years. Its RACQ-branded platforms are Australian icons – big blue and yellow choppers swiftly cruising above the undulations of Queensland’s hinterlands and interiors, providing peace of mind to those on the coast, as well as out in more regional Australian locations.
“It was an opportunity that I’d been looking for… it came up, and it doesn’t come around every day, so I had to take it the moment it did.”
Nat’s been flying co-pilot in the AW139 based out of Brisbane Airport for just over a year and a half now and is currently on the company ICUS program, receiving development and mentorship in all facets of being a HEMS Captain.
Specializing in critical care hospital transfers, LifeFlight’s dedicated response fleet features aircraft with ICU facilities and trained medical crew, including doctors, paramedics, and nurses. Considering they’re usually bringing patients into Brisbane, Nat gets to spend a bit of time up on the hospital helipads that tower above the city – often at night – looking out over the flickering, sparkling skyline.
It’s not all plain-sailing, inter-hospital patient transport, though. The job description also includes primary response to roadside accidents and other on-scene care as first responders, so short-notice, en route re-tasks are a possibility at any moment.
“It’s always different. You go to work, and you don’t necessarily know what you’ll get up to over the next 24 hours! But I love being in aeromedical retrieval – it is a job that is hugely intrinsically satisfying. Every tasking is unique and you get to work in a high performing, diverse team – with highly skilled and qualified people – to achieve best-case outcomes every day.”
Nat acknowledges that taking the lateral step into industry has been the biggest change. In some ways, it was like starting again – learning the differences in the rules and regulations applying to civilian aviation, and sitting the exams to transfer her military qualifications into a civilian license.
Happily, not everything had to change at once. The flexibility offered by the military meant that Nat could transfer into Active Navy Reserves as an officer, where she now provides her Naval experience and expertise as part of the Defence MRH90 capability cell, among other things. Still being able to serve in the military means she’s got the best of both worlds, back home in Queensland among family.
“I think any change of job can be challenging, no matter your vocation. But I’ve been fortunate to have supportive family around, and exceptional mentors in the workplace to help with my initial transition into HEMS, so I’m thoroughly embracing the challenge and the ability to help the community every day – especially back in Brisbane, where I grew up.”
Late in 2018, Nat was a finalist in the Women in Aviation Awards for Outstanding Contribution to Industry. An active member of Women in Aviation/Aerospace Australia, the Australian Women’s Pilot Association, and Women Military Aviators, Inc, she is passionate and positive about women’s involvement in STEAM careers and other traditionally male-dominated industries. Her popular Instagram account (@natthepilot) gives a unique insight into an unusual and extraordinary career – something she encourages the younger generation to seek out. She also regularly enjoys sharing her knowledge through keynote speaking, training, and presenting.
Everything Nat does comes back to her core values – personal development, helping others, teamwork and community.
“This is what I really want to do with my career – be able to help communities. I love having the purpose, knowing that every time I go out in the chopper, I’m helping someone as much as I can – and using my unique skill set to do it.”
First published in HeliOps Magazine – Issue 132 (Kia Kaha Media) in ‘A Greater View’, a column profiling women in the heli industry