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Meet a Rotorcraft Pro – Jim Cochran

Posted 4 years 42 days ago ago by Admin

RPMN: What is your current position?

I’m currently the Eastern United States regional pilot training manager/check airman with Metro Aviation Inc.

An additional duty with Metro is that of maintenance/production test pilot at Paradigm Aerospace Corporation, known as PAC International, a wholly owned subsidiary of Metro Aviation.  This responsibility has provided me a great opportunity to fly numerous types of airframes, including: Airbus EC145, EC135 (all variants), AS350 and the BK117 (all variants); Bell 206 series and the 407s,
(both analog) and the GX1000s and the MD900.

I’m also co-owner of Professional Helicopter Services LLC, one of the principles in 4D Aviation Consulting LLC.

I enjoyed a 26-year career with the Pennsylvania State Police retiring from the Aviation Unit in 2010.

RPMN: Tell me about your first flight.

First time ever, my dad, brother and I took a ride in a Cessna 172 at the local airport when I was 12 or so.  It was then and there that I was sure I wanted to fly and pursue an aviation career. I started ground school in 1975.

In a helicopter, it was on a Boy Scout canoe trip to Moosonee, Ontario, when I was 16.  My dad and I took a sightseeing ride in a Bell 47 and ... WOW! The helicopter bug bit me.  

RPMN: How did you get your start in helicopters?

My uncle was one of the early Navy helicopter pilots (# 67) and after the Navy, he went to Bell Helicopter.  We took a few family vacations to visit my uncle in Texas and I always enjoyed the tours of the Bell facility my uncle would take us on.  With that, I grew up with an interest in aviation, especially helicopters. Unfortunately, my uncle passed away before I began flying helicopters, but my dad continued with guidance and support.

It was a thrill to attend the Bell Helicopter training facility in Hurst, Texas, in the early ‘90s for Jet Ranger initial, and meet and fly with some of my uncle’s old friends.

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

It was a bit of both.  I initially headed to college for mechanical/aeronautical engineering then realized that the view from a desk would get boring fast.  So, to my family’s dismay, I dropped out and went to work at the local steel mill; then after that I became an FBO at the local airport as a lineman.

I bounced around a bit due to the economic slump of the early ‘80s until enlisting in the state police in 1984. I was able to resume my passion for flying in 1986 and haven’t looked back since.

My initial training began at the Community College of Beaver County (Pennsylvania), earning an associate’s degree in professional piloting with fixed-wing ratings.  With my early interest in helicopters and after flying fixed-wing with the state police, the law enforcement helicopter mission was more appealing and challenging. It was an inevitable move to the rotor-wing world.

RPMN: Where did you get your start flying commercially?

I flew single/dual pilot, Part 135, in airplanes but helicopter wise, with the state police, flight instructing and working as a backup pilot with an ENG contract in Pittsburgh.

After retirement from the state police, I moved into the HAA world, flying the EC145 and MD900.  A much different world from the law enforcement, ENG, and what I remembered from the airplane Part 135 world of the late ‘80s thru the ‘90s.  There were some initial challenges but all in all, the experience proved invaluable.

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

I would have to say flying with the airlines, instructing/teaching aviation, or I’d be an engineer.

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

What’s a day off?  When I get time, I enjoy traveling with my wife and family and spending time with my grandson.

RPMN: What is your greatest career accomplishment to date?

I have been blessed with some great experiences in my aviation careers.  There’s nothing more satisfying than being able to complete a mission safely and with the objective accomplished, whether it’s the law enforcement response to the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. in 2001, (I flew then Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge from Erie to Harrisburg),  or completing a Medevac transport of a critical patient in IMC.

However, flying with both of my children as part of their professions is one of my greatest memories.  My son is a police officer/medic and had the occasion to request the state police helicopter to assist on a fugitive search. My daughter is a nurse and had the opportunity to do a ride along with me when I was flying the line with LifeFlight at Allegheny Health Network in Pittsburgh.  My daughter’s fiancé is completing his airplane CFI. It’s been a thrill watching him progress through the process too.

I aspire to have a positive influence and inspire those I am fortunate enough to meet.

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

I’ve had few moments; we had an engine fail on final in a twin-engine helicopter during a training flight.  We were able to land single-engine without further incident and turn it into a “teaching moment.”

Another event in a twin-engine helicopter involved a governor low side failure.  Again, on a protracted final approach to a confined helipad boxed in by terrain, at night and heavier than usual.  My crew responded exactly as they had been briefed. They made the necessary communications to our local dispatch, read off the emergency checklist and, above all, remained calm and in control.  We were able to abort and reposition to a nearby airport with no issue.

With good training and practices, I believe “Oh, crap” moments should be minimal.

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

If I can offer one piece of advice for pilots at any level: seek out knowledge in any way possible.  Talk to and listen to the “old timers;” read anything and everything written relating to your questions; always come away from a flight with a lesson learned to be a better aviator!

Be patient, never rush yourself, continue to learn your aircraft and follow your training.

RPMN: In your view, what is the greatest challenge for the helicopter industry at this moment in time?

The industry is experiencing a pilot shortage, an increase in UAV operations, and a technology boom with aviation systems.

Supplying safe, qualified pilots will be our greatest challenge to meet the ever changing world of aviation, new technologies and the UAV community’s needs.

I believe we’re at a unique crossroad with the older stick-and-rudder type pilots and the younger techie types.  With today’s complex systems, both skills are imperative and must complement one another.