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Meet A Rotorcraft Pro - Pete Gillies

Posted 9 years 183 days ago ago by Admin


RPMN: What is your current position?

I am the chief pilot for Western Helicopters, Inc. in Riverside, California

RPMN: Tell me about your first flight.

My first helicopter flight was a demo flight. The CFI knew I was an airplane pilot; he asked me if I’d like to try flying the helicopter, a 269B. Well, sure! Why not? He gave all three controls to me in a hover. With zero hours of helicopter time in my logbook, I had the helicopter under full control … for about two seconds at a time. Just before ground contact (read “crashing”), he’d shout, “I’ve got it!” and do absolutely nothing (it seemed) to instantly stabilize the ship. Then he’d look at me with an expression that said: I thought you said you were a pilot?!  Totally humbled, I signed up for an hour of instruction two days later with a different CFI in a different helicopter, a Brantly B2B. I was instantly and totally hooked!

RPMN: How did you get your start in helicopters?

Flying rides at Sea World years ago in 269Bs, pulling sock line for SDG&E, doing traffic watch for KFMB, and doing flights that no knowledgeable helicopter pilot would touch. I had zero common sense, experience, and judgment. I would do anything for flight time.

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

The year was 1967, and I chose to learn to fly helicopters because I couldn’t fly one!

RPMN: Where did you get your start flying commercially?

All my early flying I just mentioned happened out of Montgomery Field, San Diego. Then in 1972, I was hired by Western Helicopters in Riverside as a line pilot, specializing in power line construction.

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

I’d be driving a logging truck somewhere in the Sierra or Cascades. I’ve wanted to do that since I was 14 years old.

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

Relaxing with my wonderful wife, Pat, who swamped for me on fire contracts in the ‘70s, and with our two dogs, Heidi and Hanna. Weekends with good weather will often find us somewhere in the San Bernardino National Forest, hiking and enjoying the clean air and friendly people.

RPMN: What is your greatest career accomplishment to date?

Bringing “Cyclic Back” into the open, the absolutely number one thing every helicopter pilot should know when dealing with a surprise engine or driveline failure.  Miss this critical move and the flight may well be over. Collective down? Sure. But this action does absolutely nothing to stop the rotor RPM from falling, and if it reaches the critical point somewhere below low green, there is no way to ever get it back. Applying aft cyclic in time is the ONLY way to stop the rotor RPM from decreasing. If the engine or driveline fails without warning, then do this:

Step 1 - Cyclic Back, Collective Down (simultaneously or in that order). 

Step 2 - Pick a place to land, and make sure it’s too close. Too close is fine. You can handle too close, but you can’t handle too far away! 

Step 3 - MAKE THAT SPOT!  Airspeed is not important. Rotor RPM is  important!  

Step 4 - Make the best landing you can. Sit up straight, close your eyes … and wait until the noise stops.

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

Yes, I have had lots of them over the years. But one that stands out is when a hoodie went through the tail rotor of a 500D I was flying in the mountains. Away went the tail rotor and half of the gearbox (never to be found) not to mention half the fuel, myself, and three passengers. Ship destroyed. The worst injury was a dislocated hip for the right-front passenger. Ask me to write an article about how I handled the situation…

RPMN: Sounds exciting, we’ll have to talk about making that happen. For now, if you could give only ONE piece of advice to a new helicopter pilot, what would it be?

Be goal oriented. Never give up. Be willing to change your life to reach that goal. If you can qualify for any  military or USCG flight program, fixed- or rotary-wing, GO FOR IT!

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

The greatest challenge is to develop a mentoring plan that rewards experienced pilots for helping low timers reach a high level of skill, knowledge, and judgment, ideally so they become equal or better than an experienced pilot.