Interview: Pilot Nancy Bradshaw
Interviewed by Deesha Ganguli on 17th August 2021
What inspired you to get into aviation?
I am Dutch, but my grandparents lived in Aruba and Curaçao. As my parents didn’t have the money for us to all get on a flight at once, they would put me on an unaccompanied minor ticket for my grandparents to then pick me up on the other side of the journey. Me being at such a young age was amazed at how a heavy contraption like the Boeing 747 could fly and take me to my grandparents. So I asked the flight attendant and luckily enough was shown around the cockpit and met the pilots. Being able to meet the pilots was the beginning of what inspired me to get into aviation.
I was an engineer for 10 years before I actually started flying. As part of my engineering career, I got to work on F35 and F16 jets which only fanned the flames to pursue an aviation job further. Although I was not flying these jets I learned everything I possibly could about them before eventually transitioning into flying for a regional airline.
After flight instructing and flying for a smaller corporate company, I ended up at a regional airline flying the Embraer ERJ145, my first airline position as a First Officer. Unfortunately, I got furloughed due to the pandemic, and the company I worked for closed its doors. With passenger flight being pretty much non-existent during the height of the pandemic I made the switch to fly cargo on the Boeing 747. And yes that was fun but that’s where I did miss that human element and so I decided to find a different flying job. But before I started a new fixed-wing job I took some time to earn my helicopter ATP add-on. After completing that I started at a corporate company and I now fly the Gulfstream GIV which is a job I love.
What has been your favourite helicopter experience?
My favourite experience was definitely when I flew an R22 to DT1 (a helistop located in Fort Lauderdale, Florida). Flying in-between buildings to get there felt like something straight out of a movie. The freedom you feel in helicopters is nothing like it is when flying larger planes – after all I don’t think you could land a Boeing on a building! I took the journey twice, once during the day and once at night and it was truly an amazing experience.
What do you enjoy most about being an airline pilot and helicopter pilot?
I am proud to be able to fly both platforms, for now flying airplanes to pay the bills and be able to pay for flying helicopters for fun. Flying planes are all about checklists. There are high levels of automation, lots of controls, and autopilot which all require that you have extensive system knowledge of how to manage the machine. Flying helicopters, however, is more about your “actual flying” skills. There is far more stick and rudder action and a lot less automation. Whilst there is still automation in larger helicopters, it is nowhere near as much as in planes. When flying smaller unstable helicopters like Robinsons you can sneeze and something might go wrong. Using both your hands and your feet to fly is what attracted me – compared to planes, helicopter pilots are in the loop 100% of the time, rather than just takeoff and landing. Ultimately, helicopters are harder for me to fly and I am the kind of person who loves being challenged.
What is it like being a content creator? Do you enjoy it/balance it?
I have spent three and a half years producing content, creating over 400 videos as of this interview. Spreading awareness is the most important part of being a content creator for me. The great thing about having my own channel is that I am able to put out what I want when I want, how I want. I would like to think that my videos have three purposes; to inspire, to inform, and to motivate.
I love creating my content and helping people on their aviation journey, whether that be in helicopters or airplanes. I balance the content creation by batch creating: trying to have all my content for all the platforms done a month in advance.
Did you ever have a mentor?
Whilst I never had a specific long-term mentor, I have met many people over the past 15 years who have all inspired me in their own way. Two organisations that have helped me are the Ninety-Nines and Women in Aviation International and the Whirly Girls. Both of these have given me fantastic opportunities to meet great people who have taught me so much. One such person was an elderly woman from the Ninety-Nines. She was a WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots) who flew bombers in WWII when she was only 17. When she was alive, she was a massive inspiration to me and really encouraged me to believe in myself when pursuing a career in aviation. Finally, I have previously flown with someone who used to work at NASA as an engineer. I could specifically relate to this gentleman because of our similar backgrounds.
What have been some challenges of being a female and ethnic minority pilot?
Working in aviation is going to be inherently challenging if you don’t look like other pilots. People have a certain idea of what a pilot is meant to look like and if you don’t fit their understanding, problems inevitably arise. Whilst things are changing and getting better and better, there are still some issues like this in the industry.
Three key stories stick in my mind when considering these challenges. The first is when I was running on the beach and ended up chatting to a random stranger. Eventually, as seems to always happen, I got asked what my job was, to which I replied that I was a pilot. Curiously, the response I got was “You don’t look like a pilot”. Clearly running on the beach, having tattoos, being a woman and an ethnic minority clearly didn’t fit this person’s narrow understanding of what it meant to “look like a pilot”. Maybe if I was running around in my white shirt, a pilot hat, and aviators I would have got a different response! The other two times were when people assumed that I was a flight attendant without actually asking me any questions. One time in a bathroom in upstate New York, the cleaner asked me why I didn’t have a skirt on, before being surprised to find out that I wasn’t a flight attendant.
These challenges have also made their way onto my own youtube channel where videos I posted on race and gender received hundreds of negative comments. I took down the videos that were getting that many negative comments. Because people were writing really insulting and awful things not only towards me but also start attacking each other in the comments. I don’t want that type of negativity on my platforms so I deleted the videos that got that reaction. There were 3 in total that I took off the channel.
Eventually, I took a 5 week break from creating new content because I did lose the motivation to post new material because of that. I returned to content creation because I love it and want to continue to highlight the positive things of being a pilot and the aviation industry
As I said earlier, things are getting better and better, but if my experiences have taught me anything, it’s that changing people’s understanding of what a pilot is, still has some way to go.
What are your future plans?
This has changed a bit since I now have a fixed wing job that I really love. Flying in the corporate world and flying the Gulfstream is awesome. With this job, I want to save up money to eventually continue to fly helicopters and earn my CFI certificate for helicopters as well. And who knows, in the end, I may be able to buy my own helicopter as well. My main long term goal is to be able to fly both jets and helicopters for as long as I can
Want to find out more about Nancy?:
Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/nancybshawloves2av8/
With special thanks to Nancy Bradshaw for making this happen.