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Meet a Rotorcraft Pro – Mark C. W. Robinson

Posted 9 years 196 days ago ago by Admin


What is your current position?

In addition to being the owner, and everything else that goes along with managing a flight school, I am the chief instructor pilot at our new flight school, Revolution Aviation, based out of John Wayne Airport in Southern California. We specialize in helicopter, fixed-wing, and drone training. We are nearing our first anniversary, and we are the first flight school in the area to offer cross-instruction in aircraft equipment.


Tell me about your first flight?

Which one would that be? Who can pick just one moment? Would it be when flying across the Sahara Desert with my parents on my way to Africa; or when I took the helicopter, plane, airship, or drone flight controls myself for the first time; or when I won a competition and got to fly direct into London Heathrow via helicopter. Needless to say, they were all absolutely fantastic; I’ve been blessed.


How did you get your start in helicopters?

The seed was planted when I was a currency broker in London. We hit our sales target and were rewarded with a helicopter flight from our office to the local airport in a Bell LongRanger. I couldn’t believe the feeling.


A few years later, after coming out of a long-distance relationship, I had the motivation to do something challenging. I was staring out the window and saw a plane fly by. I recalled my exhilarating experience in the helicopter and began researching online. My research revealed that helicopters were more challenging than planes, so that’s what I decided to try first. Initially, I set my private pilot license as my goal, but kept going. Now, I get to teach others—what a hoot!

Where did you get your start flying commercially?


After I obtained my private pilot license, the flight school hired me as a hangar rat. I had achieved my initial goal of becoming a private pilot, so what next? I decided to keep going and get all the necessary qualifications to teach. I started teaching at the flight school that I trained at. This tends to be the trend, if you’re lucky enough. I worked constantly, flying 1,016 hours in my first year and about 1,000 hours every year after that. As a new instructor, I was working about 50 hours a week (including ground training), and making $18.75 an hour. It wasn’t long after that I started making phone calls, and subsequently started flying as a safety pilot for Robinson Helicopters (in all their production helicopters), flying as a civilian police helicopter pilot, and working for Goodyear’s airship (blimp) operations at their Southern California base.

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


In the UK, I started my own currency exchange company. I would probably be retired already had I stuck with that, but I love flying so no regrets!

What do you enjoy doing on your days off?

Since I get paid to do what I love, I suppose you could say that every day is a day off for me. To rephrase the question – what do I do when I’m not flying or teaching? I volunteer at a local nursing/retirement home, mentor students, participate in FAA safety events, and spend time with my wife and two dogs. Having been brought up in Africa and spending half my life between Europe and America, I also love to travel.


What is your greatest career accomplishment to date?

Including a 100 percent safety record and 90 percent student passing rate (qualifying me for an FAA flight instructor gold seal), I feel that working as a safety course instructor at the Robinson Helicopter factory in Torrance, California, was a great accomplishment, since I was now working alongside an instructor that I had flown with at the course when I had only 70 hours.


Also, being the one person selected out of 1,250 applicants to get the vacant airship pilot position at Goodyear proved to be quite an accomplishment, considering the seven interviews and numerous assessments I went through. The Goodyear airship is an amazing machine, but the role itself proved to be too mundane for me. Starting a flight school with just me as the instructor, to now employing eight pilots, flying five aircraft, and training 35 students (all within 11 months) makes me quite proud.

Have you ever had an ‘oh, crap’ moment in a helicopter? Can you summarize what happened?


One day I was invited to a flight school as an evaluator, to assess one of their students for graduation. We had completed our ground and pre-flight, and discussed the plan of action for the flight. Having never flown in this particular Robinson R22, I was neither aware nor advised of its idiosyncrasies. At 1,500 feet AGL and flying at 75 kts, the door suddenly popped open. When you’re flying fast, this isn’t anything to be greatly concerned about, as my seatbelt was on and the passing wind kept the door closed. However, because I have fairly broad shoulders, I suddenly felt a lack of pressure (similar to when you lean back in your chair and suddenly feel like you are falling backward), and my heart skipped a beat. After simply shutting the door, I asked the student if that had ever happened before, and he said ‘yes.’ In this instance, the handle on the door slowly and subtly worked its way up from the latched (down) position and slid forward, out of the locked position. Not life threatening, but anyone who has experienced this will tell you it grabs your attention very quickly!

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


Touch everything. With the hours I have in several types of aircraft – planes, helicopters, airships, and drones – I am often asked, “When do you feel just as comfortable as if you’re driving a car?” I have to pause for a moment before I answer to assess whom I am speaking with. My typical answer is ‘never,’ because I want them (usually a newer pilot) to understand that it will never just be “easy,” and one must NEVER become complacent. One simple way to stay on your toes is to always do your walk-around before and after flight, and use that checklist. You’ll be surprised how many times I’ve noticed my fuel caps are switched or not on tight enough after fueling: righty tighty, lefty loosey!

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


With regards to the training industry, the cost of entry is a big barrier to becoming a helicopter pilot. Everyone involved needs to look at creative ways of helping students overcome those barriers no matter how large or small the effort. We know it is expensive to learn to fly, and anything we can do to help students succeed and give back to our aviation community, we will. Sharing is caring—I strongly believe that.