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Meet A Rotorcraft Pro - Dennis Bowdoin, Helicopter Air Specialty Service

Posted 3 years 153 days ago ago by Admin

What is your current position?
I’m the owner and operator of Helicopter Air Specialty Service, owner and operator of AMP/HASS LLC a Robinson Service Center, owner and operator of the Maple Grove Heliport (E66), and manager of the Maple Grove Airport (65G) at Fowlerville, Michigan.

Tell me about your first flight?
I had a chain of 126 retail stores and needed to get to one of them fast. I hired a pilot that turned out to be a CFI to get me there. He let me fly! Most expensive flight I ever took. It was a thrill.  Five lessons later, I was buying my first helicopter: a Robinson R22. I had no license, but I owned a helicopter, which forced me to get my license. Failure was not an option.

How did you get your start in helicopters?
It was a very efficient way to get from store to store. It was a lot of fun too! If one has to work, then one should always do something that is fun and that one is passionate about. That way, one will never work a day in their life. As I was flying from store to store, I would take my CFI's students with me to show them how to plan and execute a cross-country flight. I found out that I really liked teaching.

When or how did you choose to fly helicopters, or did they choose you?
I think the helicopter chose me. Not only was it efficient, but it was a lot of fun and challenging. I am the type of person that must always be challenged and must be continually learning. The day I stop learning is the day I'll retire. I have attended the Robinson safety class every two years since the late ‘80s when Frank Robinson used to teach the whole class, and never has there been a time I haven't learned something. I hear CFIs out there that say they have to attend and I look at it as I get to attend.

Where did you get your start flying commercially?
I started using my helicopter for my chain of retail stores at first, then got my CFI and have concentrated my commercial flying to mainly training. I enjoy teaching and I feel that if one takes one aspect and becomes knowledgeable and professional about it, both the pilot and the public benefit.

If you were not in the helicopter industry, what else would you see yourself doing?
I would probably still be piloting…but a tour submarine in the South Pacific.  (LOL)

What do you enjoy doing on your days off?
I don't really have any days off. I’m busy seven days a week: maintaining the heliport/airport,   being the Michigan Helicopter Association safety officer, being on the Michigan Aeronautics Commission General Aviation committee, being on the FAA Safety Team, and I’m on the county planning commission. My idea of a vacation is to go get my CFI renewed with Tim Tucker out at the Robinson Factory every two years.

What is your greatest career accomplishment to date?
In 1994, Western Michigan University College of Aviation hired me to write and run their new helicopter program. I did that for nine years. During that time I had four very dedicated students that had very specific goals. One wanted to fly for the FBI and he does, one wanted to fly for the Coast Guard and she did, one wanted to do firefighting and he did. The last one wanted to become an instructor and she is doing just that at another college. During that time I was awarded Michigan Aeronautics Commission Award of Excellence, the Detroit FSDO CFI of the year, and was named the Great Lakes region Aviation Safety Counselor of the year. I was appointed FAA Accident Prevention Counselor (now FAASTeam) in 1994 and I am still current with that helping to mitigate enforcement actions with counseling.

Have you ever had an “oh, crap” moment in a helicopter? Can you summarize what happened? 
Anyone that has flown with a student or flown over 12,000 hours has had more than one such moment. Back in the ‘90s, I was out with a student just departing the airport for pattern work, when a plane inbound reported ice at 2,000 feet. We were at 500 feet, so I asked the student, “What should we do?” The student replied we should return. Good choice, I thought. He made his turn back to the airport while I called the tower, only he did a climbing turn right into the ice at about 800 feet.  We iced up immediately. Had to open the vent and crab the helicopter to see and land in the closest field where it stayed for four hours. Not fun. We didn't have the tools then that we have now and the flight service station (FSS) had given no warning of ice.

If you could give only one piece of advice to a new helicopter pilot what would it be?
Take your time and learn in all four seasons. Stay the course and be patient, as it doesn't happen overnight. Getting all your ratings in less than 10 months does not make you proficient or professional.

In your view what is the greatest challenge for the helicopter industry at this moment in time?
Well the most obvious current challenge is the  COVID-19 pandemic. It is going to take its toll on a lot of small operators. If COVID was not around, I think the greatest challenge is failure of the FAA to take control of airspace in favor of operators. Too many communities are allowed to prohibit flights and flight paths due to noise or just the sentiment of “we just don't like helicopters.” The FAA was charged with controlling the airspace so that NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) couldn't happen, but more and more it seems that the FAA is rolling over to avoid confrontation. The WINGS program is one of the few programs where the FAA is proactive, I just wish they would do more to be proactive rather than reactive.