The sky is the limit for this Canberra helicopter pilot

Posted 8 Feb 2019

Story by Her Canberra

For most people travelling to exotic locations is solely reserved for holidays, but for a lucky few it’s all in a day’s work.

Her Canberra sat down with Vanessa Palmer, a helicopter pilot, to find out more about her high-flying life in Canberra. After working for the Australian Army, Vanessa decided to take her career to new heights—literally. Her journey to be a helicopter pilot began three years ago at the age of 40 and she hasn’t looked back since. It shows, as she says with a laugh, that you “truly can teach an old dog new tricks.”

Why did you want to work in this field?

Learning to fly was always something I wanted to do and I have always loved helicopters, so when I decided to move on from my previous career I decided it was time to follow a dream and become a pilot. It was not an easy task to change careers, career field and employers completely. The training and exams at my age was a lot of retraining the brain!

Can we get an idea of a typical day in your life?

I currently work on a casual basis for two companies—Black Ops/Blue Sky Helicopters in Sydney and Canberra Helicopters at Canberra Airport. My days depend on what I am doing and can start at 6am. In the summer months working until 8pm is quite normal as we can fly later due to the extended daylight hours during daylight savings. A day would involve preparing passengers for flights, preparing helicopters, liaising with other pilots, flying, washing helicopters, general maintenance and enjoying every time I get in a helicopter!

What have been some of your career highlights?

As I am only new to this industry, finishing my training and gaining that important piece of paper that is my Commercial License will be my goals. So far, I have met some great people in the industry in Australia and overseas. Earlier this year I got the opportunity to meet and listen to a talk by Chuck Aaron, who is the Red Bull Helicopter Aerobatic pilot—one of only about three in the world. He did the helicopter scene at the start of the James Bond movie Spectre. It was awesome to hear about his knowledge and experience in this industry.

What do you love most about your job? 

There is nothing more capable of putting a smile on my face than getting into the cockpit and lifting a helicopter into flight. It is just amazing every time.

What are the biggest challenges?

The biggest challenge as a junior pilot with low hours and experience is getting full-time work. Probably my biggest challenge was adapting from the military environment to the civilian one.

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