Posted 7 years 240 days ago ago by Admin
What is your current position?
I am currently employed by REACH Air Medical Services at the Thermal, California, base where I fly Bell 407s serving Coachella Valley and the surrounding areas. The area of responsibility poses interesting challenges, including sand storms, temps upwards of 50 degrees Celsius, and helipads at 7,000 feet. You’re definitely milking every last bit of power out that Rolls-Royce 250 C47B.
Tell me about your first flight.
My first flight was a MS Flight Simulator 1.0 on an IBM PC circa 1985. I mention that, because that “game” whet my appetite for aviation. After that, one short flight in a Schweizer at a local fair piqued my interest in rotary-wing aircraft. Then my first “real” flight at the controls was, like many, at ole Mother Rucker (Ft. Rucker, Alabama). It was the winter of ‘89 in a UH-1H Huey sitting beside a crusty Vietnam veteran named George Small. Man, he had patience! I soloed and graduated flight school in that aircraft before attending the CH-47D qualification course in late ‘90, finishing in January of ‘91.
I remember the day I completed the qualification course clearly. I was watching Wolf Blitzer on CNN through NVG-assisted cameras, which made the nighttime anti-aircraft tracer fire all the more ominous. Wolf was donning his gas mask, as Desert Shield became Desert Storm. I swore the U.S. Army was going to send me to Iraq for the first Gulf War, but my orders assigned me to Korea.
How did you get your start in helicopters?
My father introduced me to a friend of his during my last year of high school. Jack Hayes was a Vietnam veteran helicopter pilot that served as a U.S. Army Warrant Officer. It was Jack that introduced me to the conduit to my dream. I visited a local recruiter to chat about the prospects and thank goodness the WOFT (Warrant Officer Flight Training program), aka “high school to flight school,” was alive and well.
When and how did you choose to fly helicopters? Or did they choose you?
The WOFT program was the quickest and most economically feasible way to get in the air, but I don’t think it was merely that simple. As stated by many “rotorheads” before me, the freedom of vertical flight outweighed my need for speed. You just can’t beat that feeling; to takeoff and land wherever you want...and to hover. You own all three dimensions; it’s simply an amazing machine. I’m married to rotary-wing, but have been known to have an occasional affair with fixed-wing—it’s cheaper!
Where did you get your start flying commercially?
My first commercial job came after I got out of the U.S. Army in ‘97. I was flying Bell 412s for ERA Aviation out of Houma, Louisiana. The problem was, I was living in Italy and working in Louisiana on a 14/14 schedule. I was jump-seating my way over the pond, but eventually that wore me out. At that point, a good friend of mine, Kyle Arnett, asked me if I would be interested in flying for the U.S. Coast Guard. “Heck yeah!” I answered. I submitted an application and was accepted with an assignment to Air Station Miami: “The Busiest Air-Sea Rescue Unit in the World.”
If you were not in the helicopter industry, what else would you see yourself doing?
I realize my career is fragile. You have to remain in good health and life isn’t always fair. I have dangerously put all of my eggs in one basket. I love flying helicopters and find it difficult imagining anything else. It’s better than working for a living! That said, I’d probably do something in physical therapy or sports medicine. I like the whole nutrition, fitness, health world; it’s important stuff!
What do you enjoy doing on your days off?
Spending time with my amazing wife; she’s my rock. I run, bike, hike, and go to the gym. I need to stay active; I hate how I feel when I get too sedentary. You can’t forget Newton’s first law; you must stay in motion. The older you get, the more important that becomes.
What is your greatest accomplishment to date?
The greatest accomplishment with a decisive metric would have to be saving nearly 100 lives in Puerto Rico, with the assistance of another company aircraft, from a capsized migrant vessel. That was in the winter of ’05. A few months later, we pulled folks off of rooftops following historic Hurricane Katrina.
In a bigger sense, my greatest accomplishment has been giving instruction. There’s nothing like helping someone succeed. Having reached a point in my career where I can pay back through mentorship and instruction is the pinnacle in my eyes.
Have you ever had an “Oh, crap” moment in a helicopter? Can you summarize what happened?
Funny, I did literally have an “Oh, crap” moment in a CH-47D after departing Pisa, Italy, enroute to Sicily. I ate at the chow hall that morning—bad headwork! Luckily, the Boeing Hilton was adequately stocked (sorry to my CP, Lt. Mark Beckler). Aside from that, I’ve lived a fairly charmed and lucky career. Inevitably, if you fly long enough, there will be moments.
To keep it short with a few easy lessons; here is one. We were launched out of Air Station Miami on an overdue vessel at about 11:00 p.m. Their reported position was off of Marathon. The problem was an ugly line of thunderstorms between them and us. No problem, we had RADAR, right? When we arrived at the line we picked the point with the weakest returns, set turbulence penetration airspeed, and off we went. Solid plan…we thought.
We entered the storms and continued to use RADAR as a reference. The rain was coming down in buckets and you could see flashes of lightning and hear claps of thunder around you. Then the RADAR painted something that resembled one of those 3D pictures that you have to stare at to make out. Now, flying completely blind, we got our back ends handed to us for what seemed like lifetimes, but it was probably only a couple minutes until we saw a dim light though the NVGs. We immediately turned about 30 degrees left towards the light and came out the backside of the storms. We later found out that the overdue vessel had moored up safely at a bar. A couple of takeaways: First, risk assessment cannot be overstated. Second, don’t rely too heavily on technology; it will fail at the most inopportune moment.
If you could give ONE piece of advise to a new helicopter pilot, what would it be?
Avoid sketchy dining before a long flight! Seriously, practice continual ORM. You must put all decisions in a risk management context. For the unexpected, I’ll steal HAI President Matt Zuccaro’s words—“Land the damn helicopter!”
When people find out I fly helicopters, they often ask, “Aren’t they dangerous?”
I answer, “No, they often work perfectly… until the end.
In your view, what is the greatest challenge for the helicopter industry at this moment in time?
Near-term, it’s managing noise. Please fly with respect. Looking longer into the future, the industry will be fine. But from a selfish viewpoint, I’m concerned about job security in the age of drones and optionally piloted aircraft. How long is it before the “helo-bubba” joins the long list of jobs lost to technology? In the meantime, keep your head on a swivel!