The first time the helicopter pilot touched down on an oil platform the men at sea thought she was an angel, only with metal wings. The cat calls, the offers of marriage and telephone numbers only amused her then, and it still manages to bring a smile to her face every time. That was when she became Trinidad’s first female helicopter pilot.
I am Alicia Candice Hackshaw, My date of Birth? Let’s just say I’ll be 21 for another few years. I attended Naparima Girls’ High School, O’Levels and A’Levels. (First place in the Caribbean in CXC History) yay! Nerd School – professional student University of London Law (LLB). Currently finishing up my MSc in International Management with an Oil and Gas specialization.
Not entirely sure when I first aspired to learn to fly as I was a month away from law school in the UK. Gave my parents a heart attack by announcing that I was going to be a pilot. They were NOT happy in the beginning, but it has turned out alright, I’d wager.
They made me take a year off from school to figure out my life and sent me to work in a bank for 6 miserable months to gain some responsibility and get back to law school a.k.a. stop coming home from partying at 6am. HATED it with a passion. Still became a pilot! hee hee
The year after I finished A’Levels, I started at Briko Air Services for my PPL.
BRIKO (ratings C152, C172, C402)
Started flying a Cessna 152 9YTHZ, which I am sure MANY Trini pilots have cut their teeth on. Not much to say here really, other than I got my PPL there. Great people, I’d recommend that flight school any day! I’m sure most of us have passed through Larry, Roops, Andre, Piers, and those boys.
Oh, my mother took me for my fam flight. When I landed, she looked at Larry and said, “You made sure that she got this flying thing out of her system, right? He looked at her and said, “She’s a natural”. LOL!
FLIGHT SCHOOL – TAMIAMI (ratings C172, Instrument, Piper Seminole, R-22)
Went off to flight school in Tamiami, FL. right after I got my PPL to get my CPL fixed wing. Yes, started off flying fixed wing aircraft!
Whilst I was finishing that up, my instructor asked if I wanted to learn to fly a helicopter as he had an R-22 laying around. So I thought, ‘what the hell, let’s do this! “why the heck not, it’s not like I’ll never ever fly a helicopter ever again in life” (look how THAT turned out!), so I got a helicopter CPL in 3 weeks – and at first I hated those dratted helicopters.
Therefore, my instructor, Steve Thompson, who was the owner of the flight school and a former Marine, realising that I wasn’t taking to helicopter flying, brought in an INSANE Cuban ex-navy pilot- Elias – to instruct me (I still never really understood anything he said!). I never had so much fun in my life! He really allowed me to play with that Robbie. The first thing he made me do was fly down into the Everglades and chase alligators. LOL.
On one occasion, we flew into the airspace of the Tamiami military base (accidentally of course) and here now is a Cuban with a thick incomprehensible accent and a Trini trying to get themselves out of hot water. When I passed my check ride 3 weeks later, Elias cried. He then ran around the FBO telling everyone that “she only learned to fly a helicopter 3 weeks ago” – or at least that’s what I THINK he said? I loved that chain-smoking Cuban cigar dude.
In total, I took two and a half months to get a single engine fixed wing CPL, instrument rating, fixed wing multi engine and rotorcraft CPL. I was basically doing fixed wing flying in the mornings and helicopter flying in the afternoons. It was pressure; I didn’t get to do all the liming and partying that other flight students get to do in flight school. I wish I had that every time I hear people recounting their flight school stories. My instructor was a former Marine – ‘nuff said.
So, I am a fully qualified multi engine instrument fixed wing commercial pilot as well as an ATPL rotorcraft pilot. Helicopters are WAY cooler though. Sorry.
BRISTOW CARIBBEAN LIMITED
Came back to Trinidad and like all Trini pilots wanted to come back and work for BeeWee. Sat on my butt for 3 years without a job, which is the plight of so many pilots who return to Trinidad.
No luck. Dabbled with becoming a host of other things, including going to do that law degree that I had initially set out to do in the U.K. Had to contend with parents saying, “we told you so” etc. Scores of resumes sent out to BWIA, Tab Ex, etc etc.
Then I thought, well I DO have a commercial helicopter rating (bless my flight school instructor – he really was my guardian angel). Even applied for a job at a local helicopter company and was told that “we are not sophisticated enough to have women flying our helicopters”. Yeah, I know.
On my third medical, my AME (whom I adore) said, “Alicia, what’s really going on with you? Why do you not have a job, YET?” I told him why (the chauvinistic boys’ club part), he said, “I’ll work on it”.
The very next day, the Accountable Manager of Bristow Caribbean Limited, Capt. James Wilhite, who later turned out to be my mentor and all round favouritest person in the world, called and said “can you come down on Sunday for an interview?”
Got down to the Galeota base on a Sunday afternoon for my interview and Capt. Wilhite in his wiliness made sure that not a soul was on the base (he knew what he was up to! LOL)
He asked a few questions and then said, “You’re too pretty and girly to be a helicopter pilot down here with a group of offshore men, I don’t think this is going to work….you’re hired.”
My favorite memory of him at BCL? I was doing a pre flight of one of the aircraft and I must have paused for a bit. He was standing up in the crew room looking down and I later heard that he commented to someone, “Shit. Looks like Alicia broke a nail. That aircraft isn’t going anywhere.” I got a pack of nail files in my locker a few days later. I really love that dude.
The rest is history.
After being ignored repeatedly by BWIA and Tab-Ex, I started with Bristow Caribbean Limited in Galeota (circa 2002) as the first female helicopter pilot in the country …in a predominantly male environment, both on-shore and offshore. Boy, was THAT entertaining. The stories I can tell!! Looking back, I wouldn’t have changed my path for anything in the world!
My Boss took a chance as he had never hired a female till then.”
Alicia found that here, her male collegues treated her no differently, except in the beginning there were no off colour jokes, “If I did not have boobs you would think I was one of the guys.
Went on four years later to become the first female helicopter captain in the country. I would not lie, it was not an easy task to break the glass ceiling, and there were a few people who made it very difficult and continue to make it difficult for the female pilots who are there right now, but c’est la vie! At Bristow, I was (and still am) also a UKCAA qualified Crew Resource Management instructor and the Dep. Quality Manager of Flight Operations for a while.
BRISTOW (2002-2014) (Ratings B212, B412, AW139) Positions (Captain, Deputy Quality Manager Flight Ops, CRMI)
After 12 years of service to BCL, I figured it was time to leave. I had outgrown my time there. BCL was very good to me for over a decade. We had our ups and downs, (breaking the glass ceiling was extremely painful and did not come easily, in fact it can be incredibly demotivating, but what doesn’t kill you, right?) but it was still an amazing experience for the most part. After me, four other girls followed, so I guess I started something good then! I left behind guys and girls, pilots, engineers, ground crews, dispatchers, whom I will love forever (others not so much) 😀. I met great people in
the offshore environment and oil and gas industry as well, people whom I still talk to today. I was treated VERY WELL by my offshore peeps, they don’t ever pass me straight.
I flew the late Patrick Manning when he was Prime Minister in the very earlies (2003/2004?) out to Labidco once when one of the platforms, the Cannonball was being built. He was the nicest guy in the world and much nicer than the horror stories you hear of VIP’s later down in time (and there ARE horror stories!). We picked him up at the Savannah and on departure, one of the doors unlocked so we had to abort the take off and land so that we could lock the door. Scores of security agents brandishing automatics started running toward the aircraft panicking and shouting – he had a really good laugh at that.
Oh, during this time I also set out to complete my law degree as well. Met my current partner who was also a helicopter pilot with “the other guys” but I’m a waaaaaay better pilot than he was (hee hee) KIDDING! (not really).
Bristow was a great place to work back in the day and from my time there, I have taken with me many people who I will cherish forever. It was however, time to move on after 13 years. It was not an easy decision to leave, but…
COBHAM AVIATION SERVICES/TTAG (2014-2016)
TTAG, my cubs. Chief Mama Bear. Gosh, I love those guys and girls there. You will never meet a warmer bunch of batches (They’re also tough, armed and trained military S.O.B.’s so watch out!).
They welcomed in a LOUD girly girl civilian into their ranks. I miss them terribly. I also really miss those English blokes as well. Search and Rescue, TONS of bambi bucket ops during the dry season, drug pulls, flying VIPs. Sadly, I had to leave partly due to contractual issues that arose, and that’s all I can say on that for now. I would have stayed with them forever if I could have. TTAG is a tremendous outfit with so much potential it’s a good kind of scary, and I hope the powers that be grow to understand that. Maybe one day I will be in a position to really take that unit the places where it needs to go.
Got to fly Machel Montano around for his music video in 2015 (ok, I pretty much just demanded that I tag along – Chief Pilot responsibilities and all! LOL) Again, a really down to earth nice guy to have in the aircraft.
So I became the Chief Pilot (again another female first) and Safety Management Systems Manager AND CRM instructor (phew) for the Trinidad and Tobago Air Guard under the auspices of Cobham Aviation Services (Delivers outsourced aviation services for military and civil customers worldwide through military training, special mission flight operations, outsourced commercial aviation and aircraft engineering), an extensive defense systems and aviation firm out of the UK. Loved flying with TTAG, it is definitely not oil and gas flying, that’s for sure! #MamaBear.
And so ends another chapter. It was a short one, but I feel honoured to be Chief Mama Bear of a bunch of such awesome guys and girls. I’m gonna miss you guys tons and a girl couldn’t ask for a better team to be charged with. I may not have been part of an official batch, but y’all are all MY batch. Thanks for welcoming this girly girl civilian into the TTAG ranks. Best of luck and continue to make me a proud mama! My door is always open and the chocolate jar always full.
I have recently taken a position as a flight Ops inspector with the TTCAA.
So here I am a brand spanking new helicopter flight operations inspector at the TTCAA. Why? I had the option to go elsewhere to fly of course, but my next step in my aviation career is to learn how the organisation works from the other side of the coin. There ARE future goals in mind after all! This is a learning process for me.
Although we (crews and operators) gripe about the “fun police”, there really is an incredible wealth of knowledge and experience here that one wouldn’t understand unless one is “on the inside”. It is different and it is a MAJOR culture shock, but hopefully in a good, growing kind of way. So this is where I park my butt for now.
I know that you want stories, but they are just much too much to type out and tell. Just know that pilots, especially helicopter pilots, are a different breed of Peter Pan individuals! Do I miss it? Of course I do! I miss the camaraderie and the ole talk that happens in a crew room and the bonding that takes place when you’re stuck in a cockpit with someone for an eight-hour day. I miss kicking back and having my first coffee somewhere over the Arena Dam at 0600
My fears in aviation centre on the industry itself. I am afraid that we do not have any aviation minded persons who “call the shots”, this is completely ridiculous…but I say no more!
Any “Oh shit” moments? Helicopter pilots only have “OH HELL YEAH” moments!
At present I have acquired 8000+ Total flying hours.
Currently pursuing my MSc. In International Management with an Oil and Gas specialty. (I spend most of my nights working on my dissertation now).
Women In Aviation International
TTALPA (this is important all you pilot people out there!)
WHAT I WISH TO SEE
The entire Aviation industry in Trinidad is incredible – there is SO much scope for growth and modernisation. I really hope that those who have the say have some iota of aviation experience and could thus make timely and effective decisions for the betterment and advancement of the industry.
It kills me to know that the people making the decisions, for funding etc., have no clue about aviation and what it demands. There was one electoral candidate during the last elections who I believed would have been the guy to sit in Parliament and really make a difference in the industry, but he didn’t make it. There’s so much that can be done to move the industry along into the 21 st century, but it starts from the top. I’ll stop there otherwise I’ll get up on my soapbox and sometimes it’s a bit hard to come down!
THINGS I LOVE BUT FEEL AWKWARD ABOUT
1. When I’m in uniform in public and parents send their little girls to talk to me. Some even ask for autographs. I feel like they will be the future movers and shakers and remember that one time they met a pilot in the frozen food aisle.
2. When people tell me that they started flying because of that crazy article I did back in 2004. (got me out of a speeding ticket once! YAY!) LOL
3. When people say “they have girl pilots?!!”
4. When people say “aren’t you the first female helicopter pilot or something?”
5. Me having to explain to a man why women flying planes and helicopters is a good thing.
Pictures I really do not have a lot of because I hate taking them. I definitely don’t have any pictures of me at sim, though I suspect that it would be very cartoonish and look like a person losing her marbles.
You’d think that I was a nerd, but growing up, I really was a party girl LOL. Now I really only like to Netflix and Chill with a bottle of merlot!
Hackshaw does not see herself as a role model or pioneer and shies away from any title that puts her on a pedestal. “ I’m just happy that other women have chosen this field.”