Women Who Fly

Portraits of female pilots

Patricia Jenkins, Helicopter Pilot

(Carolyn Russo)

On her cattle ranch property with her Hughes 300 helicopter named Woodstock in the background. Diamond, Oregon, 1995.

“Our cattle hear this helicopter overhead so often that they just kind of glance around and ‘Oh, it’s just her again.’ They don’t run out of just sheer fright. Other people’s cattle do. That’s how I know when I have other people’s cattle, and it makes it a lot easier to get them separated, because the others just take off in a dead run like a spilled bag of marbles….

Five years into the marriage, my husband decided he wanted to learn to fly, and I said, ‘Well, if you’re going to learn, I’d better learn, too.’ So we traded beef for flying lessons. I was raising children and doing ‘housewifely’ things and hated it. I was bored to death. So the airplane was a good brainteaser for me. The flying was just what I needed. I could finally do something. I hadn’t finished school and I don’t have a degree. So flying was the next best thing that I could do and feel okay about myself living out here….

The minute I [take off], I don’t get altitude, I have to stay close to the ground all the time, because my job is observation. I have to be sure fences are up, the wires are on all the fences, the gates are closed or open as they’re supposed to be. Almost all my work is done very close to the ground. I’d say ten, twenty feet. I have to do visual observation of my cattle, making sure what they look like, if they’re thin or comfortable, if they look lost or if they’re in the wrong fields….

So with the helicopter, I can go out and check the cattle in the morning…then I’m back in the machine in the afternoon, and can do the fencing or move cattle or whatever is needed to be done.”

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