July 1, 2007
Steven W. Ells
Who hasn't dreamed of getting paid to fly? Kelly McCague did. While attending the California Peace Officer Cadet Program for her state park ranger job she learned that there was a park ranger who got paid to fly around Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. "That's gotta be the best job in the state park system," she thought to herself. Three years later McCague was hired to fill that job. Her job now consists of flying the state's Aviat Husky A-1 over the 600,000 acres of Anza-Borrego state park. She had 118 hours in her logbook when she was hired. Three and a half years later she has upgraded her qualifications with an instrument rating and has more than 1,000 hours.
"I do a variety of flying," says McCague. "I fly search-and-rescue missions and coordinate with ground-based rangers and law enforcement personnel. I also keep an eye out for campers and hikers and assist state fish and wildlife personnel by tracking bighorn sheep, mountain lions, and mule deer with telemetry equipment mounted on the airplane.
"I drove over the mountain to the Ramona Airport for my flight training. I took ground school at the community college in Carlsbad. Class got out at 10 p.m. and then I had to drive back to be at work the next day," she says. She got her private pilot certificate after nine months of training.
"The weather here can be very fierce," says McCague. "I try to get my flying in early before it gets rough, but when the airplane is needed, I go."
It's not easy flying a light airplane in and around the desert and mountains of the park. The Husky weighs only 1,600 pounds and the weather and winds can be extreme. Yet McCague can't think of anything she'd rather be doing. "I feel that every day I'm in the air I have helped preserve this park for future generations. Many days I can even say I've saved someone's life.
"I love to fly and I have a job flying; it just doesn't get any better than that."
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