• Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Instagram
  • Youtube
Helicopter Flight Training Sponsors

Meet a Rotorcraft Pro: Simon Whitely

Posted 6 years 78 days ago ago by Admin

RPMN: What is your current position?

I am the chief pilot for Papillon Airways based in Boulder City, Nevada. I moved from Denver in 2014, where I was the assistant chief pilot for Air Methods.

RPMN: Tell me about your first flight.

I joined the British Royal Navy (RN) in 1980 to become a pilot. After almost two years of naval officer training at the Britannia Royal Naval College, I entered the flight training program with my first ever flight aboard a de Havilland Chipmunk T Mk 10. Those tail-dragging airplanes were used to begin the process of ‘filtering out’ those who didn’t have the aptitude for flying complex helicopters on the front line.

RPMN: How did you get your start in helicopters?

With over 120 hours of fixed-wing time accomplished, RN helicopter pilots first trained in the Gazelle HT Mk 2; the modern version today is the Airbus H120. The Gazelle was a wonderful aircraft with great performance, though being so new to rotorcraft, I wouldn’t appreciate those capabilities until much later.

RPMN: When and how did you choose to fly helicopters? Or did they choose you?

I was 19 years old and wondering what to do in life. I saw an advertisement in a national newspaper depicting an RN Lynx helicopter about to land aboard a frigate underway. The caption read “So you think it’s hard to park your dad’s car in the garage?” I thought I’d give it a try.

RPMN: Where did you get your start flying commercially?

I immigrated to the U.S. in 2000 with over 3,000 hours mostly in twins, including 150 hours of RW instrument time. I obtained my FAA ATP and took a job with Omniflight, flying a Bell 230 SPIFR for a hospital in South Carolina. The medical crew and other pilots at the base were the best and truly made the job for me. It was very challenging, yet satisfying to be instrumental in helping people who were sometimes in their direst circumstances.

RPMN: If you were not in the helicopter industry, what else would you see yourself doing?

I enjoy working with things mechanical and the roar of a fine engine. If I were not flying, I would be very happy restoring old cars or motorcycles, and maybe even owning my own automotive shop. I appreciate the intricacies of fine tuning engines, and especially the satisfaction of bringing one back to life.   

RPMN: What do you enjoy doing on your days off?

My wife and I enjoy “glamping” (glamour camping) in our RV. We’re cyclists and have eight bikes in the garage, including a tandem. I ride to work almost every day. Besides the exercise, it helps me to think and decompress.

RPMN: What is your greatest career accomplishment to date?

It was a long-held ambition of mine to become a chief pilot. To accomplish that position with such a great company as Papillon is just icing on the cake.

RPMN: Have you ever had an “Oh, crap!” moment in a helicopter? Can you summarize what happened?

One of my “moments” was during my first instrument training flight aboard an RN Westland Wessex Mk 5. We’d just departed the air station and were flying in IMC at 2,000 feet on the dials. Suddenly, there was a loud bang! The aircraft made an uncommanded yaw of about 50 degrees to the right. Having recovered with all indications normal, my instructor and I made a precautionary landing to a field. Once on the ground, we learned that a Royal Navy Sea Harrier jet had just suffered a mid-air collision with a helicopter and had also made a successful emergency landing. The impact broke 6 inches off the top of the jet’s vertical fin. Our Wessex seemed fine, but upon inspection it was found to be 3 inches out of alignment along the tail cone and had to be trucked back to the airfield. Another interesting day at the office!

RPMN: If you could give only one piece of advice to a new helicopter pilot, what would it be?

Besides talking through issues with your peers, ask questions and opinions of the senior pilots around you. They’re a wealth of information and can provide useful guidance to help avoid making mistakes. As we know in aviation, mistakes can be very costly.

RPMN: What do you think is the greatest challenge for the helicopter industry at this moment in time?

We’re witnessing the dawn of a new industry: commercial UAV operations. The possibilities for their use go only as far as one’s imagination. Undoubtedly, UAVs will replace helicopters in many applications, reducing the options for future helicopter pilots. Additionally, UAVs will also be using the same airspace as our helicopters. If we’re to maintain safety and growth, our industry needs to anticipate this and adjust accordingly.