Editor’s Note: When Kalin told me she’d met, flown with, and interviewed one of the few female helicopter pilots in the world, I couldn’t wait to read the interview and add it to our new Women at Forty Whirly Girls series. The series highlights women entrepreneurs in their forties who are doing great things on their own terms. It’s fitting then that today’s post features real-life Whirly Girl herself, Angie Griffin...
One of the best ways to see the geography and natural beauty of an island is by taking a helicopter tour. I really enjoyed getting a bird’s eye view of island destinations such as Barbados, Grenada, and The Dominican Republic. I was a bit nervous on my first flight, but since then I’ve never passed up a chance to view an island from the sky. All of my previous flights were with male pilots. But on my most recent tour, I had the honor of flying with Angie Griffin, chief pilot and owner of Dragonfly Copters Tours. She’s one of less than 1,700 female helicopter pilots in the world. (Photo: Angie Griffin)
At age 48, Angie will never forget her 40th birthday. She remembers leaving for a birthday cruise and two days later the 9/11 terrorist attack occurred. Like many people after that date, Angie started taking stock of her life. But it wasn’t until a few years later that she took lessons to become a helicopter pilot. “Working at the University of Houston, I was really bored. I traveled to Alaska and did some dog sledding and we had to take a helicopter to get there. It was my first time in a helicopter, and right then and there I decided that’s what I wanted to do for a living,” said Angie. That’s when she became a “whirly girl” – the nickname for female helicopter pilots. “I never thought about doing it when I was younger, but looking back I remember I was always doing book reports on Amelia Earhart,” she laughed.
The native Texan moved to Atlanta where she lived for 17 years giving tourists helicopter tours from DeKalb Peachtree Airport to major sites like St. Mountain Park, the Georgia Aquarium, and Lake Lanier. Then she moved again – this time to St. Simons Island, Georgia where she started Dragonfly Copters. Angie says about 50 percent of tourists who take helicopter rides are women. I took a 15-minute tour of St. Simons and Little St. Simons Islands, going up about 500 feet. It was a little windy so the ride got a bit bumpy at times, but Angie is such a great pilot that she kept it in control and I felt comfortable the entire time. From the air I could see all of the lighthouse, beautiful private homes and resorts, and the topography of the two islands, with hundreds of trees and sandy marshes. A highlight was getting close enough to see an alligator in the marsh.
“You don’t feel brave enough to do these things until you’re in your 40’s. Most information about being in your 40’s is negative, but I came into my own and no longer cared what people thought of me,” Angie said. But what people think is not really a problem for Angie since her customers love her! “Most of my customers have never flown before and I’m giving them their first flight ever. I even had a 93-year old woman fly with me,” Angie exclaims. And though I’ve taken helicopter tours before, Angie’s personality just made it extra special.
Dragonfly Copters offers customized tours like corporate events, PGA aerial tours, aerial photo tours, party rides, and even offers a flight school. If you plan to go, I suggest staying at the King and Prince Beach & Golf Resort. It’s less than a 10-minute drive from the resort to the McKinnon Airport where the helicopter tours start. And for those of you who get motion sickness, I swear by Seaband wrist bands – only $10 at your local drugstore. For more information visit www.dragonflycopters.com, and for more on women helicopter pilots visit www.whirlygirls.org.
Angie even gives back to the community by hosting a “Broaden Your Horizons” day every January, where she gets junior high school girls excited about math and science – something they need to know to become pilots. “I’m also a therapist and I believe I could have gotten the victims of Katrina off their roofs in my helicopter and then given them [trauma] therapy,” she laments. In the future, Angie would like to start a nonprofit to take school supplies via helicopter to children in Mexico.
“I’d tell women to grab 40 by the horns – it’s been the best decade of my life…It frees you to do what you want to do and not apologize.” Amen, sister! I hope Angie’s story has inspired you to go for your dreams in this decade, or at least consider taking a helicopter tour for your 40th birthday. Who knows, you may even decide to get your pilot’s license. And remember: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.” Mark Twain
Kalin Thomas is Women at Forty’s Travel & Leisure Editor. She is also Senior Writer/Photographer for SoulOfAmerica. Before starting her own multimedia company, Kalin spent 17 years at CNN where she won several awards for her work as producer/correspondent for CNN’s weekly travel program, CNN TravelNow. She is currently writing a book about her travels. For more information on Kalin, visit www.seetheworldproductions.com.