Pilot's Interviews 20.12.2017

A Woman in the Male Dominated Pilot World

Sabrina Sharkey’s career is like something out of a film: From working as a server at an airport restaurant, she got into flying out of curiosity. Today she is the first and only female demonstration pilot at our subsidiary, Pilatus Business Aircraft Ltd. Pilatus Business Aircraft Ltd

Sabrina, have you always wanted to be a pilot?
No, not really. My father was an aviation enthusiast and we went to many air shows together when I was young. In my 20s I was working as a server in an airport restaurant to pay for college, working toward a degree in nutritional science. Looking ahead at a career of preparing meals for people in a hospital seemed very boring compared to the stories the local aviators told, so I began taking flying lessons.

Where did you do your flight training?
I earned my private and instrument ratings at the same airport where I was a waitress – San Luis Obispo, California. For my commercial and multi-engine ratings I went to an intense, accelerated flight training school in Laughlin, Nevada. I learned to fly seaplanes at Lake Havasu City, where the London Bridge is now located.

How did you find your way into the job at Pilatus Business Aircraft Ltd?
In 1999 I was trained as a PC-12 pilot for a start-up airline called Community Air. The airline wasn’t successful in getting off the ground – no pun intended – but through that training I met Tom Evans, who was the lead flight instructor at SIMCOM Aviation Training. We stayed in touch over the years as I continued with my flying career. When a demonstration pilot position with Pilatus became open in 2006, Tom suggested I apply. Peter Duncan, who was Chief Pilot at that time, hired me in October of that year.

What kind of operation do you fly for Pilatus Business Aircraft Ltd?
We fly a wide variety of missions as demonstration pilots for Pilatus, and flying demonstrations actually only makes up a small fraction of our work! We take aircraft to and from the paint facilities, perform paint quality inspections, conduct production test flights, periodically transport company personnel, conduct government and special mission demonstrations, attend trade shows, and also conduct dealer acceptance flights for new deliveries. Every day is different, which makes it a lot of fun!

What’s it like to work as a woman in a male-dominated job?
Currently, just under seven percent of the pilot population in the United States are women. It’s a unique industry, however, and one which tends to be very welcoming and supportive of anyone who is an aviation enthusiast and is serious about flying safely. I’ve been fortunate in my career not to run into any significant roadblocks due to discrimination against women. In fact, many of the aviation organisations work very hard to try to attract more women into aviation careers.

What do you like about the PC-12?
It’s just a lot of fun to fly! I really like its versatility, its comfort, and how you can come in high, drop the gear and flaps, and nail a perfect landing on a very short runway.

What makes your job so special?
The wide variety of flying that we get to do at Pilatus. Working for an aircraft manufacturer is unique and special in its own right. We always get to fly brand new airplanes, and there is much more diversity than flying a regular airline schedule.

What do you do in your free time?
I enjoy yoga and CrossFit to stay in shape, and at weekends I volunteer at the Colorado Therapeutic Riding Center. I enjoy being part of a team dedicated to helping change the lives of people with disabilities by promoting their physical, psychological and social well-being through equine-assisted activities. 

Have you got any interesting or funny stories from your daily life as pilot which you could share? 
It’s always been my personal goal to get a wide variety of flying experience, and I’ve had a lot of fun over the years doing just that. I’ve towed gliders in Nevada, seeded clouds in developing thunderstorms in North Dakota, flown a glider in a wave, taken river rafters in and out of small backcountry airstrips in Utah, hauled freight around Southeast Alaska in a Fokker F27, enjoyed aerobatics in an Extra, and even logged a few hours in the T-28 Trojan and T-34 Mentor military trainers. My most memorable moments are flying with Pilatus pilots in Stans and flying a ferry flight in a PC-12 from Stans to Broomfield.

Sabrina, thank you very much for those interesting insights into your daily life at Pilatus Business Aircraft Ltd. We wish you many more memorable flights in your continuing career with us!