Elsa Klarich shares her story: From intern to drone pilot supporting humanitarian aid


Tell us about yourself and your background

At a young age I knew I wanted to help people, by the time I was a teenager I decided aviation was the best way to do this! I started flying manned aircraft at 17 years old, and then eventually made the decision to go to university to study aeronautics with a specialization in Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV’s) at Liberty University in Virginia. My decision to specialize in UAV’s was due to the growing use of drones in humanitarian and conservation efforts. By the time I left university, I ended up getting a position as a bush pilot flying manned aircraft as a humanitarian for Flying Medical Service in Tanzania, East Africa. This opportunity allowed me to provide healthcare and emergency medical relief services for the Maasai tribe and East Africans. I continued to explore the UAV industry and watch the growth in humanitarian, conservation, and military use’s of UAV’s. In 2019, I decided to take a position as an instructor operator and maintainer of a mid-sized UAV called an Aerosonde with Textron Systems. After one tour in Afghanistan helping support OCONUS missions, I then had enough experience to start implementing my passion for humanitarian and conservation work by using drones. In August 2021, I signed up to help implement a humanitarian drone project for Wings of Hope who are based in St. Louis, MO, USA.

How did you get started in the drone industry?

In 2012, the drone industry was developing (and continues to develop) at a rapid rate. I was in university at the time, and was able to explore some of the possibilities of using drones in humanitarian and conservation work. My passion for aviation stemmed from my desire to help people in need. I knew that eventually drones would be used for medical supply drops, agriculture uses, surveying, and other things such as to help fight wildfires. I wanted to be a part of the future, and having the opportunity to study and be one of the first to graduate a drone program at Liberty University gave me a drive to continue monitoring the field of UAV’s.

Tell us about your organization and your role

Wings of Hope is a non-profit aviation organization that partners with people all over the world. I have worked with Wings of Hope since 2010 volunteering as an intern, flying as a bush pilot, and now I have partnered with them in exploring and creating a drone program that will eventually reach people in some of the most remote places in the world providing humanitarian aid. My role in developing this project is to help see the needs of people in their global programs and how we can best meet them. Wings of Hope is currently helping educate the next generation of manned and unmanned aviators with their Soar into STEM program, which will also include a drone component in the springtime. I am currently working on a curriculum to help educate middle, high school, and college age young adults who are interested in all of the possibilities drones have to offer to help the world become a better place.

What do you like most about being in the drone industry?

Drones are the future of aviation which allows for creativity, planning, exploration, and pioneering. I am excited to be a part of an industry that has so many possibilities to do good for so many!

What’s your favorite type of project and why?

I love being able to educate people on how drones work, why they are important, and all of the uses they have. My projects have consisted of teaching people how to fly drones, flying drones personally, and having missions that I know have helped, protected, and provided comfort. Any project that helps people, wildlife, or the environment makes me feel fulfilled.

What excites you most about the potential for women in the drone industry?

There’s an exciting place for women in aviation and in the drone industry. Aviation is still a primarily male dominated industry, but what’s encouraging is that more women are getting involved with drones and realizing that it’s a great industry to be in! I believe that the gender gap is getting smaller in aviation, and that the potential for women in drones is a fabulous way for women to bring a fresh perspective to the aviation world.

What’s your favorite drone to fly?

I love flying DJI drones for fun and pictures!

What have you learned you wish you had known when you got started?

Sometimes, people don’t have the same vision you do. That’s ok! Just don’t listen to them when they try to discourage you from your dreams.

Is there a tip you learned you would like to share with other women in the industry?

Stay strong and true to who you are. Do the right thing always. Speak up.

Is there anything else you would like to share with the Women and Drones Community?

To all of the women and drones’ community, you got this! It is an exciting world that we live in and so much good can be done by using our aviation skills to help people, wildlife, and the earth. Keep looking towards the future!