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May 13, 2013 8:56 PM by Angela Douglas - Q2 News

Female pilots and crew fly 'unmanned aircraft'

BILLINGS - With totes and duffel bags in hand, the Billings Clinic MedFlight team loaded up their plane with all the necessary medical equipment they might need to successfully do their job.

"Our pager goes off and we come up here to the airport," explained Billings Clinic MedFlight Nurse Lynn Hilliard, "We and get our information from our dispatcher, load our bags in the plane, and fly to wherever we're needed."

It's a typical routine for any emergency medical flight crew, but there is one aspect to their team that sets them apart.

"We get to fly together in an unmanned aircraft," explained Billings Clinic MedFlight Lead Pilot Trena Boyd with a smile.

That's right, everyone aboard the flight is female.

"It's fun to work with other females," said Billings Clinic MedFlight Respiratory Therapist Heidi Ryan. "and I enjoy a challenge that is mostly male-dominated."

"It's pretty amazing to be able to get off the plane at an outlying facility and say that there's a great group of ladies taking care of the patient that we're coming to get," said Boyd's co-pilot, Andy McCaffree.

For the most part, the women are well respected when they arrive on scene, but Boyd admits there are still a few stereotypes that come with the job.

"I've also been asked through the years, if I'm the flight attendant. Then they get kind of surprised when I jump into the cockpit," Boyd said with a laugh.

A seat Boyd set her sights on as a child.

"In grade school I decided that I wanted a career that sounded exciting and to travel," Boyd recalled. "I thought that being a pilot sounded kind of neat."

Boyd is the lead pilot for Billings Clinic MedFlight, but her success began back in 1993 when she became the first female graduate of Rocky Mountain College's aviation program.

"Now, Rocky has about 15 to 20-percent of their students in the aviation department that are women," said Boyd. "When I was there it was probably less than 1-percent. So it's great to see that it's grown and that more women are getting into this field."

Andy McCaffree is among those recent Rocky Mountain College female graduates and, like Boyd, she too was the only female aviation student in her class. Now, she flies alongside the woman who pioneered the program.

"I've been through Rocky, I know their credibility and their teaching ability," McCaffree explained. "I feel we both got great educations and it's awesome that she paved the way for the rest of us."

More women are becoming pilots, but Boyd and McCaffree are still part of a very small club. In fact, only about five percent of pilots nationally are female.

"Definitely have to work harder and prove yourself more being around all the men, but you can do anything in this world, in this age," Boyd encouraged. "Strive to do what you want to do."

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