Up where she belongs
Written by Jan Chan
After joining the Government Flying Service (GFS) in 1996, Ellen Yan Suk-yin was sent to Britain to obtain her commercial pilot's licence. The 12-month course covered everything from the structure and technical aspects of helicopters to meteorology, navigation and the rules of aviation.
Usually, classroom studies or ground-based activities alternated with days for flying practice, but the programme was flexible depending on the weather. The class of six included two from the GFS plus others from Britain and Italy, but Ms Yan was the only woman taking part.
'I guess it is because you need a background in science subjects if you want to be a pilot and most girls still tend to choose arts,' she said.
She soon found that the key when in the pilot's seat was to have a light touch on the controls, intense concentration and excellent hand-eye co-ordination.
On returning to Hong Kong, Ms Yan became a level-three search and rescue co-pilot, learning local air laws and to handle helicopters used by the GFS.
Ongoing training was, and remains, an essential part of her weekly routine. Because no two operations are the same, she has to practise constantly for different manoeuvres, including techniques to douse country park fires from the air, flying alongside marine police craft, and simulating rescue scenarios where an injured person has to be hoisted from the sea.
Promotion depends on operational performance and passing examinations, and Ms Yan became a 'pilot two' in 1999 and 'pilot one' three years later.
'We have a very clear promotion system and all of us will go through the same basic process,' she said.