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Meet A Rotorcraft Pro - Major Robert Hunt

Posted 2 years 96 days ago ago by Admin

What is your current position?

Currently, I’m the lead pilot and Instructor pilot flying King Air 300s in Afghanistan for an aerospace company that provides intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance on a government contract.     

Tell me about your first flight.

My dad was an Air Force pilot stationed in Orlando, Florida. I was nine years old and my dad loaded the family up in a Cessna 210 for a week in Naples, Florida. During the flight home he let me sit in the right front seat with the headset on. During cruise flight my dad looked over and said, “You have the controls.” For the short time I held the yoke I knew all I wanted to be was a pilot. He never pushed me to be a military pilot, but he knew exactly what he was doing by letting me think I was flying that plane.  

How did you get your start in helicopters?

Starting my third year of college at the University of Central Florida, I joined Army ROTC on a two-year plan with the intent of getting selected to attend flight school. On graduation day, I was commissioned as a Regular Army Aviation second lieutenant with a class date soon to follow at Fort Rucker, Alabama. By the time I started flying the TH-55 (Hughes 300) I knew helicopters were the right decision. Upon graduation from flight school, I was selected to attend the AH-1 (Cobra attack helicopter) course. Walking into Cobra Hall at Hanchey Army Airfield for the first time, then flying the AH-1, I truly knew my helicopter decision was the right choice.  

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

The neighbor across the street was a retired Army warrant officer who flew Hueys in Vietnam. I enjoyed visiting and seeing his old Army flight helmet and his photos on the wall. Every now and then he would mention stories of flying in the Army and of his time in Vietnam. It was then that I knew deep down that I wanted to fly helicopters. 

Where did you get your start flying commercially?

Well, I’m not sure I ever officially started. I retired from the Army with over 2,000 hours of rotary-wing time. It was the following Monday when I received a call from Black Water’s aviation wing, Presidential Aviation. They hired me to fly Bell 412s for a public-use operation in Iraq, which I did for several years. Next, I flew S-61s on a Part 135 ticket. However, these locations included Afghanistan, Niger, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.   

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

This is a great question and one every helicopter pilot would answer with “why do anything else?”  After several years of flying helicopters in a combat zone, I found myself getting a little complacent. It was time for me to step away and I knew the family was getting tired of me deploying as a civilian.  I was a senior VP of operations for a company in the Southeast with accounts nationwide. I turned in my flight suit for a sport coat and listened to my coworkers talk about stories of bad golf shots instead of cool helicopter stories. I painfully did this for two years, then went back to flying helicopters.  

What do you enjoy doing on your days off?

This is an easy question to answer. As I work overseas in obscure parts of the world for 60 to 90 days at a time, I simply spend all my time with my wife and children. Every once in a while, I’ll get a call to fly an airplane for someone when I’m home; I will only do so if it doesn’t interfere with family time.  

What is your greatest career accomplishment to date?

I have several personal career accomplishments: logging over 9,500 rotary-wing hours, being part of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, and flying with the brave professionals in Black Water’s aviation wing are a few highlights. However, at the top of the list is being in the 1-17 Air Cavalry Squadron in the 82nd Airborne Division and flying the AH-1 attack helicopter in combat during Operation Just Cause (Panama, 1989).  Prior to this operation, I would listen to the accounts of retired Vietnam Veterans and how the AH-1 got them out of trouble during that war.  Flying the AH-1 in combat before the Army retired this aircraft was a true honor.  

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

One incident required an entirely different decision-making process. I was flying an S-61, single ship in the Congo transporting 12 passengers (which included a mother and her 1-year-old child) for a Part 135 operation. The first 70 nautical miles (NMs) of the trip were over an area where the South African Army had been stirring up the rebel forces. Flying high enough out of trouble, I noticed my main gear box pressure slowly and continuously drop through 35% then to 0%.  With no safe place to land, we turned the helicopter towards the Ugandan border, but we didn’t get close. I sat it down in an open field near a dirt road in case we had to run, knowing the woman and her child could not run through the bush.  Upon landing and shutdown, I asked the crew chief to buy us some gearbox pressure.  Normally landing in safe areas in the Congo, the locals would approach the helicopter due to curiosity   Not this time and in this place. There were about 50 locals standing off 100 yards with three or four on their cell phones counting the number of crew members and passengers.  Staying in that place, and with the mother and child with us, if captured by the rebels, it would have been a bad ending.  Weighing the options, I decided to risk flying the helicopter at 50 feet AGL and as fast as it would go for 35 NMs to an Indian army forward operating base (FOB).  The entire flight the pressure was between 10% and 0% with the gearbox temperature through the roof.  We landed at the FOB without incident.  

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

Listen and learn from your experienced instructors. The skills and knowledge they taught me, made me be a better helicopter pilot throughout my career.  Next, stay in the books and continue to learn every day. 

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

The pilot shortage in the airline industry coupled with the ease of obtaining fixed-wing training compared to the very high cost of helicopter training.  For these reasons there are fewer and fewer choosing a career as a helicopter pilot.