Ashley Fredricks, Chief Pilot at Western Aircraft, has not only realised her dream of becoming a professional pilot, she also holds the distinctive honour of being the first woman to earn a single-pilot type rating in the PC-24. Her story is an inspiration for all young women (and men) considering a career in aviation. Pilatus Business Aircraft Ltd
Ashley, have you always wanted to be a pilot?
Actually, it didn’t even occur to me until my last year in high school when I was 18. Nobody in my family flies, and growing up in Salinas, California, our community was primarily focused on the local agriculture economy. But I had always enjoyed flying commercially, so I decided to try a career in aviation.
Where did you do your flight training?
I chose the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona, a world-renowned college for careers in aviation. That’s where I earned my private, instrument, and commercial ratings.
What other aviation jobs have you held?
I was never really interested in flying for a big airline, so after graduating from Embry-Riddle I went back to Salinas and worked as a flight instructor. My first job as a commercial pilot was in Boulder City, Nevada, giving aerial tours of the Grand Canyon in a de Havilland Twin Otter. That was a really fun airplane to fly. I also flew cargo for a while, before moving to Boise, Idaho to fly a PC-12 air ambulance.
How did you find your way into the job at Western Aircraft?
Flying a PC-12 in Boise, it is impossible not to have some association with Western Aircraft. Looking at the company from the outside it was clear that Western provided more career opportunities, and I really admired the way the company treats its employees. I interviewed with Scott Marshall, the check pilot, and he hired me to fly PC-12s in their charter operation.
What kind of operations do you fly for Western?
This is my fourth year with Western, and over that period I started out flying PC-12s, then became a company instructor and check pilot. I was then promoted to assistant chief pilot, acting director of operations, and recently chief pilot.
How is it to be a woman in a male-dominated job?
I’ve never felt discriminated against for being a woman, nor do I feel like I was ever given any special treatment, either. I’m a member of the “Ninety-Nines”, the women’s aviation group founded in 1929 by Amelia Earhart. It’s a great organisation with the mission to provide a network for women in aviation and scholarship opportunities for aviation education. Our goal is to preserve and continue the unique history of women in aviation.
Tell us about your training experience in the PC-24?
I knew nothing about the PC-24 until I was hired at Western Aircraft. It was also my first time flying a jet. The high quality education and training discipline I learned at Embry-Riddle and at FlightSafety were key factors in successfully transitioning from a turboprop to the Super Versatile Jet. Being fluent with the PC-12 NG’s avionics really gave me an advantage during training. The PC-24’s higher speed requires thinking farther ahead of the aircraft. I currently have about 100 hours’ experience of flying the PC-24, and it already feels like second nature to fly it.
What do you like best about the PC-24?
Just walking up to it on the ramp makes me excited to fly it. It’s a beautiful airplane and has fantastic ramp appeal. The climb performance constantly puts a smile on my face. The design of the wing is incredible too – hand flying it in steep turns at flight level 450, nearly impossible in other jets, is an easy and safe thing to do in the PC-24.
Have you had any interesting flights in the PC-24?
We recently flew into a small, uncontrolled airport in Valemount, British Columbia, which is in a valley surrounded by high mountains. No tower, no fuel, 3,900 feet runway (1,200 metres) – and we didn’t even need the entire length for landing or take-off. We left Valemount and flew directly to San Jose, California, over 1,100 miles (1,770 kilometres) away. It really is amazing where you can take it. The PC-24 draws a crowd wherever it goes. Lots of airports we use are small, and folks aren’t used to seeing jets.
What makes your job so special?
The people. There is a close-knit family feel amongst Western Aircraft employees and the management team. It’s nice getting to know our regular clients and their families, and especially seeing long-term PC-12 customers move into the PC-24.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Boise offers a tremendous number of outdoor recreation opportunities. My husband and I enjoy biking, hiking and camping. He’s a pilot too, and flew helicopters in the U.S. Army for 20 years.
What would you like to be doing ten years from now?
It’s hard to imagine a better job than I have today. I would love to be in the same position, and help Western grow their managed fleet of PC-12s and PC-24s.
Do you have any interesting stories from your life as pilot which you’d like to share?
People say I look a lot younger than I actually am, so I often get funny questions from our passengers, such as “Are you old enough to fly this thing?” or “We should probably wait for the pilot”. I have about 150 hours of tailwheel time primarily flying the Pitts Special and Christen Eagle aerobatic biplanes. I attended Sean Tucker’s aerobatic training school and came away with some excellent flying skills and a new group of aviation friends. I really don’t have any desire to fly competition aerobatics, but the stick-and-rudder skills and upset training make me a better pilot in the PC-12 and PC-24.
Many thanks for the interesting insights Ashley! We wish you many more happy landings!
Female pilots in the USA
For most people, the idea of flying an airplane solo will remain a dream. More people hold a pilot’s license in the United States than in any other country in the world, but only 0.19 percent of the population is able to take to the skies flying an aircraft themselves. Women pilots are an even more elite group, making up just 7.3 percent of all pilots in the U.S.