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Meet a Rotorcraft Pro – Heather Howley

Posted 7 years 337 days ago ago by Admin


RPMN: What is your current position?

I’m the president, CEO, and chief pilot of Independent Helicopters, LLC.

RPMN: Tell me about your first flight.

As a helicopter pilot, there are many “first” flights. It was summer and I was flying the L4 for the first time. It was also my first turbine flight. We had flown the Hudson River Corridor, then over Central Park enroute to LaGuardia for the first time. Your first time seeing Manhattan while flying is not only breathtaking, but it is an experience that lasts a lifetime. You could call that my first flight; it was the moment the realization that I was flying helicopters for a living really took hold.

RPMN: How did you get your start in helicopters?

The first job I had was as a CFI for a company that went out of business. My second job was with a company that changed ownership. My business, Independent Helicopters, started with $25, a lease agreement with Matt Spitzer, and a positive attitude. So, you could say I have had three starts. Independent Helicopters was where it all really started. I hit the ground running with no safety net and never looked back.

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

It was July 2005, a beautiful San Diego afternoon. I received an opportunity to go for a ride in a helicopter. At the time I was a full-time research technician in a lab conducting stem cell research. Taking an afternoon to hop in a helicopter was a welcome break. The pilot, a friend, and I went up in an R44, and I sat in the front. After taking off we flew into a canyon. One steep climb up a rock face and I was hooked for life! I would say that helicopters absolutely chose me, but I certainly chose to live a life that most people only dream of.

RPMN: Where did you get your start flying commercially?

My first commercial assignments were flying left-seat as copilot with Dan Wentz. He and I would fly celebrity charter from Stewart Airport to the helipads in New York, or to Bradley Airport for 135 operations in a Bell 206 L4. He was definitely one of the best people I have flown with, and the type of pilot we should all aspire to be.

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

Even though I enjoyed research at the time, it is likely that I would be miserable after 10 years in a lab. At this point, there is nothing else I’d enjoy more; I will always be involved with helicopters in some way. Every day this career presents itself as a privilege, and I am grateful for my abilities and my business. Seeing the world from a helicopter never gets old—and that is a phrase I say on a daily basis!

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

I have days off? When did I get those? As the CEO and chief pilot, I rarely have time to myself. On the rare occasions that there is bad weather and we’re not catching up on other things, I spend time with family, paint, visit galleries, dinner in Manhattan, breakfast in Woodstock, and spend time with my copilot and black Lab, Lucy.

RPMN: What is your greatest career accomplishment to date?

I could say it is being a 32-year-old woman who owns a successful helicopter company with two flight school locations (and a third on the horizon), 135 and 141 certificates, gold seal CFII, ATP, and DPE, but the truth is this: The greatest accomplishment is having the opportunity to inspire people of all ages and all disciplines through my career. I love hearing, “I wish I could do that.” It’s then amazing to be able to show people how they can “do that.” I also find it rewarding when my students make it into careers in the field, and other schools and businesses reach out to hire our students because they’re great CFIs and great pilots.

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

Yes, surviving the first two years of business! Every day is an “Oh, crap” moment until momentum takes hold in any business, especially when you have helicopters to pay for. Also, as my fellow CFIs know, every student is happy to deliver an “Oh, crap” moment every day. That is why teaching is so valuable; students teach us how to anticipate the unexpected and be prepared for the worst. Experience is not just about how much “stick time” a pilot has; it’s also about the depth of knowledge a pilot has built by experiencing challenging situations.

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

Teach—while always learning. Teaching hones life-saving techniques. Keep your mind open; never become complacent. Mitigate risk and make wise decisions: Never do something just because you can. Don’t just learn how to pass a test, learn how to be a good, safe pilot. I guess that’s more than one piece of advice, but it’s all along the same lines!

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

One of the biggest hurdles for any business is to adapt with the market as times change. This industry is ever changing, so finding a way to seamlessly integrate changing regulations, equipment, technology, and more into our daily workflow as fast as possible so that business doesn't slow down, that is one of our biggest challenges.