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Meet A Rotorcraft Pro - Scott Kerchner

Posted 2 years 39 days ago ago by Admin

: What is your current position? 

I am the assistant chief pilot for Southern California and Hawaii for REACH Air Medical Services. I have responsibility for 44 pilots at 11 bases as well as three IFR reserve pilots and two instructor pilots/check airmen; it keeps me fairly busy. I enjoy working with pilots and flying first-rate helicopters in the single-pilot IFR role. 

RPMN: Tell me about your first flight.

My first helicopter flight was in the U.S. Navy flight school at South Whiting Field near Pensacola, Florida. I was a student naval aviator and had been selected to fly helicopters in the United States Marine Corps.  From the moment we lifted off in the TH-57C, I was hooked!  I had flown fixed-wing prior:  a T-34C at North Whiting Field, and Cessnas at the Don Scott airport affiliated with The Ohio State University when I was a college student there. My actual first flight was in a Cessna 152 at Ohio State.

RPMN: How did you get your start in helicopters?

As a Marine officer pilot at Whiting Field. Upon getting designated as a naval aviator and getting my wings, I was sent on to learn to fly the Sikorsky CH-53D Sea Stallion and eventually the CH-53E Super Stallion.

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

Helicopters chose me, or maybe I should say the Marine Corps chose them for me. Upon selection to fly helicopters, I never really looked back.  I served 26 years in the USMC and flew Sea Stallions and Super Stallions all over the world off of U.S. Navy amphibious ships and in various contingency and combat operations in the Middle East, South America, and the Far East.

RPMN: Where did you get your start flying commercially?

I had not flown for a while following my retirement from the Marine Corps and had been working as a defense contractor, an occupation I did not find particularly personally rewarding or fulfilling. I had a number of friends flying for REACH and they recommended I apply. After being hired on, my first commercial flying was with REACH a little over seven years ago flying a B407 in the Coachella Valley outside of Palm Springs. After about a year of doing that I transitioned to the EC-135 in a SPIFR role flying out of Imperial as the lead pilot at REACH Nine Imperial.  Flying in Southern California was familiar to me as I had served many years out of Miramar in San Diego and in Yuma while in the Marine Corps.  Within a couple of years I became the assistant chief pilot, a role I presently hold.  I find the work as an air ambulance pilot particularly personally rewarding and fulfilling; I wouldn’t really want to do anything else.

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

I would probably be working for a defense contractor or running a small business.  

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

I enjoy the outdoors: deep sea fishing, hiking, boating, off-roading, riding motorcycles, and reading. That and spending time with family.

RPMN: What is your greatest career accomplishment to date?

That I was able to lead United States Marines.  Leading Marines as a naval aviator was truly a dream come true, and I think I was fairly successful at it. Second to that was gaining my wings of gold as a naval aviator. I am thankful for that experience and all the wonderful people I have met in the industry, both in uniform and out.

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

I have had a number of them! Dark nights off a ship in the Mediterranean, rotor damper failures halfway between Grand Turk and Roosevelt Roads Naval Station, Puerto Rico, and engine failures. Probably the most relevant and recent was an engine failure I had in a company aircraft at over 7,000 feet approaching the Tehachapi mountain range back in 2015.  I had the Number One engine lose a main bearing and quit during a climb out over the mountains. Superior REACH training coupled with plenty of practice with the EC-135 OEI training switch made for a relatively uneventful single-engine recovery and safe landing at Bakersfield Municipal Airport. Training for unexpected events cannot be overlooked!
RPMN: If you could give only one piece of advice to a new helicopter pilot, what would it be?

Be humble, attentive, and learn everything you can. There is a vast amount of experience in the industry; make sure you take the time to learn from those who might have seen it before.

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

About three months ago I would have said the shortage of qualified pilots and aviation maintenance technicians. The events of the last couple of months have changed that landscape dramatically and I think we will be looking at an excess of both very soon due to changed economics going forward. I would also like to take an opportunity to put in a recommendation for IFR helicopter flight; attempting to fly VFR in IMC conditions continues to be a tragic and ongoing problem in our industry. I have two remedies in mind: File and fly IFR if able, or just land the damn helicopter or do not even go!