CAL FIRE helicopter pilot featured on Los Angeles news

Los Angeles Local News | FOX 11 LA KTTV

CAL Fire helicopter pilot Desiree Horton is featured in a news report on MyFoxLA (above). Desiree has been flying helicopters for at least 14 years, including piloting and reporting from news helicopters for several TV stations in Los Angeles, flying on U.S. Forest Service contracts for a firefighting helicopters on the San Bernardino National Forest and in Oregon, doing heavy lifts in a Sikorsky S-58, and then in 2013 flying a fire helicopter for CAL FIRE. She even has her own Wikipedia page, and has been nicknamed “Chopper Chick”: She is currently working on a limited term appointment, but hopes to get a permanent job with CAL FIRE.

Back in the days before was born, we wrote several articles about Desiree on

Desiree is on the right (Duh!), as seen in a 2009 video about how to test a microphone with a Sikorsky S-58.

Desiree is the first female firefighting helicopter pilot in California working directly for a public agency. However there has been at least one other woman who worked for a private company on a firefighting contract — Bonnie Wilkens, who flew out of Ramona.


Thanks and a hat tip go out to Joseph.

14 thoughts on “CAL FIRE helicopter pilot featured on Los Angeles news”

  1. Don’t remember her name, but we had a female AA pilot in Kern 6-8 years ago. She flew relief mostly.

  2. I know Lead 5-4 is a female pilot. She was also flying the smoke-jumper ship out of Redding last season. I for life of me cannot remember her name.

    1. Bonnie was the lady flying for a contractor out of Ramona in 1990, whose name I was trying to remember — a very good pilot. I was a passenger on her helicopter a number of times, usually doing recon on fires.

      1. Bonnie! I could never remember her name, but those bright red “cowgirl” boots strutting around fire camp will never be forgotten! Thanks to Desiree and Bonnie, and all the talented folks who fly the firefighting machines!

  3. I believe the reporter meant that she is the first female helicopter pilot that Cal-Fire has. There are successful women in other flying roles that preceded her.

  4. Conair of Canada has deployed Michele Mellett on duty in the Convair 580 Air Tanker to the USA in recent years, including California. She has been employed with Conair Aviation of Abbotsford, British Columbia, since 1999.

  5. Not sure how (or why) this is news? Women have been involved in all facets of aviation and other previously male-dominated industries for decades. If CalFire lags in hiring competent women, that can only reflect upon themselves. Canada has an enormous civil helicopter industry, and women have been flying solo and two-crew firefighting aircraft for a long time. There are even women who used to be men flying helicopters, so that barrier has been breached as well.
    That we choose to make headlines only serves to reinforce bias (did Wildfire Today write “several articles” about the other male pilots and if not, why not?) and a feeling that somehow, females have more to overcome in pursuit of their goals. While this may indeed be the case, why ladle on the bias and increase the possibility that girls may opt against challenging the odds and steer towards a more ‘traditional’ path?

    1. Few people would agree with you that posting a video about a wildland fire helicopter pilot that happens to be female will, as you said:

      …increase the possibility that girls may opt against challenging the odds and steer towards a more ‘traditional’ path

      Providing a role model for women who otherwise may not have known that someone has led the way in this field is more likely to encourage them to pursue a goal like this.

      Not only is Desiree well known in the Los Angeles area as a result of her serving as a news helicopter pilot and airborne reporter in one of the largest media markets in the country, just the fact that anyone involved in wildland fire was featured in a well done video with high production values makes it worthy of our interest — and, we think, makes it interesting to most of our website visitors. We also think our visitors were interested in another CAL FIRE helicopter pilot we wrote about two months ago.

      1. I notice that on the other posting of the male Cal-Fire pilot, no one bothered to post a reply or wonder why the pilot was featured or why the story was written. In fact there were no comments at all except the one I left. Desiree has been faced with this type of gender bias for most of her career and the criticism has become more pointed the more she advances into the male dominated sector. However she is always positive and represents her job and the career in a great light. There are other women in the helicopter business, from owners to test pilots to directors of operations. They can find success at the highest levels. But the fact that there ARE so few ( as compared to fixed wing pilots) make it notable when one breaks new ground.

  6. Someone just told me that Desiree is the only known female helicopter pilot working for a land management agency in a firefighting role in California. There have been females working for contractors in helicopters and fixed wing aircraft, but as far as I can tell, Desiree is breaking new ground as a government employee pilot in a helicopter.

  7. Bonnie flew H-538 out out Ramona in the 80’s and again around 2008. At one point we had a all female crew. Bonnie and her fuel tender (female) and a all female fight crew. We had lots of fun and I will fly with Bonnie anytime.

  8. Bill, Thanks for posting the video. It was a great video that highlighted a milestone by a woman helicopter pilot. Anytime our aviation occupations can be highlighted, it’s a plus and it doesn’t matter who they work for. Cal Fire also had a great woman pilot flying Air Attack for a time – Patty Wagstaff, one of the best aerobatic pilots of all time.
    It’s just great to see woman pilots making headway in what have been primarily male dominated occupations.

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