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Meet A Rotorcraft Pro - Ian Robinson

Posted 3 years 301 days ago ago by Admin

: What is your current position?

I am an airline pilot (I’ll explain later)  and a flight instructor for Five Star Helicopters, a company that I started in 2007. I initially conducted primary flight training, but as my clientele evolved into aircraft owners/operators, so did my business. Now, I provide factory-equivalent, insurance-approved initial and recurrent training as well as online ground school through my blog site gotsky.net.

RPMN: Tell me about your first flight.

My first flight in a helicopter was actually a demo at a flight school in California. I remember that I didn’t even have $20 for the 10-minute ride, but I happened to be in the right place at the right time. The daughter of a prospective student chickened out at the last moment and decided she didn’t want to ride in the R44. As I was staring through the fence in awe, the ramp agent asked me if I would like to take her place. Of course I did! The freedom of moving three-dimensionally through space instantly had me so hooked that I took out a six-figure loan and pursued a career as a helicopter pilot.

RPMN: How did you get your start in helicopters?

After graduating from the flight school in 13 months, I began working as a CFI and loved every moment of it despite the fact that the minimum student loan payments were larger than my full-time paycheck. I had to get crafty with my pawns in life so I became a full-time live-in nanny (or a manny) for a wealthy automotive family in Miami. I was able to pay off my school loans in two years and nine months while working four jobs simultaneously. During the elementary school’s hours of operation, I had a little free time, so I started my flight school and ended up training hundreds of students during that time.

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

I definitely chose helicopters. I was going through school to become a doctor and, after parking in the same spot and going to the same brick building day in and day out, I realized that a life spent indoors under fluorescent lights was not for me. I still felt a calling to help people, though, so I focused on a career as an EMS pilot. I respected those pilots and figured that a career in that field would satisfy my urge to help people and do good in addition to providing me with opportunities to travel the world.

RPMN: Where did you get your start flying commercially?

My flight school also provided Part 91 operations. Eventually, I conducted a pre-buy inspection and subsequent ferry flight for a buyer who happened to be starting a DoD contract. Three weeks later, I was flying thousands of missions in AStar B2s, TwinStars, and Bell 212s in Afghanistan’s war zone.

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

I would probably be flying for the airlines. Oh wait, I am! The transition was a piece of cake. Private, instrument, commercial single,  and commercial multi all in 36 days of training. So why did I choose to also fly airlines? Two reasons:

1. The airline retirement is incredible. I have always had two or three jobs in helicopter aviation simultaneously trying to save up for that magical million dollars that is needed at age 67.

2. To broaden my experience and bring that information back to helicopters. There is much to learn and cross training has given me a bigger perspective.
I will always be a helicopter pilot at heart and  pinch myself back to reality when I’m cruising at 37,000 feet while sipping on my coffee and eating my snacks. It is pretty neat flying over the same areas that I have flown at 500 feet.

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

I rarely have an entire day off, which I consider a good thing. I have an obsession with making aviation a better and safer industry, so when I am not doing something active, I am usually doing everything in my power to develop a safety program that utilizes big data and artificial intelligence to help us save time, money, and - most importantly - lives. When I do have time off, however, I enjoy photography, reading, writing, scuba diving, surfing, mountain biking, rock climbing, and martial arts.

RPMN: What is your greatest career accomplishment to date?

Each student of mine that becomes a commercially rated pilot and then continues to later find a job is an accomplishment in itself every time it happens. That hasn’t changed. I would say the most enjoyable part of this career is seeing the “family tree” grow with solid roots. To me, my greatest accomplishment is that I genuinely feel like there is nowhere else on this entire planet that I would rather be than sitting next to a student while they learn how to fly. I truly enjoy collecting field experience and bringing the knowledge I’ve gained from flying 39 different aircraft variants back to the training table.

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

Other than a couple of air restarts following unintentional engine shutdowns? I have many stories from my time flying overseas. Picture a Midwestern American kid flying a French helicopter in Afghanistan. While flying over a Chinese lithium mine, he gets hit by the Taliban firing a Russian anti-aircraft 60 caliber ZPU machine gun. (What a wacky world we live in.) The aircraft took two rounds: one through the main rotor and one through the tail rotor!

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

Anyone can develop cyclic and collective skills, but to be successful in aviation, you need to have a deep understanding of human behavior to understand your own limitations and to work your way up the ladder and open new doors. Start by reading How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie and then learn  Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” psychology. Basically, I have two guiding principles:

1. Work like you’ll never leave your job. Always leave the door open. If you move on, do your best to continue to help your previous operator. You can recruit, consult, and even still fly for them sometimes.

2. There is an old saying, “Treat others the way that you want to be treated.” I couldn’t disagree more. I believe that we need to have the social intelligence to treat others the way they want to be treated. Good CRM begins there.

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

Quality personnel is definitely the biggest challenge for our industry. It is tough to sell this trade to someone who has the mental aptitude to calculate and determine that the total ROI of the career path yields a negative return for those who have to take out a personal loan to obtain training. Flying is only a small portion of career success, and yet, the minimum educational requirements are a high school diploma and 200 hours of stick time. A successful business requires a wildly more advanced and educated population than what is minimally required to enter this profession.