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Jun 2008 - Amber Louise Mathrole

Amber JuneMoxy header.jpg
Helicopter Pilot
Alameda, California

The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward.
~Amelia Earhart


 A Whirly-Girl at Work...

By:  Jean Harper


At 10 p.m. on Monday, June 16, I rang Amber Mathrole to conduct our interview via Skype. Skype is a computer phone technology that allows you to speak to and, if your computer has a camera, view one another.  When Amber answered she was clearly visible.  She sat tall on her chair ball and rolled forward to get in a better position to see me. 


Amber Louise Mathrole has been a helicopter pilot for eight years.  She started flying at the age of 25, and she speaks of her job much the same way as we all would speak about our chosen career.  She is a confident woman who really understands and appreciates the responsibility of piloting these volatile machines.

Helicopters are expensive, slow and can't carry very much. Helicopters run out of fuel before they have flown very far. Compared to the efficiency of an airplane, you sacrifice a tremendous amount of utility in exchange for the ability to land anywhere and fly low to the ground. Amber describes helicopters as being dynamically unstable.  "You must keep your hands on the controls at all times," she says. "These controls are very sensitive and must work together to control the helicopter".

As with airplanes, much of the key to safety in a helicopter is energy management. The helicopter has three kinds of energy: potential (altitude), kinetic (forward speed) and angular momentum (blade speed). These are controlled with four flight controls: the cyclic, the collective, the throttle and the pedal. The cyclic is a stick you hold in your right hand, which controls speed and direction by changing the pitch of the blades cyclically. The collective is the stick you hold in your left hand, which controls altitude by changing the pitch of the blades collectively.  On the end of the collective is a throttle.  When you raise the collective, this requires more power output from the engine, so the throttle increases -- in most helicopters, the pilot does not have to man the throttle.  

The final controls are the pedals, which control the lateral lift produced by the tail rotor.  When you raise the collective, it requires an increase in torque on the main rotor, and the body of the aircraft wants to spin in the opposite direction of the blade rotation. The tail rotor produces horizontal thrust to counter this reaction. The left pedal increases thrust while right pedal decreases thrust. Therefore, when you raise the collective you must apply the left pedal, and when you lower the collective you must apply the right pedal.

Amber_Heli_Controls_L4-2.jpgJudging from all these different controls, it is easy to see that it takes a great deal of coordination for a pilot to fly a helicopter.  For Amber, who has over 2000 hours of flight time, flying a helicopter is as easy as riding a bike.  But that has not always been the case. 

"It's the hardest thing I have ever done," she says proudly, "and I mean mentally, physically, spiritually -- and I had to overcome a great deal of struggle within myself to finish, as well as struggle for years to get to a point where I could sit back and relax and enjoy myself, especially with passengers on board. However, it is addicting and exhilarating and makes you feel like you are living in a dream when you are up there!  I feel very lucky to be in this position. I don't ever take it for granted. I gave up a lot of fun activities to fly, but feel that my rewards are greater than my sacrifices!"


I asked Amber to describe the feel of flying a helicopter.  She described it as being a single pilot, whose hands were on the controls at all times - you are in contact with air traffic control as you transition air space - you are responsible for the lives of others as well as your own at all times - your passengers ask you questions as you manipulate the controls with your hands and feet, and you simultaneously look down at your knee board, which is strapped to your leg with vital information, while watching your GPS guidance system to keep you on track of your destination in one of the busiest airspaces in America.  Amber's confidence in herself is obvious, however.

"I have several living friends that have crashed helicopters, and I expect that in my career, I will crash at least two, maybe three times.  I know that every time I start that machine up, this could be the flight.  I then take a deep breath, ask my passengers if their seat belts are fastened, and take off with some tricks up my sleeve..."

The tricks are...Amber_as_co-pilot_heli.jpg
1.  Fly the machine until you can fly it no more;
2.  Sacrifice the machine to save the lives of those on board;
3.  Be ready to crash at all times; and
4.  Know the right way to crash when the time comes.

Amber Mathrole was born in La Jolla, Calif., on September 24, 1974.  She has two brothers and one sister.  Her older brother Aaron, 36, works as a paramedic with plans to transition to a firefighter soon.  Her other brother Robby is the office manager for Golden Gate Helicopters, where Amber is the General Manager and the Chief Pilot.  The company is owned by Laurie Pitman, who also flies.  Amber's sister, Shannon, is 23, and is currently attending Chico State University. 

Amber says that she was a "tomboy" growing up.  Her parents divorced when she was only three years old, and she was raised by her father in Chico, Calif.  Growing up, Amber enjoyed surfing, soccer and jogging. She ran track in high school.  She attributes her confidence to her father's support; whenever she told him that she wanted to be a pilot he encouraged her, saying that there was nothing she couldn't do if she wanted it badly enough.

At Chico High School, Amber was a bright student and was able to achieve excellent grades with little effort. She was friends with everyone - it didn't matter if someone was "different" - she was open-minded.  She attributes this open-mindedness to her tight-knit family; even though her parents were divorced, they still got along well.  Amber received love from both of her parents and felt close to both of them even though they were physically separated.

Amber's parents met while working as Respiratory Therapists, who evaluate, treat and care for patients with cardiopulmonary disorders.  Her father taught respiratory therapy at Butte College.  Amber's grandmother, Lillian Van Buskirk, was a pioneer in this field, although in her time Respiratory Therapists were called "Inhalation Therapists".  Amber says that her grandmother was one of her mentors; her positive and happy attitude were traits to aspire to, and Amber always considered her grandmother to be someone that she could always talk to about anything.  Like Amber, Lillian was a strong and determined woman.  Amber began to choke up with tears when she recalled how her grandmother encouraged her to fly, even she was met with heavy resistance from most of her other family members.  Just two weeks after her grandmother died, Amber took her first solo flight.

Amber_closeup_Photo_9.jpgAfter high school, Amber first wanted to become a firefighter.  She applied to the Wild Land Firefighters Mendocino National Forest Hand Crew.  To qualify for the crew, she had to be able to run a seven minute mile and pass through rigorous physical training requirements, which included staying awake for 36 hours actively fighting fires.  She made it through these challenges with no difficulty.

 In her third year as a firefighter, Amber was flown via helicopter, and one of the pilots recommended that she go to flying school, because many fires are fought utilizing helicopters and the move would be good for her career. She was immediately sold on the idea, and enrolled at Sierra Academy of Aeronautics in Oakland, Calif. soon after.  She attended school six days a week from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., and then worked from 5 p.m. to midnight as a waitress to cover her living expenses.  Amber's training consisted of classroom work and at least one and a half hours of flying each day.  The program was very structured - students wore uniforms and were expected to adhere to strict rules.  

Amber attributes her instructor, Simon Edwards, with keeping her in school.  She felt so much pressure with her schedule that her body broke out with eczema for her first check ride.  Worse than her schedule, however, was the fact that Amber was one of only two women in her entire class.  Simon sat her down and talked with her for some time, encouraging her to stick with the program.  She is grateful that she did, because flying has become her passion.


To become a licensed pilot, you must take a written and oral exam administered by the FAA after completing your formal training.  In addition, there is a practical exam, also administered by the FAA.  In order to pass, you must get 100% on all tests.

Amber describes flying as beautiful and surreal - there is nothing else like it.  The first time she went solo, from Oakland to Napa, and then on to Sonoma and back to Oakland, she was terrified.  Today, Amber is confident in her abilities, and the fear of that initial flight is but a distant memory.  Flying over the Golden Gate Bridge, Amber feels fortunate and content. 


Today there are approximately 800,000 pilots, and only 3% of them are helicopter pilots.  Furthermore, only 3% of that 3% are women.  Piloting is a Moxy Woman career for sure!

Amber's advice to women is to "go out and experience life and find a life full of passion."  She would like to see more women in aviation and wishes that she had met an astronaut when she was a young woman.  She would have loved to be an astronaut, but did not know the opportunity existed for her.


When Amber is not flying helicopters, she is either sleeping or working out at the gym.  Working out for her includes Pilates, Yoga and Spin Class.  She still loves to surf, and also snowboards in her spare time.  She looks incredibly healthy, with beautiful clear blue eyes that exude confidence and will power.

I think Amber's grandmother would be very proud how her granddaughter has grown.  I am sure that she flies with Amber on every flight, as that inspiring woman shines through in Amber's beautiful smile.

Photo Above- Amber with her mom- Louisa

In conclusion, Amber wants everyone to know that helicopters are safe.  She also wants everyone to take a look at the video link below to see what it looks like to land a helicopter without an engine. 

Click Here to View Video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=phaWRjAVnes&NR=1

As for those that inspire her, she says "Grandma is always number one!"  However, she also wishes to thank the people below for their inspiration:       

Thanks to Mr. Ray Murphy, retired FAA inspector (and my personal hero).  He made me the pilot I am today. Thank you Ms. Laurie Pitman; she is an amazing woman, and I thank God that she is my boss. Thanks also to my friend Chuck Aaron ... here he is! Click Below: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dNvhPQ8S0aU

Thank you to Mr. Stanley Hiller, who was one of the great helicopter pioneers, Mr. Chris Malachowsky, an investor in Golden Gate Helicopters, and Mr. Greg Than, who was one of my first students, and who is very loyal, generous and determined.

In conclusion, let me say that I am proud to know this Moxy Woman - Amber Louise Mathrole.  Thanks Amber, for showing that we girls can achieve our hearts desires!!


Amber is the General Manager/Chief Pilot
Golden Gate Helicopters- Click below to go to her website.

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