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Meet A Rotorcraft Pro - Matt Presnal, Coptersafety

Posted 3 years 276 days ago ago by Admin

RPMN: What is your current position?
I am the regulatory compliance manager at Coptersafety in Helsinki, Finland, which means that I manage and direct all aspects of Coptersafety’s FAA training programs as well as our FAA Level D full-flight simulator qualifications. We operate H125, H145, AW139, and AW169 full flight simulators. Coptersafety is the largest independent simulator training center in the world. We provide helicopter specific initial training and type ratings, recurrent training, and specialty tailored training programs in our simulators for customers around the world. My family and I moved to Finland about three years ago from Canada after I left my previous position of nine-plus years with Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation where I held positions as a maintenance test pilot, site manager, and field service representative.

RPMN: Tell me about your first flight.
I joined the U.S. Army in 1995, and a few short months later found myself on my first assignment in the Republic of Korea as a UH-60A Blackhawk crew chief. There were a few other soldiers that had arrived together in Korea from initial Blackhawk training at Fort Eustis, Virginia, so my company commander organized a training flight for us to give us our first taste of a flight in a helicopter. My first flight as a helicopter pilot was a few years later at Fort Rucker, Alabama. after attending the U. S. Warrant Officer Candidate School, and starting flight school in the TH-67 (civilian Bell 206B3s). The flight instructors there at Ft. Rucker made it all look so easy on the first day in the helicopter. They are flipping switches, pressing buttons, making radio calls, and I was about a mile behind the aircraft when the instructor looked at me and said, “it’s all yours, take the controls!”

RPMN: How did you get your start in helicopters?
I grew up in Austin, Texas, and every year my parents would take my sister and I out to Bergstrom Air Force Base (now a commercial international airport) to watch the air shows from the time I was a little kid. I remember watching the Thunderbirds scream overhead, sitting in the static display aircraft on the tarmac, and talking to all the pilots standing proud next to their flying machines and I just knew that was what I wanted to do. Years later, when I decided to join the military and started talking to the recruiters, they sold me on being a helicopter mechanic as my avenue to get into aviation. I’ve been told since, I wasn’t the only one they sold that story to.

RPMN: When and how did you choose to fly helicopters? Or did they choose you?
I knew heading into the Army that I wanted to fly. Sitting in the back of a Blackhawk everyday made me even more sure that I wanted to be up front. After getting to Korea, I immediately started working on getting my applications to Warrant Officer Candidate School and flight school put together. Once accepted, everyone goes through initial training in helicopters first, and gets to put in a “wishlist” of aircraft they would like to go onto advanced training in. I asked for the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior and was lucky enough to get my first choice of both aircraft and assignment location in Germany with the 1st Squadron 4th Cavalry. Or more commonly known as Quarterhorse.

RPMN: Where did you get your start flying commercially?
When I left the military, my first commercial flying position was flying television news in Cleveland, Ohio. I found it was a valuable transition to commercial flying and let me build my confidence in the commercial realm after so many years of being an OH-58D scout pilot in the Army. From there I transitioned into a HEMS position in Durango, Colorado, which I found both extremely rewarding as well as challenging at times. Rewarding, in the sense of working with first responders and making some great friends along the way. It was also beautiful flying there in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, but it did come with some challenging conditions and scenarios at times.

RPMN: If you were not in the helicopter industry, what else would you see yourself doing?
That’s difficult to answer since I’ve been on, in, or around a helicopter since I graduated from high school. When I was 17, I seem to recall thinking I was going to move to California and work on a fishing boat. I’m really glad that plan didn’t work out.

RPMN: What do you enjoy doing on your days off?
My family has moved, and traveled for my career a lot, which has made us very close. They are my best friends, and we are all usually together cooking, taking the dog for long walks by the sea, and enjoying Finland’s wonderful weather.

RPMN: What is your greatest career accomplishment to date?
When I look back over the past 25 years in aviation, some of my greatest career accomplishments have been during my time with Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation working with some of the most talented mechanics, pilots, and engineers on many projects and programs. Absolute highlights of my career were: working on programs such as the U.S. Army’s UH-72 Lakota at the West Point Military Academy supporting the Army’s mission and being the chief program maintenance test pilot for the Sikorsky LUH program; managing a hand-picked team of technicians and engineers in Sweden for three years supporting the Swedish air force UH-60M Blackhawk helicopters; playing a role in the engineering and development of the VH-92 Executive Transport Helicopter Program for the U.S. Marine Corps; and supporting the Royal Canadian Air Force as a CH-148 Cyclone field service representative in Canada.

RPMN: Have you ever had an “Oh, crap” moment in a helicopter? Can you summarize what happened?
I would not call them “Oh, crap” moments, but definitely a few “that could have ended badly” moments. I have been fortunate that none were serious enough to cause any damage or injury.

RPMN: If you could give only one piece of advice to a new helicopter pilot, what would it be?
Never be afraid to ask questions or ask for help. Asking for help is a sign of professionalism and understanding your own limits. Admit and talk about your mistakes so that you and everyone around you can learn from them.

RPMN: In your view, what is the greatest challenge for the helicopter industry at this moment in time?
The technological advances, and capabilities of today’s glass cockpits are astounding and sometimes can be overwhelming. There are many challenges facing the industry today, and one of these is the ability for the crews of today’s aircraft to be able to perform their training safely and effectively. Until recently, most commercial helicopter flight simulators have been limited to type-rated aircraft, or military aircraft applications. We are now starting to see light and medium twins, and single-engine helicopters can train in full-flight simulators and receive the type of training that used to be reserved for the larger helicopter types. I think this is a move in the right direction for the industry.