Police Helicopter Pilot

Helicopter Aviation & Beyond:

We take you inside the cockpit of law enforcement helicopters around the world while sharing knowledge and insight on how to become a police or sheriff helicopter pilot.

NYPD Helicopter Pilot is Shining Example For Women in Aviation

PILOT PROFILE: Pilot Erin Nolan-Egan

NYPD Pilot Erin Nolan-Egan pre-flighting her Bell 412 Air Sea Rescue Helicopter- photo credit Wall Street Journal

Current Position

  • PIC for Air Sea Rescue in the B412
  • PIC in both patrol aircraft (A119K) and the (B429) we are now in the process of converting our patrol aircraft to the 429. 
  • Instrument flight instructor for the pilots in training, the IFR rating is required for the PICs in the B412 and the B429s

Aviation Degrees Earned

  • BS:  Aeronautical Science with a minor in Meteorology, from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University
  • MBA:  Aviation Management   

Pilot Ratings Held

  • Commercial Helicopter with an Instrument rating
  • Certified Flight Instructor Helicopter and Helicopter Instrument
  • Commercial Single Engine Land and Sea, Multi-Engine Land and Instrument rating
  • Certified Flight Instructor Single Engine, Mulit-engine, and Instrument
  • Certified Aircraft Dispatcher

Current Flight Hours (Approximate)

  • Fixed wing-  2450
  • Rotor wing- 2300

According to the FAA in 2013 there were 599,000 licensed pilots in the U.S. in 2013; of those only 33,362 were rotorcraft pilots and of those only 22,235 were commercially rated helicopter pilots. Considering that only about 6% of all licensed pilots are female, one can deduce that the number of female helicopter pilots licensed by the FAA is be less than 1,332. The FAA does not keep a tally on the number of female helicopter pilots specifically, but if you are a woman pilot flying helicopters in a Law Enforcement Air Support unit you are an extremely rare individual indeed. In a country of 300 million people, female law enforcement helicopter pilots would almost assuredly be counted by the hundreds, not thousands.  

By all accounts you will not hear or see Erin Nolan-Egan boasting about being a female pilot or for that matter a female NYPD Helicopter Pilot. But anyone who has worked as hard as she has to earn her degrees, ratings, and pilot position has a certain amount of bragging rights be they male or female.

Being selected to fly and command multi-million dollar police helicopters over New York City is not a small accomplishment by any standard. There are currently two female pilots assigned to NYPD’s Air Support Unit.

Over the past 12 years Erin has climbed the proverbial ladder inside the NYPD’s Air Support Unit to become the first woman pilot to be rated to fly the department’s Bell 412 Air Sea Rescue helicopter. While Erin herself may not boast about flying a 412 for NYPD, society has not lost its appetite for celebrating women who have pushed career boundaries and set the example for other women to follow.

So it is in this vein that we sought out Erin to ask a few questions about her aviation background, experience and how she came to fly for the NYPD.

Also, see the bottom of this article for some U.S. Army statistics on female helicopter pilots vs. male helicopter pilots. You might be very surprised!


An Interview With NYPD Pilot Erin Nolan-Egan

1. Growing up on Long Island, did you ever think or consider that you might one day become an NYPD Officer?  Never, I was always interested in science and the space program.  It wasn’t until later in my college years that law enforcement became an option for me.

2. How old were you when you took your first airplane ride and was that with your father?  I don’t exactly remember if I flew with my father first or if I was on an airliner first.  My mother is a travel agent and when I was kid it was a much different profession then it is today. She had a lot of benefits and I was lucky to have traveled a lot on airlines when I was young.  My first flight in a small plane was definitely with my Dad.  He was a private pilot and had taken my mother and I to places like Hershey Park and I had gone with him on a few flight lessons.

3. As a young girl were you ever allowed to take the controls of the airplane or “help fly”? Unfortunately no, looking back I wish we had done more but my last memory of flying with my dad explains it.  He had taken me on a flight when he had to do a refresher with his flight instructor before renting the airplane and I was sitting in the back. Enjoying the flight and not knowing what was about to happen next, I suddenly hear this alarm sound and we are looking down at the water.  I was scared to death and was yelling at him to take me home. Later, I learned he was doing stall practice, but I didn’t want to hear it nor did I really understand. I told him I never wanted to go again.  The next time I flew with my dad I was in the pilot seat. 

4. When you entered Embry Riddle was it your plan to become an airline pilot or were you open to other career paths in aviation such as the military?  During High School and before applying to college I wanted to go the Air Force Academy and wanted to join the military due to my interests in NASA and the space program. After speaking to some cadets and graduates the restrictiveness and the life commitment were a little unnerving at a young age, so I chose the college route instead.  I originally wanted to study Engineering but while looking at schools I came across Embry Riddle Aeronautical University where I could study Aviation and/or engineering and still become a pilot which was the next best thing.  

5. I understand you are also a licensed aircraft dispatcher. How is this different from being an air traffic controller?  In the Airlines an Aircraft dispatcher is responsible for flight planning, taking into consideration, weather, aircraft performance and weight and balance.  They also monitor a flights progress and will advise the flight crew of any circumstances that might affect flight safety.  Dispatchers also have the authority to divert, delay or cancel a flight.

6. At what point did you become certain you did not want to pursue a career as an airline pilot? During college I applied and was selected as an intern with TWA airlines.  I worked with the chief meteorologist in the dispatch office at JFK Airport.  I was able to sit jump seat and observe flight operations on any flight.  At the time TWA had flights to numerous destinations in Europe so I took advantage of the benefit and on every other weekend off I would pick a flight to a different country and observe the flight operations on both the 747 and 767 aircraft.  Not only was I able to travel to so many interesting and different countries like Egypt but I was able to see firsthand the life of an airline pilot.  By the time the internship was over I wasn’t sure this lifestyle was for me.  There is a lot of time away from home in hotels which of course are great but I figured the allure would wear off in a short amount of time plus I felt like the pilots aren’t really flying they are monitoring the aircraft for very long periods of time.  I wanted something a little more hands on and the thought of helicopters came to mind and eventually I took an introductory lesson in a Bell 47 and I was instantly hooked. 

7. How big of a decision was it for you to temporarily set aside your flying career and become an NYPD Officer?  Honestly it wasn’t that difficult because I never really set it aside. I knew I wanted to be a law enforcement pilot so I took the NYPD entrance exam and was called right away. I had just finished college and needed to decide quickly as I was only 22 years old and needed a job.  I believed it would have been tougher to make ends meet while flight instructing and trying to build time for the airlines.  So I moved back home went to the police academy and upon graduation got right back to flight instructing and flying a “traffic watch plane” for a local radio station to keep building my time.  I always believed in having a backup plan. 

8. As you were making your decision to become an NYPD Officer how did you deal with the possibility that you might not ever be selected to the air unit, despite your aviation degree(s) and ratings? Again, I never really thought about it.  I was very naïve I was young and new to the department and just figured my resume would speak for itself. But I was the first in my family to become a police officer and was really clueless about the politics and the inner workings of the department.  There were many that would say discouraging and disheartening things about my chances of getting into the unit.  I just kept my head up, kept flying and enjoyed my duties as a police officer; I made many friends and had some great partners along the way.   Luckily enough almost 5 years later I was transferred to the Aviation Unit and it was no longer a worry.

9. You have been billed as the first female NYPD pilot to be a designated PIC in the Bell 412. Have there been other female pilots in the NYPD air support unit?  Yes, when I was transferred I was the 3rd female to be assigned to the unit as a pilot, although I was the first with an aviation background and actively flying prior to becoming a police officer.  Within the last 2 years another female has joined our team.     

10. You were part of the air crew when your 412 Helicopter suffered mechanical problems on approach to Floyd Bennett Field. Can you clarify if you were on the controls or if your partner was on the controls? And did you perform an auto-rotation or was it more of an emergency water landing?  The final NTSB report has been released and it is an interesting read if you want to know how they investigated what happened.  Yes, I was at the controls while on low approach back to Floyd Bennett Field when we had a catastrophic failure of the output gear in the combining gear box.  Basically, we lost all power to the rotor system.  The result was an auto-rotative flare to the water. Floats were deployed and the 6 person crew luckily only experienced some lingering, relatively minor injuries.

11. Were you in the air support unit on 911?  I was assigned to the Aviation Unit in January of 2003 making this month my 12th year anniversary.  During 911 I was assigned as a patrol cop in the 69th precinct Brooklyn NY.  I entered the Police academy in 1998 so I was still a young rookie cop during 911.

12. What advice do you have for any young person, male or female, who is considering a career in aviation?  Aviation has many niches so pick what interests you most and pursue what will make you happy. Aviation is a passion and not the easiest goal to reach but it is attainable if you work hard.  The aviation industry as a whole has seen some drastic changes and has become a lot more expensive especially for general aviation where it all begins.  Think of it as becoming a doctor or a lawyer, be prepared to take on a lot of work, a lot of debt, but know if it is your passion it will be worth it in the end.  


Male Helicopter Pilots vs. Female Helicopter Pilots

As part of his studies at the School of Advanced Military Studies at the Army’s Command, Army Major Seneca Peña-Collazo prepared a report entitled Women in Combat Arms: A Study of the Global War on Terror, published in the early part of 2014.

In the study Major Peña-Collazo looked at the records of all U.S. Army helicopter pilots from 2002 to 2013 both in the combat theater and outside of the combat theater. Here is what he found; while women make up 10 out of every 100 Army Pilots they account for only 3 out of every 100 accidents in U.S. Army Helicopters. When he looked at only the AH-64 Apache Attack Helicopter 100% of all accidents both Army wide and in theater were all male crews. There were no AH-64 helicopter accidents involving female pilots.

So there you go. Evidence that women make better helicopter pilots than men!

Police Helicopter Pilot.com would like to thank Erin for taking the time thoughtfully answer each of the questions posed to her.