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Apr
05
2021

Meet A Rotorcraft Pro - David Luke, Vice President of Night Flight Concepts

Posted 247 days ago ago by Admin

RPMN: What is your current position?

I’m co-founder and vice-president of Night Flight Concepts and FAA repair station accountable manager.

RPMN: Tell me about your first flight or experience with helicopters.

I was an enlisted specialist, E-4, in the U.S. Army as a medium lift helicopter mechanic on CH-47Ds. It was 1994, while assigned to Bravo Company (Varsity) 7th Battalion, 101st Aviation Brigade out of Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, when I was selected above my peers to go to a flight crew-member board consisting of our unit flight standards and flight platoon sergeants. After being accepted, I was assigned to the 1st flight platoon and designated a crew chief and taken on my first flight around the military reservation on a routine training flight. It was the most electrifying experience I had in my life at the time. The combination of perilousness, adventure, excitement, riskiness all at once changed my life forever. I was hooked.

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

Well I was at my military entrance processing station (MEPS) in Syracuse, New York, where I enlisted in the Army. I had scored pretty well on my entry exams apparently, so I had hundreds of military occupational specialties (MOS) options and had no idea what I wanted to do. I had not thought that far ahead. It was very stressful because I was about to click on a screen and select what my life career path was going to be. If I took too long, those MOS positions were dwindling as they were being filled by others enlisting all over the country. A staff sergeant, E-6, walked into the room and said if you want to have the coolest job in the Army you need to be a CH-47 helicopter mechanic, which will allow you the opportunity to become a flight crew member if you gain enough knowledge and show enough responsibility and discipline. (He was apparently a CH-47 flight crew member on a 3-year recruiting duty). I was like, well, that sounds perfect and after selecting that MOS my helicopter story began.

RPMN: Where did you get your start flying or maintaining professionally?

After completing basic training at Ft. Jackson, South Carolina, I went directly to Ft. Eustis, Virginia, where I began advanced individual training (AIT) as a 67U medium lift helicopter mechanic. After completing months of maintenance training, I was assigned my first unit duty station B Co., 7th/101st Aviation at Ft. Campbell. 

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

That is a question I’ve asked myself numerous times over the years and honestly, I do not have a solid answer. I have spent the last 27 years in the helicopter/aviation industry and it is hard to think of doing anything outside of that in some form or fashion.

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

I’m an avid hunter, preferably with a bow, so any free-time (if that existed) would be doing that. Fishing, hiking, and introducing my kids to any of those.  

RPMN: What is your greatest career accomplishment to date?

Wow, that’s another impossible one-answer question. If I  break it down into two parts of my career, meaning military and post-military, it will be much easier. As an enlisted flight crew member in the Army I looked up to and admired the senior enlisted flight standards instructors (SI) because they had the most knowledge and experience in the unit which is why they were selected. My goal was to get to that position and be able to teach others, evaluate and maintain performance standards. After many years and a few duty station changes I not only became the unit Standards Instructor but was the Battalion Standard Instructor before my enlisted duty was over in the Army. That was the pinnacle of my military career. 

Post military I would easily have to say was co-founding Night Flight Concepts, Inc with three of my military comrades which I still co-own today with one of the original founders, Adam Aldous. It allowed us to bring our experience to the civil industry and help grow a night vision community to where it is today. I created and manage the first NVG-specific repair station in the civil sector, #N5ZR113B, which has grown significantly in the last 12+ years. We went from me driving around Florida to local law enforcement offices hoping to acquire new customers to completing over 2,000 NVG service inspections per year at our new facility in Waco, Texas.

RPMN: Have you ever had an ‘Oh, crap’ moment in helicopters? Can you summarize what happened?

I’ve logged over 2,000 hours of NVG operations alone so I have had a few that come to mind, especially during combat deployments in Iraq, but one in particular related to my job as an aircraft maintainer on a CH-47 comes to mind. We were flying cross country for a training exercise from Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, to the National Training Center at Ft. Irwin, California. We had stopped and spent the night after refueling in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and completed a quick post-flight and checked the fluid levels and headed to the hotel expecting to do an in-depth preventive maintenance daily inspection the next morning. Early in the morning we were notified a bad weather front was coming in and the commander wanted to head to the aircraft, pre-flight, jump in and go. Especially since we could have continued on with the flight after refuel the night prior.

We all arrived at the aircraft together and the commander had jumped up on the aircraft and started opening and closing access panels and moments later came back down and said OK, tops ready, let me know when you have completed down below as we crawl in the cockpit. Understand there are a lot of things to look at on a Ch-47. I said, “OK, that’s nice but no offense. I'm going back up top and doing the checks I’m supposed to do as well.” We have tunnel covers that allow access to view multiple drive shafts that run along the fuselage connecting the forward rotor head to the combining transmission (That’s kind of important).

Upon opening one of the covers, I found one driveshaft had severe scouring almost completely through the driveshaft. We were not going anywhere. I found a Zerk fitting, which is a lubrication point for the drive shaft bearings, was missing and had lodged itself between the skin of the aircraft and the driveshaft causing this scouring. We had to replace the driveshaft and later our quality control department measured the scouring and determined it had worn 85% of the way through the driveshaft.

We probably would not be here today if we had flown 5 minutes longer the day prior or took off without properly completing that preventive maintenance daily check. I do not care what the mission/operation is or who says everything is fine, regardless of their position or experience. You have a job to do, so do it to your best ability under any and all circumstances. Do not cut any corners, as your or someone’s life depends on it. 

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

Ok, I have possibly more than one. It can be overwhelming with all the helicopter moving parts, maintenance procedures, and the pressures of mission or operation readiness  but you have to remain focused on completing proper services, following approved procedures, and take the time to go back and triple check your work, and not be afraid to ask questions.

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

I think the greatest challenge from the maintainer’s perspective in the industry today is how quickly the industry has grown even within the last decade. Yet, I do not believe maintenance personnel are growing at the same rate. I often see and know helicopter maintainers are managing more aircraft than there is time in the day to properly service.