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Meet A Rotorcraft Pro - George Dona, Lt Col USAF

Posted 8 years 30 days ago ago by Admin

RPMN: What is your current position?

I’m the Director of Operations for the 129th Rescue Squadron, HH-60G Division, although I’ll soon be retired.

RPMN: Tell me about your first flight?

My first helicopter flight was in training at Fort Rucker, flying the Jet Ranger TH-67 as an Air Force student with the Army training cadre.  There was pressure to be cool about it, but I had a hard time hiding my excitement.  Actually, I was like a little kid.  Just hovering ten feet in the infield was by far the most exciting and challenging flight I have ever done.  I knew right away that flying helicopters was going to be my future.

RPMN: How did you get your start in helicopters?

From flying T-37 Tweets in the Air Force, I moved over to train with the Army in the TH-67.

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

I chose them during Air Force Joint Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training.  At the time this was an unorthodox choice, as the Air Force was primarily a fixed-wing component.  However, I wanted to be close to the ground with the troops and near the action.  This proved to be the right choice for me and I’ve never looked back.

RPMN: Where did you get your start flying commercially?

I flew for a local radio station for traffic reporting while going to college in Hawaii.  I would fly a Cessna up and down the only two freeways on Oahu, giving the same report everyday: "There is a traffic jam at the intersection of H1 and H2.”

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

Soon I’ll be a military retiree.  I’ve always had an interest in golf course landscape management.  However, I’ll always continue to pursue working for air operations with first responders in the civilian sector.  I have worked my entire career with military air operations, so I can't see myself not working in the same field as a firefighter, law enforcement agent, or MEDEVAC pilot.

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

I enjoy being outside with my family, and especially like being in the ocean.  I like doing all the usual waterman sports, such as surfing, paddleboarding, and such.  However, taking a nap is also a great luxury that I love to take advantage of whenever the kids are occupied.

RPMN: What is your greatest career accomplishment to date?

I think my greatest career accomplishment is just having a great career without any major mishaps. I understood that this is a dangerous career field and that lives depend on us.  I am thankful that I have a safe record for my career—minus a few bumps and bruises on the helicopter during some combat operations.

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

My biggest “Oh crap” moment was in Afghanistan.  We took a sniper round through the window (and into my rib Kevlar protection) when picking up three injured US Army soldiers.  We took off right away to avoid the gunfire and were unable to extricate the Army soldiers still on the ground.  After deciding as a crew that our PAVEHAWK was still operational, and besides some blood on the console we were still operationally effective, we decided to go back into the middle of the firefight to get the injured.  We flew in extremely low and fast, but took machine gun fire right away when landing in brownout conditions.  We could hear the rounds going through the engine, airframe, and fuel tanks.  Fortunately, we got the soldiers out but our fuel and hydraulics were too far damaged.  It was hard to control the AC.  We flew about two miles away and realized we couldn’t go any further.  I put it down quick; it was a slightly rough landing.  As we all took a deep breath we came under fire from another hill.  After 18 minutes of being defensive on the ground from gunfire, my wingman transloaded the wounded soldiers.  My crew and I luckily latched on to the skids of an OH-58 Army gunship that was providing our cover.  I’ll never forget its call sign: SHAMUS.  They took us to the closest base.  Unfortunately, our helicopter was covered in fuel and burnt to the ground shortly afterwards.

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

Know your regulations.  Stay focused on parameters and know exactly when the mission is asking you to go beyond regulatory guidance.  A good pilot knows when he or she is being asked to cross regulations, and also knows when it’s time to cross a regulation to accomplish the mission at hand—safely. 

Undoubtedly every helicopter pilot will be challenged this way at some point.

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

I think helicopter travel is the means to move personnel locally, efficiently, and effectively.  In the future it will be commonplace for more people.  I think the industry should embrace that and prepare by increasing the number of landing zones and by creating landing zones away from airports and runways.  I have seen the pleasure on people’s faces when flying them from and to a location that they never thought would be possible.  It’s a definite life-changing experience for enjoyment, but even more importantly for effective and efficient time and business management.