RPMN: What is your current position?
I am currently a line pilot for Med-Trans flying a Bell 407GX. I am responsible for the safe and expeditious transport of medical personnel and patients while complying with FAA regulations and the company’s established procedures. The majority of our flight requests are either scene calls (vehicle accidents, heart attacks, shootings, etc.) or interfacility transports (hospital to hospital) where the patient is taken to a higher level of care.
RPMN: Tell me about your first flight.
My first flight in a helicopter was actually Day One when I started my helicopter training at Ocean Helicopters in Palm Beach, Florida. I did my training in an R22 and I remember that I kept leaning towards the center of the aircraft, as there were no doors and I felt like I was going to fall out. I prefer to have doors on at 3,000 feet AGL or above.
RPMN: How did you get your start in helicopters?
As a kid I always wanted to be a pilot, but I didn’t have the financial means to do it and didn’t have the vision acuity to get the training via the military route. Thus, I fell into law enforcement. The agency that I worked for had a helicopter and I was fortunate enough to take a month off of work, complete my private helicopter rating, and then fly with the agency’s CFI on a part-time basis until I had the aeronautical experience to complete my commercial certificate.
RPMN: When and how did you choose to fly helicopters? Or did they choose you?
I was looking for a career after law enforcement. I would have been in my mid-40s when I would have been eligible to retire. My thought process was that if I could fly the agency’s helicopter part-time, I would have enough aeronautical experience to fly HEMS by the time I retired. Unfortunately, as soon as I completed my commercial certificate the economy tanked and the agency I was with began the discussion of ceasing air operations. However, I was lucky enough to find another law enforcement agency to fly for that also had a plane. While working there, I was able to complete my helicopter ATP, ASEL ATP, and commercial AMEL. I then transitioned to flying HEMS.
RPMN: Where did you get your start flying commercially?
I started flying commercially for law enforcement. Our primary mission was to support the patrol officers. We responded to in-progress calls such has burglaries, robberies, foot pursuits, vehicle pursuits, missing persons, etc. Utilizing our eyes in the daytime and a FLIR camera at night, we assisted in setting up perimeters and searching for bad guys. Once we found them, we would coordinate, adjusting the perimeter around them if need be and directing ground units to them so that they could be taken into custody. Finding the suspects could be a challenge sometimes. Once we found them, they were not getting away.
RPMN: If you were not in the helicopter industry, what else would you see yourself doing?
I would be a pilot on the fixed-wing side of the industry. I can’t imagine not flying for a living.
RPMN: What do you enjoy doing on your days off?
On my days off I enjoy anything outdoors, such as cycling, camping, and hiking, or visiting friends and family.
RPMN: Have you ever had an ‘Oh, crap’ moment in a helicopter? Can you summarize what happened?
I never had an engine failure or had the ‘Jesus nut’ fly off, thank goodness! However, I have had the occasional chip light, oil pressure dropping to zero, smoke in the cockpit, bird strikes, and FADEC problems. All were landed without incident. That is the great thing about helicopters; you can land them just about anywhere, anytime there is a problem.
RPMN: If you could give only one piece of advice to a new helicopter pilot, what would it be?
The helicopter industry is a small community and your reputation will follow you as a pilot. My best advice is always be honest and professional. If you make a mistake such as over-torquing the aircraft, cause a little hanger rash, or overfly an inspection, admit your mistake and live to fly another day. Don’t try to hide it or not report it. Even the smallest lie will have your peers second guessing your integrity and it will likely follow you your entire aviation career. I have seen and read about pilots getting fired just because they did not report something or lied about it. If they were upfront and honest in the first place, they would have kept their job. Everyone makes mistakes.
RPMN: In your view, what is the greatest challenge for the helicopter industry at this moment in time?
In my view, CFIT is still one of the greatest challenges in the helicopter industry. Pilots are still running perfectly good helicopters into the ground. There are numerous weather resources out there that can assist pilots in making go or no-go decisions. However, I believe the number one resource is the pilot himself or herself. Trust your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right: stop, put it on the ground, or if able, turn around. You should know your personal limitations. Just because your company minimums are lower than your personal minimums, that doesn’t mean you should fly. I am fortunate to work for a company who states I can cancel or terminate any flight at any time for any reason. Safety is always first.