We had the good fortune of connecting with Diane Dollar and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Diane, what role has risk played in your life or career?
I left my home to join the US Coast Guard when I was 17 years old as soon as I graduated high school. It was a risk, terrifying, and way outside of my comfort zone. I had pink hair and facial piercings-how in the world was I going to fit into this whole new regimented world that was completely foreign to me? Worst case scenario is that I would hate it and be stuck in a four year contract, which at 17 seemed like a life time. First of all, the pink hair and piercings had to sadly go! It was not always perfect, but at the end of the day I got to experience and see things most people will never get to in their lifetime. More importantly I was able to use the GI Bill to pay for my entire flight training when I got out of the service. I jumped on that risk, and it paid off tenfold. Fear is driven by unknowns, and some people assign a huge unacceptable risk value to opportunities due to fear. I operate on a different level than some. A lot of the decisions I have made throughout my life have been just jumping on opportunities that knock on my door, and I think, “yeah, sure, why not, let’s try that”. That attitude has taken me a lot of places in life that some people would never dream of going.
I see the world through the lens of the GAR model, or Green Amber Red risk assessment model. I assign a value to every single aspect of a decision I make in life, whether it is happening consciously or not. This is probably due to the pilot in me! What are the risks? What are the benefits? What are the things I can do to mitigate some of that risk? And at the end of the day, am I willing to accept the worst case scenario? It is all relative to the individual experience. For example, I achieved my Class A skydiving license last year. Most people do not accept that level of risk-to-benefit ratio. For me though, the experience of learning to fly my body, and achieving the meditative state I would reach while doing it, was worth it at the time. I also don’t have children, which I think adds to my ability to make those types of decisions for myself.
As a professional pilot I naturally operate in risky environments. But when I assess all of the pieces of the puzzle, whether that be weather, aircraft, pilot experience, pilot health, or operational environment, I do my best to mitigate the higher risk items that I can and ultimately bring it down to a level of acceptability. This varies flight to flight, mission to mission, and there are some things I have no control over. Sometimes the weather changes on me abruptly, or maintenance issues arise in flight. As my friend Tom Ostrém said when I interviewed him for my podcast, Forever on the Fly, “I just have to accept that there are some risks I can do absolutely nothing about”.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
If you ever visited the Dollar home during a family dinner, the phrase “one of these things is not like the other” might come mind. I was raised in a somewhat unconventional family with two biological sisters and eight additional adopted or fostered siblings from multiple countries around the world. Growing up in such a dynamic family environment set the stage for pursuing a dynamic life.
When thinking of a helicopter pilot, a 31-year young female is probably not what comes to mind right away. I want to change that! After serving four years in the US Coast Guard after high school, I held several jobs from working on a yacht to working as a mechanic on cargo ships in dry dock in New England. However, I really fell in love with aviation working search and rescue missions while I was in the US Coast Guard. After years of contemplating flight school, which seemed like a far-off dream, I finally turned my dream of becoming a pilot into a reality.
I relocated to Prescott, AZ where I completed my flight training utilizing the GI Bill to back my training. Flight school was challenging for me, just as it is for most people. The adage, “it’s like trying to chug water from a fire hose” comes to mind regarding how much information needs to be ingested in a short period of time. I would lock myself in a study room at the library for up to ten hours in a day with a white board and study material. I didn’t struggle too much regarding building the physical skill and muscle memory that it takes to fly a helicopter. I would probably attribute my success in that arena to the drum lessons I took for a year prior to flight school to improve on my hand and feet coordination.
I moved to Long Beach, California after obtaining my flight instructor certificate and built my experience and hours as a flight instructor. Since then, I have enjoyed a nine-year career flying tours in the Grand Canyon, VIP charters, and organ transplant teams. I also obtained my certificates to fly airplanes. I now fly for a private owner. I am also focusing on my creative projects and the non-profit I recently started.
The industry is a fragile one as we have seen with the effects of Covid 19. It’s a good idea to have a back-up plan for dry spells in the flight industry. I have friends who have been furloughed and deeply affected. Most recently, I have taken up the task of inspiring younger generations to pursue a career in the fascinating field of aviation. I’ve used platforms such as Instagram and Tiktok to spread my passion for flying. I have now expanded my passion into my podcast, Forever on the Fly, on which my partner Jose Hernandez and I get the public “Hooked on Aviation!” We provide aviation inspiration, education, and entertainment to our growing audience. The show has already taken off in a very positive direction and have just started creating season 2 of the podcast.
There is a massive pilot deficit that I think is a rather unknown fact. Unbelievably only 5% of the pilot population is female, and only 2-3% of pilots are people of color. According to Boeing, over the next 20 years, 804,000 new civil aviation pilots will be needed. I started contemplating what could possibly help this scenario that we seem to be facing. With no pilots to operate aircraft, airline prices will skyrocket, and passengers will have to face the inevitability of having less options for flight routes and times. It is not just an airline problem; it is an everyone problem. Additionally, how do we promote a more diverse and inclusive industry? One of the biggest issues is getting youth inspired about aviation in this ever growing and changing world of technology. Aviation is not a cheap profession to get started in, and the expense of flight school is a huge deterrent for students pursing it as a career. The Forever on the Fly Non-Profit is dedicated to inspiring youth to get involved with aviation by holding events and career days to increase exposure of minorities in the industry to youth. We want kids to know that no dream is insurmountable. I am also currently building out our flight school scholarships fund aimed at supporting disadvantaged students who are excelling in school, and we will soon be holding fundraising events for the program. I am also very excited to announce our first event- the Dare to Dream: Aviation Career Day, held on Sunday, August 22 at Hangar 21 in Fullerton. It will be a full day of helicopter and airplane flights, static displays, career seminars and guest speakers, interactive activities, and flight simulators. Tickets are available currently through the Forever on the Fly website – www.foreveronthefly.com/aviation-day . Space will be limited, so I encourage families to get on top of reserving their spot! I hope to see you all there!
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
1. Breakfast burritos and coffee from Ground Works in Venice Beach! Get extra orange sauce! 2. Bike ride down Rose Ave to the Venice boardwalk. Say hi to Lexi Bear, she’s a beautiful Akita and Venice staple. Just look for her name and an open window, she will come say hi!
3. Bike ride down to Breakwater for some fun surf time
4. Lunch and beers at Venice Ale House
5. Bike ride down to old Muscle Beach by Santa Monica Pier for a swing session and people watching
6. Ecstatic Dance on the beach!
7. Hike Temescal Canyon
8. Day trip and shopping in Topanga Canyon
9. Meditate at Lake Shrine and Gardens
10. Lunch at Cholada Thai in Malibu
11. Coffee and surfer watching on Malibu Pier
12. Lunch at Cafe Gratitude
13. Stroll down Abbot Kinney for some shopping
14. Dancing at Rooster Fish on Abbot Kinney and beers at The Brig
15. Burgers, Beers, and Pool at Hinano Cafe
16. Stroll down and around the Venice Canals around sunset
17. Ice cream at Jeni’s Icecream
18. Helicopter flight to Catalina! Go to the Airport restaurant they have AMAZING cookies.
Im an AWOL (Always West Of Lincoln) lol as you can tell.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
First of all I would love to give a shout out to my my parents, Allen and Shelly Dollar, who have always supported me on my crazy adventures and aviation journey. I have also been so lucky to have an army of amazing mentors and flight instructors that have shaped me into the pilot that I am today. I want to give a shout to my very first flight instructor Mark Schultz, training directors and Chief Pilots Tyler Carver and Simon Whitely, my mentors Aaron Fitzgerald, Mark King, and Dominic Tuttle, and my dear friends Lindsay Vogel, Jose Hernandez, Anthony Martinez, Jake Moser, Ali Mohring, and Maureen Work. These are just a few among so many others that have offered not only professional support, but their friendship. Thank you!
Other: Podcast on all major platforms: Forever on the Fly