There’s not a millennial that steamrolls the underachieving, parent’s-basement-dwelling stereotype like Easton helicopter pilot Chloe Tong. While earning a helicopter pilot’s license by 26 might have sufficed for mere mortals, Tong’s energy and passion also sees her serving as the executive director and head coach of Eastern Shore Community Rowers and moonlighting as president of the board and company member at Continuum Dance. Tong, straightforward and outspoken, seems nonplussed by her own accomplishments. You get the impression that whether cutting through clouds or sculling across the Miles, this self-possessed woman is just at the start of a steady, continuous rise.
On her first interest in flying:
“Growing up, I was homeschooled, and my parents did a lot of traveling with me and my sister. I always enjoyed flying because it meant the start of something fun, a new adventure—and in the back of my mind, I always thought it would be fun to fly one day. As I got older, I realized flying jumbo jets wasn’t really the right fit, but then I went on a helicopter trip over the Grand Canyon for my sister’s birthday. The experience was amazing, and it stuck with me. I eventually took a trial helicopter flight, while I was nannying in Australia, to see if I still liked it—and I just fell in love.”
On getting her pilot’s license as a 20-something:
“I just knew I was ready for something new. I was at a point in my life where I felt like I wasn’t using my brain, and I wanted to challenge myself and to learn something different. Flying allowed me to combine that free feeling I knew I enjoyed with the challenge of working in a mechanical field, something I had never done before in my entire life.
“So, I contacted a few flight agencies in Australia, and found one that seemed like a good fit. I did my first ten hours of lessons there, and when I moved home to the Eastern Shore, I kept with it at Horizon Helicopters in Newark, Del. Honestly, it took me a long time to get my private license. I’m dyslexic so I hated all the studying, and I was working to help pay for the lessons, so I couldn’t focus on getting my license full-time. But ultimately, I got there, and to be certified to fly other people was a really, really cool experience.”
On being a woman pilot:
“I do think the perception that women pilots are rare is true. I was the first female to get my license at Horizon Helicopters, and I’ve personally never met another woman helicopter pilot. I think that has to do with a societal expectation of women performing certain jobs—and being a pilot or a mechanic, as a woman, is not encouraged. But at my flying school, being different was an advantage. One of my instructors even said that most of the women pilots he knew were better than the male pilots. And you kind of quickly got past gender. At the end of the day, we all just wanted to go fly—and in the air, that’s all that matters.”
On having a birds-eye view:
“While enjoy flying over water or in Australia, over mountains, I really like flying over more populated areas—that’s very cool. Flying up, 1,000 or 1,500 feet over people’s backyards, they always think you can’t see them, but you totally can. And you see all sorts of things, like people swimming naked in the middle of the day.”
On flying as dance:
“I do think flying and dance are similar. You have to figure out how to get the helicopter to listen to every single movement, and you’re using your feet and both hands at both times to control it. You’re extremely aware of your surroundings and what you’re doing with your body—something that rowing and dance have in common with flying. They’re all very physical, and you have to be sensitive to what’s going on around you and coordinating your movements.”
On plans for her future as a pilot:
“I’m sure my interests will change with experience, but right now helicopter tourism and photography sound amazing to me. Flying can be a pretty stressful experience, and the idea of flying over beautiful places with a more relaxed, low-stress objective sounds really good.
“I hope that flying will be a long career for me and is something that is always in my life. I want to continue to learn and grow from it. I really believe that you can’t be scared to try something that other people might think is crazy. My parents have always told me to dream for the big things and see what happens—and in this case, it’s been better than I ever could have imagined.”