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Meet a Rotorcraft Pro – Ernie Fagg

Posted 7 years 81 days ago ago by Admin


RPMN: What is your current position, with whom, and how long have you been with the company?

I have been the maintenance director at Maverick Helicopters for 16 years as well as at Maverick Airstar Helicopters for nine of those years. Both operating certificates fall under the umbrella of Maverick Aviation Group, which also operates Maverick Airlines and Mustang Helicopters.

RPMN: What are some of the industry positions you have had in the past?

I have held a wide variety of maintenance positions in the aviation industry, including: helicopter repairman and flight crewmember in the U.S. Army; student in an airframe and power plant school; aircraft washer; floor mechanic and engine technician at a multi-manufacturer helicopter service center; line mechanic for a casino operator; on-call mechanic for traffic reporting helicopters in the New York City area; shift lead for the Pan Am Helicopter shuttle in New York City; on-call mechanic and full-time technician on an EMS helicopter; airliner taxi-qualified technician at Nellis Air Force Base; and a maintenance director, floor and line mechanic, component overhaul and engine technician for various Part 135 helicopter operators in the Las Vegas area. Needless to say, I was well qualified for the Maverick director of maintenance position when the opportunity presented itself.

RPMN: What has been your most challenging job in the industry?

The most challenging job in the industry is to find enough technicians of suitable intellect, work ethic, and attitude to train to our demanding standards, and to also find the technicians that will retain these qualities. Many technicians in the helicopter industry find the opportunities for advancement, in both position and pay, to be limiting after a few years.

RPMN: How did you get your start in the helicopter industry?

After joining the U.S. Army, I completed the “Victor” helicopter repairman course for the OH-58A and OH-6 in record time with an almost perfect score. I was lucky to be assigned to a headquarters company in the 2nd Armored Division, which had four OH-58A helicopters and room for someone like me who was eager to fly. I was given secondary training as a parts clerk, which has helped me throughout my career. My unit was deployed to Germany, where I was able to fly a lot and earn my crew member wings. After leaving the U.S. Army, I worked as a millwright for nearly one year before using my GI Bill benefits to go to A&P school.

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

As a young man, I wanted to be a pilot so I joined the U.S. Army with hopes of getting into the Warrant Officer Academy during my military career. The U.S. Army had many helicopters, so it seemed like the natural choice.

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

I have always enjoyed working with my hands, so I most likely would have been in the maintenance and restoration business for boats, sailboats or classic cars. However, being a jazz or rock musician who played the flute or saxophone would have been my first choice.

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

My wife and I enjoy hiking with our dogs, traveling when we can, boating and sailing, and playing music with my musician friends.

RPMN: What is the oddest situation you have been in during your career?

While working for Omniflight Helicopters in New Jersey in support of the Pan American Airlines helicopter shuttle service from Manhattan Island to major airports in the New York City area in the early 1980s, I was given the opportunity to get maintenance training on the new Westland 30 helicopter. Since we only operated Bell 222 aircraft to support the shuttle during its first few years, this was a major advancement for the company. The pilots and I arrived in England and were soon at the Westland factory in Yeovil. I went to my classes, which consisted of myself and two instructors who were receiving and giving training to me and each other in their individual specialties, while the pilots went to do their ground school and flight training. Omniflight was going to be the second operator of the Westland 30 in the U.S., so the scale of training was no surprise.

Halfway through the first week of training, word was received of a near catastrophic accident of a Westland 30 commuter helicopter in the Los Angeles area. Apparently, the aircraft had a tail rotor pitch change control lever fail while cruising at 5,000 feet AGL during night operations. It experienced a very hard landing, which caused the cabin to break into two pieces just behind the cockpit bulkhead. Miraculously, only minor injuries were sustained. This led to the grounding of all existing Westland 30 helicopters and military Lynx aircraft worldwide until a cause could be determined. One of the training aircraft in Yeovil was chosen to be instrumented for the investigation and my instructors, our pilots, a very nervous Westland sales representative, and I were in the aircraft while a test and training pilot ran it. I returned to my classes the next day and was back in New Jersey shortly after. It took a little bit of time before our pilots finished their training and the aircraft was finally placed in service. The issue was traced to the tail rotor servo pilot valve being too sensitive, which caused feedback in the control lever and subsequent fatigue failure of the part.

RPMN: What is your greatest career accomplishment to date?

My greatest career accomplishment is the fact that no company has ever had a fatality or serious injury during flight or maintenance operations while I was working for or managing them. I have made safety paramount in all we do.

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

The greatest challenge is the overreach of regulators who try to correct problems with a “one-size-fits-all” fix for the entire helicopter industry.

RPMN: If you could give one or two pieces of advice to young mechanics, what would that be?

Develop good work habits when you are at your best so you can revert to them when you are at your worst. Strive to troubleshoot systems by learning them front-to-back so you change the right part the first time.