From LA fires to Bristow skies: Meet one of Bristow’s youngest pilots
By the time you’re 23, you have accomplished a few major milestones in your life. For some, it’s graduating from college. For others, it’s landing their first big job (hooray for benefits!) For Austin Hamilton, it was becoming a pilot at Bristow.
Hamilton knew at a young age that he wanted to fly helicopters. He grew up in Burbank, California, a beautiful city right outside of Los Angeles and nestled in the foothills of San Fernando Valley. His mom was a horse trainer and the ranch that she ran her business out of was constantly threatened by forest fires.
“There were numerous occasions where we would get calls from the fire department telling us to evacuate because there were fires threatening the ranch,” said Hamilton. “We would have a two-to-three-hour window to get 50-75 horses out of the ranch, but what I specifically remember are the LA County fire helicopters flying over us in their Blackhawks and Bell 412s, making water drops and fire-retardant drops. As you can imagine, it sparked a fire inside of 12-year-old Hamilton.”
That spark became a flame. During high school, Hamilton began taking pilot classes and discovered what he already knew, he loved it, but he was still trying to decide if being a pilot was the next step, or if he should take the logical route like all his friends and go to college.
“I went to a college prep school, so when it was time to begin applying to college, I did what all my friends were doing,” said Hamilton. “I went to Loyola Marymount University for a year and studied business and discovered it wasn’t for me. I wasn’t passionate about what I was doing, and I realized it was difficult for me to know that I wanted to be flying but was stuck on the ground.”
At the end of his first year, Hamilton sat down with his parents to talk about his future. “I said, would it be alright if I left LMU and started flying helicopters to get my licenses and make this a career?”
His parents encouraged him to go for it. “Do whatever makes you happy, we’re here to support you just as long as you think this is the right decision.”
Having his parents’ support meant that Hamilton could fully dive into his passion for flying. While Hamilton was working on his flight licenses, he continued his education at a local community college where he got his Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) license and continued his studies in business, all while juggling a job at LA’s famous In-and-Out restaurant.
Once he got his private license, Hamilton quit In-and-Out and started working for the flight school he attended, managing the flight school, charter, and tours. Once he received his Certified Flight Instructor licenses, he began flying full time for them. Hamilton admits that it was scary at first taking an alternate route than his friends when it came to college.
“At first, I second guessed my decision. All my friends were in college and posting stories of themselves having fun, while I’m living at the airport, trying to get all my hours,” said Hamilton. “But then I started to fly more and realize how much I had a true passion for flying and there was no experience in the classroom that was going to compare to that.”
So, how exactly did Hamilton make his way to Bristow?
“One of my long-time friends and flight instructors, Steve, applied to Era, pre-Covid, around 2018/2019, and once he started working there, he asked me to come join him. They have 189s and 139s and he told me I can get my Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) experience, which is not something a lot of helicopter pilots have.” Steve also mentioned that Hamilton would work with some great people and would get the chance to fly some cool helicopters. “I was sold! I submitted my application, he recommended me, and next thing I know, I had an interview and had my first day in July of 2021.”
Hamilton is based in Houma, Louisiana and loves it. “We have a lot of great people that work here. Everybody that I have met has been really cool to work with. I look forward to coming into work every day, it’s fun.”
In a short amount of time, Hamilton has accomplished a great deal, so what’s next? “I was recently offered the opportunity to become an AW139/189 IFR captain. I have worked hard the past couple of years, grinding, to get to this point and seeing my hard work come to fruition and having Bristow put their trust in me means a lot. I’ve been looking forward to this day.”
Hamilton is aware that he took the road less traveled and has words of encouragement for those who are thinking of a similar path.
“There really is no set path, do whatever feels right to you. Everybody has their own way of getting to their end goal. I know people who started flying when they were 30 or 40 and still made a wonderful career out of it. Whether it’s flying EMS or in the Gulf of Mexico, or firefighting, it doesn’t matter which road you take, give it a try and get the experience.”