US Coast Guard helicopter pilot turns YA writer

Liz Booker is a retired United States Coast Guard helicopter pilot, foreign diplomat, and writer of Young Adult fiction, dedicated to inspiring the next generation of women in aviation.

In a recent interview, Booker told AeroTime that she dreamt about becoming a pilot since early childhood. Though not from a family of aviators, she nevertheless received the support of close family members who encouraged her to follow her passion.

Booker shared what drew her to a career in search and rescue law enforcement, and her subsequent humanitarian missions across the Caribbean Sea and Eastern Pacific Ocean.

Image: Courtesy of Liz Booker

At the age of 18, Booker decided that she wanted to contribute to society in a meaningful way, so she enlisted in the United States Coast Guard.

“As soon as I joined the US Coast Guard, I looked around at the officers and thought I was as smart as they were, and I could do their job,” she recalled. “So, I pursued the opportunity to attend Officer Candidate School.

“It was then, I was around 24 years old, that I realized I could become a pilot. I could fulfill this childhood dream.”

She added: “And at 25 years old, I became a US Coast Guard pilot.”

Her flight training with the U.S. Navy began with a fixed-wing Beechcraft T-34C Turbo Mentor trainer, where she learned the subtleties of military tactics, aerobatics, and formation. She received her rotary wing training in the TH57 Bell 206 and transitioned to the U.S. Coast Guard’s H65 Dauphin helicopters (AS365), which she operated during search and rescue, law enforcement, and humanitarian missions in the San Francisco Bay Area for her first operational tour.

Booker said that the experience she gained while flying on missions in San Francisco was beneficial, due to the wide variety of microclimates that exist within a few miles of each other. While she had frequently faced complex operating conditions, Booker never doubted her ability to control the aircraft owing to the comprehensive training program she had completed.

“The Coast Guard has a reputation for ‘you have to go out, but you don’t have to come back’. But that is not true. At least the Coast Guard that I served in had very strong operational risk management in place,” she explained. “We made smart decisions based on the capability of the aircraft and the crew, so I never felt I was in danger.”

After an exceptional and sometimes challenging flying career in San Francisco, Booker moved to Miami and joined a busier local search and rescue air station. Deploying around the Caribbean, she became proficient at challenging ship landings.

“It was a really empowering feeling to get really good at landing on ships,” she said.

During her time with the US Coast Guard, Booker was able to study for a Master’s degree in Public Administration at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Part of the deal included taking on the role of Human Resource manager for the US Coast Guard where she supported the career development of 1,200 pilots while staffing 27 air stations with 2-4-year pilot rotations.

The new role, alongside her studies, encouraged Booker to think about what she could do in her circle of influence to help make an impact on problems in the aviation industry, particularly conversations around gender inequality.

“I had served in isolation at my air stations with maybe one or two other women who had diverse experiences,” Booker said. “I didn’t have a strong network to reach out to and I wanted to provide that for the women coming behind me.”

Booker set herself the goal of collecting and sharing stories from other women in aviation and sparking meaningful policy changes that could better support the next generation of female aviators.

Bringing flying experience to literature

Before her retirement in 2019, Booker had a chance to deepen her professional knowledge and skills working as the chief pilot for the Coast Guard in Los Angeles. She later went to Key West, Florida, to take up the role of targeting chief for counternarcotics and operations for the Caribbean, and Eastern Pacific regions. While in the job, she earned a Master of Fine Arts in Writing to prepare herself to write full-time when she retired. She completed her 28-year Coast Guard career as the senior U.S. military representative to Barbados and six other Eastern Caribbean nations out of the U.S. Embassy in Bridgetown.

After retiring, Booker began working on Young Adult novels with the hope of inspiring the next generation of women pilots. By the end of 2020, in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic, she began to feel isolated.

“As you know, there was no flying, there was no socializing or doing anything for a couple of years,” Booker said. “I knew I needed to connect with [the aviation community] in some way. So, I started a book club.”

Being passionate about flying, Booker wanted the new book club to be dedicated to discussions about literature that specifically feature the lifestyle and experience of women in aviation.

She said: “I realized there was an opportunity here, a niche that wasn’t being filled, and I saw something that I could do to bring it together.”

Booker said that once the Aviatrix Book Club was launched, the public response was overwhelming. The online book club amassed 1,200 members by the end of its first month and currently has close to 2,000 members. As well as launching an author interview series and a website, she began promoting books and authors whose work features women in aviation on social media under the name Literary Aviatrix, where she now has a following of over 10K.

“I started networking with the other women writers and that has become a passion for me to support them, to promote their work, and to learn the ropes for promoting books in preparation for my own to be published,” she said. “So, it’s a mutually beneficial relationship that I have with them and it’s something that I have a very big vision for.”

Now Booker is focused on writing Young Adult fiction dedicated to inspiring and exposing young women to the opportunities available to them in aviation.

Image: Courtesy of Liz Booker

“I would love to continue this particular story through some of the struggles that every pilot goes through, their training and their career experience.”

In the meantime, to strengthen the existing community and to attract even more like-minded people, Booker has also created the Literary Aviatrix podcast, where she talks to other authors of books featuring female aviators.

“I’m talking about books, publishing and writing to inspire other women in aviation to tell their stories.”

“I believe in the power of story to instruct and inspire”

The YA writer said that there are currently more than 600 books on the market that feature women in aviation. Encouraging women to enter all sectors of aviation and supporting their career advancement is a key topic of discussion among industry members and the general public.

Booker said that she has noticed recurring themes in the majority of stories being shared by female writers and members of her book group. However, some of those accounts are not always the greatest reflection of the culture in modern aviation.

“I know that some of our male friends want to be more informed allies. This is one way that you can be a more informed ally, I think.

“You can hear about a situation or a single experience and take it in as, that was a one-time thing. But then when you read it over and over again, and you hear it over and over again, then you start to understand what our collective experiences are.”

So, does Booker have any words of advice or a message that she would like to pass onto the next generation of female aviators?

“I believe in the power of story to instruct and inspire, which is what I want to do for young people, but also to heal, and to foster feelings of connection and belonging,” Booker explained.

“These are stories of tenacity and adventure, and courage. And I think they are inspiring and broadly appealing to everyone. There are specific things about the power that they have to influence the demographics in aviation, to inspire that younger generation, to help those of us who are active in our aviation careers, or who have finished them, to feel like we belong to something and make personal connections through human stories.”

In recognition of her life-long commitment to the aviation sector, her efforts to launch new initiatives to promote aviation equality and her devotion to creating a community of aviation enthusiasts through stories focusing on Women in Aviation, Booker has become the latest recipient of the AeroTime Aviation Achievement Award.

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