I can say hands-down that the very best thing I did on my Panama City Beach girlfriend getaway was fly with the girls. And by girls, I don’t mean just me and the other female passenger, Donna.
Our “bird” was a Robinson R44 Clipper II, a very popular 4-seater helicopter used by many smaller helicopter tour companies. But it was our pilot that immediately drew my attention. “Follow me!” said Katie Dainson, as she led Donna and me to the launch pad. Katie is an adventurous and highly accomplished woman who is also a certified scuba diver and flies in one of those crazy wingsuits.
Katie is just one of the pilots of Panhandle Helicopter’s all-female staff. A family-owned business since 2008, owner JR. Hott – himself a fixed-wing pilot since 1979 and helicopter pilot since 2006 – makes a practice of hiring female pilots, and claims he has abundant good reasons. “Obviously they are a novelty with tourists,” says JR “but there is also the load issue. There is a total weight limit of 300 lbs. per seat in these small helicopters and the less the pilot weighs, the more likely we’ll be able to accommodate heavier passengers.” The helicopter can carry three passengers plus the pilot, depending on the total weight.
JR also favors female pilots because they are lower maintenance than their male counterparts. “They just don’t have the macho attitude and are less likely to take risks,” he claims. I also don’t have to worry about them getting distracted or showing off to the bikini-clad coeds during spring break!”
It was only after witnessing a helicopter rescue that Katie made a decision to attend the Helicopter Academy in Fort Lauderdale and New York and become a helicopter pilot. “I built up my flying experience while doing aerial boat photography,” Katie said. Her first job was as a pilot in downtown Tampa but jumped at the opportunity to join the Panhandle Helicopter team. “I love sighting dolphins, sharks, and manatees on my tours.”
Read the rest of the Panama City Beach Helicopter story in Girls Getaway magazine!
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