By SARA ARTHURS
Meghan Newyear landed the helicopter she was flying with a news crew, but it was her male photographer who was asked how much fuel they needed. After he said to ask her, two other men present asked, “Is that a girl in there? Is she any good?”
Yes, he said, she was. As a woman in aviation, “I’ve always had people that stuck up for me,” said Newyear, who was the speaker at Tuesday’s Zonta Club of Findlay meeting, held at the Hancock Historical Museum. She is now an air ambulance LifeFlight pilot for Mercy St. Vincent Hospital in Toledo. She is the lead pilot based in Clyde. She has been with this program for 10 years and a helicopter pilot for 20 years.
“I just show up and I do my thing,” Newyear said. “And my skill speaks for me.”
She said flying for LifeFlight is a “very rewarding job.” But, she told the attendees, “No, I don’t want to see any of you” in her aircraft.
She always flies with two others, a combination of nurses, medics or residents. Newyear said she herself is strictly a pilot and has no medical experience.
But “I can see it, hear it, smell it — everything that’s in the aircraft.” When she first started she was told not to be curious, but she became so.
She said she can handle blood or vomit but has learned “I don’t like bones that are not in the position they should be in.”
She said even if she can’t see what’s happening, she knows. She knows because she knows the other two people who are in the helicopter with her and the patient. If they’re talking about sports, she knows the patient is fine.
But other times, “It’s, ‘Meghan, can you hurry up?'” And she knows that something is happening behind her, and it isn’t good.
She said she flies with the same “pool of people” but not the exact same two individuals each time. “They’re family,” she said, noting that she spends more time with them than with her husband.
One question she was asked was whether she ever refused to fly due to weather.
“I can say no,” she said. “It’s my job to say no.” In those cases, or when she does fly partway but has to land somewhere other than her intended location, they can then rendezvous with an ambulance to get the patient to the hospital.
Another question was whether she ever picked people up at a remote location. Newyear said yes, she has shut down Interstate 75 — and the Ohio Turnpike. Her crew also flies to Kelleys Island and Put-in-Bay.
She is the only female air ambulance pilot in northern Ohio that she knows of, although there used to be others.
“Not everybody can do it,” she said.
She said when she was an instructor, she had some students who were excited about learning to fly, but she could not get them to relax. When flying, you have to “be loose,” she said.
Newyear said she was at a conference of women aviators where one of the women shared statistics, first on the percentage of those who have an aviation license at all that are women, then other categories, like the percentage of those who have commercial licenses. In all cases the percentage was in the single digits.
Newyear said there are pilots who are, in fact, afraid of heights.
“It’s about being in control,” she said.
She said she is scared of roller coasters.
“But I’ll take a windy day flying a helicopter any day,” she said.
She said people see it as a risky job. But car accidents are also a risk and “I drive a lot in my car.” She said she knows the risks in flying helicopters and takes steps to minimize them, such as paying attention to the weather. And she pointed out that the difference between a helicopter and a fixed-wing aircraft is that, while an airplane needs a long strip to glide into a landing, “I just need a spot I can fit in.” Really, she said, that could be in a McDonald’s parking lot, just as long as she doesn’t hit the golden arches.
Another question she was asked was whether she needed to know a lot of math. She said there are some things, like that she must burn off fuel equivalent to a patient’s weight, but it doesn’t involve as much math as people might imagine.
Newyear said she is the youngest of four girls, the daughters of a Navy pilot. So she grew up going to aviation shows. But she thought in junior high that she wanted to be a physical therapist, then that she wanted to study English — and she went to college to study to become an English teacher. But she was also a full-time nanny, which took her to places like Hawaii, where she saw a lot of planes. She started wondering about aviation and made the decision to try helicopter school. Her first experience was 30 minutes of “chaos and excitement — it was fantastic.” She soon signed up for helicopter school. At first she thought of it as a hobby, but realized she couldn’t afford that: “It’s not like renting a car.”
She obtained her pilot’s license, and worked as a flight instructor shortly after that. Along with the news crew in Mobile, Alabama, her career has also included time flying people and equipment to offshore locations in the Gulf of Mexico. She was there for several hurricanes, including during and after Hurricane Katrina.
Zonta International has designated January “Amelia Earhart Month” and is celebrating women in fields, like aviation, that are dominated by men.