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Meet a Rotorcraft Pro - Tim Tucker

Posted 3 years 92 days ago ago by Admin

What is your current position?

I am the chief instructor for the Robinson Helicopter Company. We have taught the pilot safety course at the factory since the mid-1980s with over 21,000 pilots completing the training. In addition, I have conducted 120 foreign safety courses, in 57 cities and 30 countries. I am an FAA helicopter designated pilot examiner for private through ATP certificates, not only in Robinson’s three models but also 11 other make & models and in the last 35 years have conducted 8,000 practical tests. 

Tell me about your first flight?

Strangely, I don’t remember my first flight. It would have been at the start of U.S. Army flight training at Ft Wolters, Texas.  However, I vividly remember my first autorotation. At that time the Army did all autorotations to the ground–no power recoveries even in the low-inertia TH-55 (the civilian equivalent is the HU269A). Things seemed to happen so fast it was a blur–the ground rushed up at over 2,000 feet per minute; then just as I thought we would crash, the helicopter rotated up so I was staring at the sky, back level with the ground, up collective, a solid bounce as we hit the ground scraping along the stage field runway for 20 feet to 30 feet and finally we came to a complete stop. Calling it a controlled crash is a kind description. However, my instructor turned and exclaimed, “See, nothing to it!”

How did you get started in helicopters?

Quite simply, I got drafted. I graduated from college in the spring of 1969 and planned to start law school in the fall. In August, the U.S. Army determined they needed help with the ongoing Vietnam War and insisted I join.

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

Once drafted, you get the opportunity to enlist and, assuming you meet all the requirements, can choose your military occupation. I was home after four years in college and ran into a high school buddy just returning from flying helicopters in Vietnam. He convinced me Vietnam from the air was a much better view than from the ground. So I went around to each service investigating pilot training. The Air Force, Navy, and Marines all required a 5-year commitment after flight school, but flying helicopters in the U.S. Army was only 3 years. I wanted in and out of the military as quick as possible so I could get back on my chosen path, so Army helicopters it was. 

I ended up flying helicopters in the Army for 27 years in different capacities and have yet to get back to my “chosen path.” 

Where did you get your start flying commercially?

In 1973, I got my first commercial job, outside the Army, with the Connecticut Helicopter Service in Danbury, Connecticut, teaching in a Bell 47D1. I loved it, but winter came to New England. After my first subzero preflight,  I headed west.

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

I would have loved a career as a foreign service officer. New places and different countries stimulates life.

What do you enjoy doing on your days off?

Earlier in life, skiing was a passion. Then after my second hip replacement, golf took over.  Now, trying to put a dent in my 25-year-old wine collection is the challenge.

What is your greatest career accomplishment to date?

Aside from serving in the U.S. Army for 27 years and all that entails, it’s a toss-up between two activities. First, is the small part I played in the growth of the Robinson Helicopter Company and the development of the three Robinson models. In 1976, I handed Frank Robinson a $300 deposit check for what would become, in late 1979, the first R22 sold and delivered: Serial No. 003 (Serial No. 001 crashed in the ocean and sunk midway through the FAA certification process, so serial No. 002 was built to complete the program.) Little did I know that that first R22 and the man responsible for it would go on to transform the helicopter world and I’ve been along for the entire ride. Secondly, in the summer of 2011, I was teaching one of our foreign safety courses in Neuchatel, Switzerland, and flew with an attendee named Claude Vuichard. He showed me a technique he’d developed for a recovery from the vortex ring state (VRS) that blew my mind. After a little practice, I was making recoveries from a fully developed VRS with altitude losses of only 25-30 feet. To make a long story short, I went home, put the technique in Robinson’s maneuver guide and we began teaching it in all safety courses. In 2015, I decided to try to convince the helicopter world (no small task) how much better this technique was and, if used, I was sure it would prevent many accidents and save lives. I got permission from Claude to use his name and named the technique the “Vuichard Recovery,” and started the crusade: magazine articles, presentations for anyone who would have me (FAA seminars, Heli-Expo, flight schools, and operators), and flight demonstrations around the world all in an effort to spread the word.  The Vuichard Recovery is now the preferred technique for many operators including the LAPD and is being taught in many flight schools large and small. Not a month goes by where a pilot somewhere in the world doesn’t contact me with a tale of thanks. I’m hopeful the next revision of the FAA’s Helicopter Flying Handbook will include the Vuichard Recovery.

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

As any Vietnam Helicopter Pilot Association member will tell you, and I’m sure this is true for more recently deployed pilots to the Middle East, the whole combat experience could be termed an “Oh, crap!” moment. Being shot at, shot up—and even shot down—was not an uncommon experience, so I will leave combat out of this answer. 

I was the lead aircraft in a seven ship formation of Army UH-1s on a flight from Camp Roberts, California, to Los Alamitos Army Airfield with six people on board. A few miles south of LAX at 2,000 feet the engine quit. The fuel control unit seemingly ate itself. I entered the autorotation, turned left towards a small open area in the city, then spotted a deserted school baseball diamond further to the left. Thinking the surface was more predictable I continued the turn towards the ball field. The six other helicopters set up an orbit around me offering advice and encouragement over the radio. Talk about pressure! Twelve of my peers including my commanding officer, were watching as I maneuvered over the city in an autorotation. I touched down smoothly just passed third base in short left field, fair territory.

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

A little fear of the environment we operate in is healthy. As soon as one thinks they’ve seen it all and the next flight will be easy, a situation will rise up and take a big bite out of your ass. 

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

Pilot availability, salary, drones, and technology are certainly future challenges. However, the greatest challenge is to stop killing people with the stupid decisions we, as pilots, are making. I’ve seen numbers in the upper 90 percent range for fatal accidents caused by “pilot error.” The one component most likely to fail is located between the ears of the person sitting in that PIC seat.