Canadian Helicopter Pilot Honored

HAI recognizes Chinook Helicopters CEO for contributions to the community.

Chinook Helicopters executive Catherine Press has been recognized by the industry for high standards of professionalism and her contributions to teaching. [Courtesy: HAI]

Chinook Helicopters CEO Catherine Press has been named the 2024 recipient of the Salute to Excellence W.A. “Dub” Blessing Flight Instructor of the Year Award.

According to Helicopter Association International (HAI), this award, presented by Hill Air Corp. acknowledges "superlative contributions by a helicopter flight instructor or UAS flight instructor in upholding high standards of professionalism."

The award will be presented on February 26 at HAI Heli-Expo 2024 in Anaheim, California.

About Catherine Press

Press is described as a "pioneer in the Canadian helicopter industry." She began flying as a child in her father's floatplane and soloed at the age of 16. In 1983 her father purchased a Bell 47 helicopter and started Chinook Helicopters.

Press learned to fly the helicopter, in addition to airplanes, and earned her pilot certificates in both. She was one of the first female helicopter pilots in Canada. After she earned her commercial certificates, she joined the family business, flying charters, news gathering, and performing search and rescue and forestry missions.

At the age of 21 she earned her airplane flight instructor rating. At 27 she became Canada's first female flight instructor for helicopters.

She was surprised to learn she was the first, recalling that at the end of her check ride she asked the examiner, who had come from Ottawa for the test, how many female flight instructors there were for helicopters in Canada.

“He said, ‘One,’ and I asked who she was,” Press said. “He said, ‘It’s you! Congratulations!’”

Press worked hard, teaching up to 1,200 hours a year while adding to her own ratings from the United States, China, and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). She most recently acquired the ability to teach in Canada for EASA certification.

She helped the business grow from a three aircraft school to a professional flight academy training learners in 16 helicopters and 14 airplanes. She also pulled together a team for the school to develop and receive Transport Canada approval to build four in-house flight training devices, a move she says saved the company tens of thousands of dollars over purchasing the equipment.

Press boasts more than 10,000 hours of flight instruction time and is the only person in Canada to hold Transport Canada pilot examiner status in both airplanes and helicopters.

Press was nominated for the award by Chinook Helicopters chief pilot Bill Snedden.

“Cathy’s willingness to take chances and support individuals to reach their potential is quite admirable,” said Snedden. “She exudes positivity and maintains connectivity with the Canadian aviation industry and regulatory bodies. Cathy drives the aviation industry forward with her incredible leadership and continual involvement within the community. The impact she has had on the pilots she has trained, employed, and networked with has been life-changing for them.”

Press serves as vice chair of the Helicopter Association of Canada’s board of directors and chair of the association’s Flight Training Committee. She also is a board member for the British Columbia Aviation Council and serves on the British Columbia Institute of Technology’s Aviation Advisory Committee, where she excels in mentoring up-and-coming pilots.

“I always wanted to be a teacher, and I was surrounded by aviation, so becoming a flight instructor was the perfect combination of my two passions,” Press said. “That’s why I’ve not gone away and had a career longlining in large helicopters in other countries. I’ve stayed with the training because I really do enjoy people. I enjoy seeing …being a part of their successes.”

More information on HAI Heli-Expo 2024 can be found here.

Meg Godlewski has been an aviation journalist for more than 24 years and a CFI for more than 20 years. If she is not flying or teaching aviation, she is writing about it. Meg is a founding member of the Pilot Proficiency Center at EAA AirVenture and excels at the application of simulation technology to flatten the learning curve. Follow Meg on Twitter @2Lewski.

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