A lifelong passion for de Havilland Beavers led a landlocked raised girl on a journey to become commercial seaplane pilot.
When “Top Gun” characters Maverick and Goose first uttered the words, “I feel the need. The need for speed,” few could have predicted how the line would change lives throughout the world. But the beckoning call of the cockpit was felt by those of all ages, including young Anna Gullickson.
Whether it was the idea of speed, ruling the sky or a bit of both, Anna dreamt of being a pilot. Her passion for aviation was further solidified during visits to the Canadian Gulf Islands.
“I was just a kid the first time I saw a Beaver pull up to the dock. I heard the sound of the radial engine and I was hooked,” Anna told me as she prepped her own de Havilland Beaver for a day’s flight.
Excited by the idea of flying to remote destinations, Anna said she knew right then that she, “Wanted to be a float plane pilot.”
Some 20 years later, she is. And, she can’t imagine doing anything else.
“Flying for Kenmore Air is amazing. Every day is different. Even when the destination's the same, the winds and the tide vary,” she said.
Pursuing a Dream
While Anna spent many a summer in the Gulf Islands, she grew up in landlocked Reno, Nevada. Water and seaplanes were few and far between. But that didn’t keep her from pursuing her passion.
Attending Utah State University, she earned her Bachelors in Aviation. Despite being a full-time student, she picked up side work at a small airport in Cache Valley, first fueling planes and then as a flight instructor.
With her pilot’s license in hand, Anna visited the Seattle area for the first time in 2007. She needed her seaplane rating and Kenmore Air was the place to earn it. A natural on floats, she was hired by Kenmore Air in 2008.
“Since then, this has been my home. And it’s amazing,” she said. “I couldn’t work for a better company. The staff is like a small family and the planes are in impeccable condition.”
A Passion for Speed and a Love for Nature
Long before water takeoffs and landings became second nature, powder and skis became Anna’s second home. Her love for downhill was only natural with her Reno roots and Utah collegiate years.
“If I could create my ideal job, I’d fly during the summer and work ski patrol during the winter,” Anna said.
And for a few years, that’s just what she did. As a ski patroller at Crystal Mountain, she provided emergency medical and rescue services. She also met a dashing young man.
A fellow ski patroller, Eric shared her enthusiasm for the outdoors. And, he continues to fully support her love for nature, both on slopes and in the water.
Married in 2012, when Anna broached the subject of starting a 501(C)(3) with fellow pilot Kenmore Air pilot Michael Hays, Eric was fully on board. “He completely supported the idea,” Anna said.
The goal was simple, protect wild orcas. The course was clear, increase public awareness.
And, that’s just what she and Michael are doing. With the help of several friends, not the least of whom is Anna’s supportive other half, Wild Orca was founded at the beginning of 2014.
“I am in awe of how powerful and magical these creatures are,” Anna said. But, she knows if their natural environment isn’t protected, this endangered species faces the serious threat of extinction.
“Every day I fly, there’s the potential of seeing a pod of wild orcas. And, no matter how many I see, it always feels like the first time. But if we don’t protect them, that’ll change,” she said. And that’s a possibility she’s not willing to accept.
Breaking the Glass Ceiling
Like many career paths, flying the line for most airlines used to be a boys club. Though several decades ago Kenmore Air burst that glass ceiling, women pilots are still few and far between.
Anna is just the second full-time female pilot to join Kenmore Air’s crew. And, she’s among only a handful of pilots cleared to fly the entire line, including the large 10-passenger de Havilland Otter.
Though Anna loves the Otter’s speed, Beavers still hold a special place in her heart. “Nothing handles quite like a Beaver,” she said.