Women’s History Month Spotlight: Heidi McBride

In honor of Women's History Month, Bristow is shining a spotlight on the women who make Bristow soar. This interview features VFR Captain Heidi McBride, who flies out of New Orleans, Louisiana.

Talk about your role at Bristow ad what are you currently working on?

I am currently a VFR captain in the AW119 Koala helicopter flying in the oil and gas industry for Bristow. I am located at our New Orleans base and I am responsible for safely transporting passengers to and from the oil and gas platforms in the Gulf of Mexico.

What was a recent success you’re particularly proud of?

I am particularly honored to have been recently selected by the Helicopter Association International board to serve as the lead coordinator on the Military to Civilian Transition team. I help to coordinate the annual Mil2Civ seminar held at HAI Heli Expo each year. This seminar focuses on educating our transitioning service members on how to successfully make the jump from the military helicopter world into the diverse civilian helicopter world. Helping others succeed and progress in this amazing helicopter industry is truly a privilege and a genuine passion of mine.

What in your background prepared you for this assignment?

After graduating high school, I joined the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) and was stationed as a Seaman on the Polar Icebreaker USCGC Polar Sea. We had two Dolphin helicopters aboard our ship, and I was immediately drawn to them. One of the mechanics for the helicopters noticed my interest and graciously answered my endless questions. In response to my obvious interest, he casually recommended that I apply for an avionics technician position. I was shocked that he thought I could do something like that. I mentioned I would love to, but that I had zero mechanical background. However, to my great surprise, he shrugged off my lack of qualification for the job and proceeded to tell me all about a coworker who was a female avionics technician and how she was doing exceptionally well and advancing very quickly. For the first time in my life, the idea that I could work on helicopters as a profession was planted in my mind.

This mechanic’s casual confidence in my ability to become an avionics technician on actual, flying helicopters was the spark that lit the flame that has fueled my adoration of all things aviation and helicopter to this day. I jumped into this career with my whole heart and I haven’t looked back. When the opportunity to go to helicopter flight school presented itself, I had no doubt that this was the next step for my aviation career. My background as an avionics technician in the USCG and working as A&P mechanic in the civilian sector has been an incredible foundation and given me the confidence to keep reaching for higher goals within this exciting world of aviation.

What are some challenges you’ve faced in your career? How did you overcome them?

I have found that challenges and success go hand in hand. I believe that, in your journey to success, you must expect challenges and plan to overcome them. I learned early in life that I will never be the smartest person in class, but I am fortunate to be stubborn enough to never give up. I will always keep plowing ahead until I have a firm grasp of what I am pursuing. Having never been exposed to mechanical things prior to going to technical school in the USCG, I have to say that learning about aircraft systems and how engines work was completely foreign to me. Needless to say, when I raised my hand in class, the ignorance behind the questions I asked was painfully obvious and the men in my class couldn’t help but laugh. I think back on those questions and really can’t help but laugh either. But you don’t know what you don’t know.

I am a firm believer in doing what is necessary to gain the right information rather than being a wall flower. Having the courage to take the steps to get what you want or need is critical! I never stopped asking my “silly” questions and, soon enough, my comprehension of the helicopter systems grew, as did my fascination with these remarkable aircraft. Thanks to my unrelenting determination, I did exceptionally well in class and enjoyed a rewarding eight-year career as an avionics technician and crew chief on the MH-60 Jawhak helicopter.

Who inspires you (work, personal and / or historical)?

One of the many joys of stumbling into an aviation career has been the privilege of discovering so many inspirational aviation heroes. My two favorite aviation heroes that constantly inspire me are Neal Loving and Bessie Coleman. Neal Loving was an African American aircraft mechanic, pilot and engineer who was born in 1916. He fell in love with aviation when he was 10 years old, but, of course, the color of his skin proved to be a massive obstacle for his aviation career. Although he experienced rejection after rejection, Mr. Loving never gave up! Even after a tragic crash in his glider crushed both his legs, he rose up and conquered this seemingly insurmountable obstacle by getting prosthetics and designing his famous airplane Loving’s Love. Neal Loving entered his airplane in the 1951 National Air Races and flew his airplane up to speeds of 255 miles per hour. He was the first double amputee, African-American to win the EAA’s Most Outstanding Design award.

Bessie Colman not only had the color of her skin going against her, but her gender was an additional obstacle she overcame. Bessie was born in 1892, and she was the first African-American and Native-American woman to obtain a pilot’s license. When she was denied to opportunity to learn to fly in the U.S. due to her race and her gender, she went to France, learned French and obtained her pilot’s license there. She was affectionately nicknamed Queen Bessie in the U.S., and earned fame as an exceptionally daring airshow pilot after she returned to the U.S.

When I encounter challenges or obstacles along my path in this aviation career, I think of these two amazing pioneers and their courage, tenacity and burning passion for aviation that kept them plowing ahead. They are both a constant source of inspiration and encouragement for me.

What advice do you have for women just beginning their career?

My advice for women who are thinking about a career in aviation is to expect challenges and be prepared to overcome them. A career in aviation is very challenging, but overcoming those challenges is part of the reason it is so incredibly rewarding. When I was growing up, my mother used to say, “If it’s not worth fighting for, it isn’t worth having.” Be prepared to not give up when things get tough. You really do have what it takes, and it is absolutely worth it!

What is unique about your journey to your current role?

I am convinced that every aviator has had their own very unique journey! I would say that being both a female aircraft mechanic and a pilot is a rather unique quality. But for me, it was just the sequence of how the doors opened along my aviation adventure. I am thrilled that I was given the opportunity to become an aircraft mechanic and I sincerely enjoy learning about and working on aircraft. Being a mechanic is what initially inspired my love for aviation and eventually inspired me to pursue a spot in the cockpit. Flying these fabulous machines is an absolute joy and a dream come true!

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

I thoroughly love to be outside and enjoy running, hiking, camping and rock climbing. I really enjoy swing dancing and am particularly fond of Lindy Hop swing and country swing dancing. I am also a book nerd and love Victorian English literature and aviation history literature from WWI and WWII. Discovering the aviation aerodynamic and powerplant advancements between the two great wars is simply fascinating.