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Meet a Rotorcraft Pro – Ken Jones

Posted 7 years 110 days ago ago by Admin


RPMN: What is your current position?

I am the aviation standardization officer for 97th Aviation Troop Command (similar to a brigade) and the senior standardization instructor pilot (SIP) in the AH-64D Apache Longbow for the Utah National Guard. I have been in the Army for over 35 years, flying the Apache for nearly 30 years.  In my position, I oversee the flight training of all Apache pilots in Utah. Prior to joining the Guard, I was on active duty for 12 years and also have experience flying the AH-1 Cobra (as an IP), OH-58 Kiowa Scout, UH-1 Huey, and UH-60 Blackhawk.

RPMN: Tell me about your first flight.

I was at Fort Knox, Kentucky, attending the M-60 tank armor course. While there, I met an AH-1 Cobra pilot doing a static display. After talking to him for a while, I explained that I was going to flight school after the armor course. The Cobra pilot let me fly with him in the Cobra and gave me a demonstration of the aircraft. He let me fly it and I was hooked!

RPMN: How did you get your start in helicopters?

Through the U.S. Army, where I began flight school at Fort Rucker, Alabama, in 1980, the same year my oldest son, Jared Jones, was born. He is now an Apache SIP as well and we serve together in the Utah Guard.

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

My love for aviation began a long time ago. Like many, my dream to fly began at an early age. I remember watching the documentary about John Glenn orbiting the Earth. I was six at the time. I was completely captivated by this and knew that without a shadow of a doubt I was going to fly someday.

RPMN: Where did you get your start flying commercially?

I have never flown helicopters commercially, although I retire soon (from the military) and plan to do so. There is no way I can give up flying. I have done some commercial flying as a fixed-wing pilot and have my fixed-wing CFII & MEI from ERAU in Daytona Beach, Florida. The FAA honors the flight training the Army provides, which will make my transition to the commercial side much easier since I have my FAA rotor-wing commercial, instrument, and CFII certificates.

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

I would fly commercial fixed-wing. I can’t imagine not being a pilot one way or another.

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

Mountain biking, fishing, hunting, skiing, snowboarding, and surfing. And spending time with my wife and family.

RPMN: What is your greatest career accomplishment to date?

Enabling the Utah National Guard 1-211th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion to return from a very successful deployment to Afghanistan to RC-North and West in 2012-13 (OEF XII). This began with a robust training program prior to deploying. As the SIP, I put special emphasis in areas that I knew would make our unit successful: high altitude, power-limited training in what we call the “high, hot, heavy” environment, and precise weapons employment using close combat attack (CCA) and far combat attack (FCA) in challenging terrain, whether day or night (FLIR or NVG).

On a typical combat mission in Afghanistan, the Apache weighs nearly 18,000 lbs., which is close to its maximum tactical weight. The helicopter has to be carefully, some might say surgically, flown. Aviators must have a very thorough understanding of power management. On our last deployment, we routinely worked with what is known as tier-one assets (i.e., special operators). We effectively completed all assigned missions without a single aircraft mishap and had no cases of fratricide or civilian casualties.

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

Yes, while doing joint military training at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, supporting the Fighter Weapon School for their final mission evaluation (similar to a Red Flag exercise). It was dusk; I had just topped off fuel at a FARP (Forward Arming Refueling Point) and was taking off when I had an engine failure at approximately 70 feet AGL. I did not have enough power to attempt single-engine flight, and the next thing I knew the ground was rushing up at me. I had just enough forward airspeed to do a pseudo autorotation while maneuvering the helicopter around trees and a ditch, and was fortunate enough to be able to place the Apache in a small clearing without damaging the helicopter.

Ironically, my son had an engine failure on his very first day at flight school. Fortunately, his helicopter was only 10 feet off the ground. We’d like to hope that we’ve each checked the “engine failure box” for our careers.

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

I think it would be fitting if my son answers this one, to see what he has learned from me over the years:

“Trust but verify. Meaning, trust your copilot and wingman, but understand that no one is perfect and we all make mistakes from time to time. Additionally, make it a point to know what can hurt you or others. Give these areas extra emphasis during flight instruction because one day it just might save a life. And one more point: keep learning. Learning never stops, and if you think you know it all, think again.”

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

Better utilization of night vision goggles (NVGs), especially during takeoff and landing! In the U.S. military, we almost always use night vision devices for all phases of operation, including takeoff and landing. It has always boggled my mind that NVGs are not authorized for EMS pilots for takeoff or landing. NVGs greatly enhance safety, no matter what phase of flight. In my military career, I have done a fair amount of unaided night flight, but I have done much more flying using NVGs and even more of what we call FLIR: forward looking infrared. Without a doubt, NVGs only enhance night flying. The FAA needs to change its stance on this one. Over my 12,000 RW flight hour career, I have accrued over 1,500 hours of NVG time and over 3,000 hours of FLIR time.

A note from Ken Jones’s son:It has been an honor to serve in Afghanistan with my father during two of his four deployments. I had the unique opportunity to fly with him on both of my rotations to Afghanistan, and we even did a Battle Hand Over (BHO) during a mission in support of U.S. Special Forces coupled with Afghan National Security Forces. His aerial weapons team (AWT) relieved my AWT in order to maintain continuous coverage for the ground forces. I think it’s safe to say that the persistent presence of the Apaches overhead kept the insurgents effectively immobilized, although on some missions it is necessary to employ the aircraft weapons.