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Meet A Rotorcraft Pro - Scott Beck, USFS Pilot

Posted 2 years 240 days ago ago by Admin

RPMN: What is your current position? 

I am currently a pilot in command flying one of two Firewatch Cobra helicopters belonging to the U.S. Forest Service. The Firewatch Cobras provide aerial supervision and intelligence gathering for large wildland fire incidents throughout the western United States.

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

My first flying experience with helicopters was at Fort Rucker, Alabama, in 1986 as a warrant officer candidate in Army Flight School, operating the venerable TH-55A. By the time I departed Fort Rucker for my first active-duty assignment, I was qualified in TH-55, UH-1H, OH-58 series, and AH-1 series helicopters.

RPMN: How did you get your start in helicopters?

In 1984, I was a combat security specialist in the Air National Guard (ANG) and found out you could attend Army flight school without having a college degree, which was my situation at the time. My commander was a great guy and allowed me to pursue this flying endeavor. After I successfully navigated the tests, physicals and interview board, I received a conditional release from the ANG and orders for the Warrant Officer Rotary Wing Entry Course via Army Basic Training, just to make sure I was serious. 

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

When I was five, I saw my first helicopter in person; it was a hovering CH-54 Skycrane. That image has always been with me and although it took some time and commitment, I believe helicopters were destined to be a part of my life from then on.

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

I left active duty in 1995 and joined the Texas National Guard, I was flying C-12 (King Air 200) airplanes for the military then. The first commercial job I got as a civilian was with American Eagle Airlines in Dallas. I flew ATR 72s for about nine months and was ready to return to helicopters, airline-type flying was not for me. In 1996, I was hired by a helicopter air ambulance (HAA) company and began my civilian professional career flying BK117s in Dallas.

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

Prior to becoming an Army aviator I was a military policeman pursuing a civilian law enforcement career, so I can see myself in that role.

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

My wife and I enjoy travelling and camping. When I’m not on contract we travel across the country visiting family and friends.

RPMN: What is your greatest career accomplishment to date?

I’ve been very fortunate to have several career milestones. One of my favorites is the Interagency NVG fire suppression drill in Tehachapi California, in 2014. In years prior, several fire agencies in California, who all flew UH-1H aircraft, would join together at Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA) for annual pilot training. It was a great training and networking experience and made the cost of our annual training requirement with a Bell Helicopter instructor pilot more reasonable. The training culminated with an interagency NVG drill at Lake Irvine in Orange County. The only drawback to the drill was we could not work with actual fire on the ground, fire was simulated with chem-sticks. Realistic training is always the key to success.
In 2014,  I was a senior fire/rescue pilot with the Kern County Fire Department. I proposed a plan to our chief pilot, fire chief, and command staff where all the agencies would come to Kern County and participate in a controlled live-fire suppression interagency NVG drill. The key executives were positive and I created an airspace plan, coordinated with six counties, Cal Fire, and the U.S. Forest Service, and did all the legwork to make it happen. With crews and dozens on the ground, eight different agencies’ aircraft, and the activation of Kern County Fire Department’s Type 3 Incident Management Team to cover all the bases, including our mobile kitchen, the drill started at sunset and concluded around 0100. That drill demonstrated clearly that different agencies operating under the same guidelines, can safely, effectively, and efficiently suppress wildfire at night.

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

In 2005, I was an Army contractor flying observer/controller/trainers (OCTs) in OH-58C helicopters at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California. In addition to my regular job flying the OCTs around the battlefield, I was also conducting NVG currency and readiness level (RL) training with their staff aviators during non-rotation periods. On one dark, breezy evening a senior captain and I were out in the training area (desert) conducting normal helicopter NVG operations. During a normal landing maneuver, the captain misjudged the wind and set us up for a loss-of-tail-rotor effectiveness (LTE) possibility.  As we slowed, the tail yawed quickly to the right, passing 90 degrees, and we were engulfed with a brown-out condition. To make matters worse, as soon as the aircraft began to spin, the captain switched on the regular landing light filling our field of view with nothing but brown sand. I joined the captain on the controls, switched off the landing light, lowered the collective a bit, put in some forward cyclic and flew out of the dust cloud. We didn’t contact the sand, but I don’t think we missed it by much.

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

I would offer three: Prioritize your actions to accomplish your goals; maintain enough flexibility to deal with setbacks because life is full of them; make the best of every situation.

RPMN: In your view, what is the greatest challenge for the helicopter industry now?

There are still far too many avoidable deaths in helicopters. In my opinion, thorough, quality, realistic training is the key to creating sound aeronautical decision-makers.