RPMN: What is your current position?
I am the owner and president of two companies: Aircoastal Helicopters, a Part 135 operation founded in 1981 and Palm Beach Helicopters, a Part 141 flight school founded in 2001. Both are located at KLNA airport in Palm Beach County, Florida.
RPMN: Tell me about your first flight.
It was a J3 Cub. I was 8 or 9 years old and my dad took me out to a grass airstrip where plane rides were sold. After the pilot put me in the seat he started untying the airplane and when he got to the rear of the plane he lifted up the tail and started shaking it acting like the plane was going to take off It wasn’t even running yet, but I grabbed the stick and yelled, “Let her go!”
RPMN: How did you get your start in helicopters?
I was a career law enforcement officer but I already had an interest in aviation, having soloed in an airplane at 16 and then getting my private certificate. I started with Alachua County Sheriff’s Department in North Florida but in 1979 I had the opportunity to move to Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Department in South Florida, which had an established aviation unit. After about a year on the road, I was able to transfer into the aviation unit where I received my helicopter training.
RPMN: When and how did you choose to fly helicopters? Or did they choose you?
A friend had preceded me in moving to Palm Beach County and was flying in the aviation unit. He invited me down for a visit. I got a ride in the back of their Bell 206 and at one point they put it into an out-of-ground-effect hover at 500 feet. Being an airplane pilot I grabbed my seat for the inevitable stall. When it didn’t stall, I was hooked.
RPMN: Where did you get your start flying commercially?
We worked 24 hour shifts with 48 hours off in law enforcement. All of the pilots got part-time flying on their days off. As a group we thought we should start our own business, but for various reasons the group didn’t stay together. I built on the idea and ran with it to start my own Part 135 operation and employ the other off-duty pilots.
RPMN: If you were not in the helicopter industry, what else would you see yourself doing?
It would have been fun to have been a professional race car driver. Although when I was in school everyone thought I would be a lawyer. I get to practice that in a way, with having to understand all of the FAA regulations.
RPMN: What do you enjoy doing on your days off?
I have been driving race cars as a hobby since I was 17; I enjoy going to NASCAR races and spending time with my daughter, son-in-law, and new grandson. Lately, I have enjoyed refurbishing a 130-year-old family piano to pass along to my daughter.
RPMN: What is your greatest career accomplishment to date?
Well, surviving in this business for 37 years comes to mind. But I would say all of the people out there in the industry that have passed through my doors when they were just starting out that now have accomplished a lot in their own careers. Hopefully, I played a positive role in training and furthering their careers in this industry.
RPMN: Have you ever had an “Oh, crap” moment in a helicopter? Can you summarize what happened?
Airplanes have let me down a lot more than helicopters, but there have been a couple in helicopters. Once in a Bell LongRanger I picked up some of my relatives in Ft. Lauderdale and was taking them over to Freeport, Bahamas. I had a new instructor along letting him build time. When we began our descent from 3,000 feet cruise flight over water, the aircraft yawed. I looked at the instructor like Come on man, push the pedal! He gave me a surprised look and he was obviously confused. I came on the controls and discovered quickly that the pedals went stop to stop and were no longer connected to the tail rotor. The run-on landing at the destination was fairly uneventful, so much so that the passengers remarked they would have thought it normal had I not briefed them beforehand. It turned out a bolt had been installed upside down without being safety wired; after eight to 10 hours of flying the nut backed off allowing the bolt to fall out. The only way to have caught it on preflight would have been to un-cowl the helicopter. After taking out my frustration on a nearby tree I called my instructor at Bell Helicopter and thanked him for their excellent training.
RPMN: If you could give only one piece of advice to a new helicopter pilot, what would it be?
Integrity and honesty: have it and insist on it. That is the foundation of our safety and success in this industry. I always tell new trainees, if you are working somewhere that you feel reporting a mistake or problem will be detrimental to you, then you probably shouldn’t be working there.
RPMN: In your view, what is the greatest challenge for the helicopter industry at this moment in time?
We need to find an affordable path for training and experience to supply the future needs of the industry.
EDITOR’S NOTE FROM LYN BURKS: A short story about Dan Crowe who incidentally gave me my first flying job in 1992. In the mid ‘90s, I was flying a CBS news helicopter for Danny’s company and earning $25 per hour. After a year of hard work and safe flying, I approached Dan and made my case that I would like a raise to $30. His first question to me was, “Do you look at your paychecks?” I remember thinking, that’s a weird response. Being honest, I told him that I don’t open my paychecks, I just deliver them to my wife who pretty much handles the family finances. He just laughed and told me that if I would have actually opened and looked at my paycheck, I would have noticed that he gave me a $5- per-hour raise six months earlier. Thanks Dan!!