Excellence in Communications Award: Elan Head, Vertical Magazine
Elan Head, recipient of the Helicopter Association International’s 2014 Excellence in Communications Award, had her first helicopter ride in a Bell JetRanger in 2004, while working on a story about a high-end fishing lodge in British Columbia. “It was hands-down the coolest thing I’d ever done,” she told AIN.
Head had begun her writing career in 1998 at age 17, as a newspaper reporter in her home state of New Mexico. “I come from a family of talented writers, and have always enjoyed the act of writing,” she said. “However, my reporting career came about strictly because I needed a job, and that job paid so little that no one who was better qualified would take it.”
Her grandfather was a U.S. Navy pilot, so she always had some interest in learning to fly, she said, “although it never occurred to me as a kid that it would be in helicopters.”
But after that flight in the JetRanger, Head returned to her home in Arizona (at that time–she currently resides in Georgia) and signed up for flight lessons with Quantum Helicopters in Chandler. She continued her work as a travel writer and restaurant critic while learning to fly helicopters. After getting her CFI and instrument ratings, she instructed for Quantum for 12 months in 2006 and 2007, where she was recognized as an FAA Gold Seal instructor.
Head flew a Bell UH-1B on a cherry-drying contract in Washington for a summer and then joined HeliNews magazine in Australia, working there for year and earning an Australian commercial license. She now has about 1,300 flight hours.
She continued as a freelance writer and editor for various publications from 1999 to 2008, toward the end of which she made a three-week reporting trip to Afghanistan.
Her article about the experience from that and two more trips to Afghanistan appeared in Vertical Magazine in 2011. This is an excerpt from that article:
“Vertical editor-in-chief Elan Head and contributing editor Graham Lavery first visited Afghanistan in 2008. At the time, we were freelance reporters on a self-financed trip. As citizens, we wanted to learn more about a war that has too often been underreported and misreported by the mainstream media. As helicopter pilots, we were fascinated by the challenges of flying in one of the most demanding operating environments on Earth.
“While the parallels between the wars in Vietnam and Afghanistan are disputed, there is one thing that they undoubtedly have in common: helicopters. Just as it is impossible to think of the Vietnam War without thinking of helicopters, rotary-wing assets have been absolutely integral to the U.S. military experience in Afghanistan. Both the nature of Afghanistan and the nature of the threat have led to a heavy reliance on helicopters for a phenomenal variety of missions: not only are many parts of this rugged, undeveloped country inaccessible by road, but the roads that do exist are loaded with improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Helicopters have been essential in minimizing casualties by limiting the exposure of troops to IEDs, as well as in furthering the wider objectives of the war.”
Kitchener, Ontario-based Vertical Magazine hired Head as its editor-in-chief in December 2008 for Vertical and Vertical 911, a position she held until December 2012. “After serving as the editor-in-chief, I transitioned into my current role as special projects editor [for MHM Publishing] a little over a year ago,” she said. (MHM Publishing produces Vertical Magazine and Canadian Skies.)
Notable feature articles Head wrote for Vertical include, “Mission in Haiti” (after the devastating earthquake there in January 2010), April/May 2010; “Riding Shotgun” (requiring her to train as a Boeing 234 copilot with Columbia Helicopters), February/March 2011; “Sikorsky at 90,” August/September 2013; “The Future of Healthcare” (about its effects on the air-medical industry), summer 2013; “Failure to Enter” (about autorotations), August/September 2013; and “Setting Standards” (about UC Health Air Care & Mobil Care), October/November 2013.
“Her recent article, ‘Failure to Enter,’” commented a pilot and one of the people who nominated Head for the Excellence in Communications Award, “is one of the best-researched and best-written articles about safety that I’ve seen in a long time.”
“Although I still work for Vertical on an essentially full-time basis,” Head said, “the position has given me a bit more flexibility to pursue my studies in international relations at the Harvard University Extension School, where I’m wrapping up the bachelor’s degree I put on hold after high school.”
When asked for her opinion about the future of publishing, she said, “As a journalist, I’m really excited by the evolution of digital publishing and social media. I started Vertical Magazine’s Facebook page soon after I joined the company in January 2009. It has given us fantastic opportunities to connect and interact with readers around the world. I also enjoy the immediacy of online publishing, which is akin to the excitement and pressure of working at a daily newspaper. At the same time, there’s nothing like seeing stories in print in a glossy magazine with beautiful photos, and I think print will remain important to the industry for some time to come.”