FORT DRUM, N.Y. – Army Warrant Officer Meghan Polis, a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter pilot in the New York National Guard, doesn’t remember it but she logged her first three hours of helicopter flight time when she was just 3 months old.
Her father -- New York Army National Guard Chief Warrant Officer 3 Stephen Polis -- and her mother were going to a barbecue in Albany. They lived on Long Island and they decided to make the trip north by air instead of driving.
The flight school Stephen Polis worked for at the time as an instructor pilot allowed him to borrow a two-seat helicopter for the day. His wife held little Meghan to her chest and put cotton balls in the baby’s ears. And away the family went.
Sharing a Love of Flying
Since then, dad and daughter, both from East Patchogue, New York, have shared a love of flying that extends into their military careers.
On July 22, the two Army Guard aviators made their first flight together as pilots, during the 42nd Aviation Brigade’s annual training here.
The two are UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter pilots assigned to Company B, 3rd Battalion, 142nd Assault Helicopter Battalion, headquartered in Ronkonkoma, New York. They flew as pilot in command -- dad -- and pilot -- daughter -- on a morale flight for the mechanics, fuelers, supply people and other support personnel who keep the pilots of the 3-142nd in the air.
The aircraft, Stephen said, was the same one he flew in 2008-2009 when the unit deployed to Iraq.
Joining the National Guard
Stephen joined the National Guard in 1980 and started out as a mechanic and then became a crew chief. But, his intent was to become a pilot, and he did just that when he went to flight school four years later. From there, he conducted test flights as a maintenance test pilot before moving into air assault and medical evacuation missions.
“It took me a little while to prove my grit, so to speak, and to actually be accepted to flight school,” he said. “But I finally made it.”
Meghan followed in her father’s footsteps -- as well as those of her grandfather, who was also a warrant officer -- and took the same route as her father when she enlisted in 2013 and served initially as a mechanic.
After a couple of years, she submitted her packet for flight school and completed the training at Fort Rucker, Alabama, in February.
“It’s just kind of been a part of the family and I always felt like I could be a part of it,” she said. “By the time I came around to making the decision to do it myself, the little bit of aviation background I had was exactly the route I wanted to go.”
When his daughter graduated from flight school this year, Stephen pinned aviator wings on her on the same stage on which his father pinned his wings on him many years ago.
“A lot of family tradition is being created here,” Stephen said. “It was pretty prideful. Very rewarding.”
The July 22 flight started out slow and steady, as the pilots allowed their passengers to get a taste of aviation on the trip around the base. But halfway through the trip, with father and daughter each taking a turn at the controls, the pilots turned the action up a few levels with some dramatic banks, turns, dives and climbs over the wooded area. The maneuvers displayed the capabilities of the Black Hawk for the soldiers who spend their careers ensuring those helicopters have all the support needed for missions.
After the flight, Stephen complimented his daughter on her ability behind the controls, saying that she did a good job and made him proud.
Father 'Had a Cool Job'
“I always thought my dad had a cool job. And now that I’m doing it, I know he had a cool job,” Meghan said. “It’s actually more than I expected. It’s so much more rewarding to be able to go out and be the one at the controls flying the aircraft and making decisions.”
Perhaps intentionally, Meghan used a pun to describe the experience of working alongside her father, saying she was “still kind of flying” after thinking about it for a while. When she initially wanted to learn to fly an airplane, she said her father refused to fly with her as a civilian instructor pilot.
“This time he didn’t really have a choice,” she said. “It’s really cool to actually be able to sit in the seat next to him. I’ve always kind of felt like I really wanted him to know how I fly, and now I guess he’s got an assessment and it’s not that bad.”
As a civilian pilot, Stephen said he has flown corporate jets around the world and logged more than 10,000 hours in jets and 10,000 hours in helicopters. In fact, he said, he stopped counting when he reached that threshold five years ago.
‘I’m Constantly Learning Things’
The love of flying is something he developed at a young age, and while many people dream of flying but never get the opportunity, he was fortunate enough to turn his love into a career.
“Aviation’s been very good to me,” Stephen said. “I have a smile on my face every day and every time I fly. It’s an itch that you try to satisfy.”
And after inheriting her father’s love of flying and also getting to turn it into a career, Meghan said it is amazing and “more than I thought it would be.”
She added, “I’m constantly learning things. Every time I fly with someone, they have a different technique. I’m really developing my own pilotage, my own techniques. It’s a challenge and it’s a thrill.”