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Meet a Rotorcraft Pro – Richard Bray

Posted 8 years 209 days ago ago by Admin


RPMN: What is your current position?    

I am the Chief Pilot at the Alachua County Sheriff/Gainesville Police Dept. Joint Aviation Unit in Gainesville, Fl. I have been the Chief Pilot since 2005 and have been with the unit since 1997. It’s a great job and we really have some top notch folks.                                                                                          

RPMN: Tell me about your first flight.

My first flight was an introductory flight in an R-22 at a flight school in Woodbridge, Va. I think it was 1983. I got to fly around straight and level for maybe .2, but that was enough, I was hooked. Dual in the R-22 at the time was less than $100 an hour. The school and the airport no longer exist.            

RPMN: How did you get your start in helicopters?

I was a police officer in the Washington, DC area at the time, I was always interested in helicopters but thought rotorcraft flight training was limited to the military. When I found out about civilian rotorcraft training I started flight training at my own expense, hoping to fly for the police dept. It never happened in DC but I got there eventually.    

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

I found out about the R-22 and civilian helicopter flight training completely by accident, I saw a helicopter on display at a recreational vehicle show and talked to the pilots and read a brochure. I knew absolutely nothing about it or what questions to ask, but it was a great discovery and it’s been a great career. I’m glad I was ignorant of the business at the time, because if I had known about flight hour requirements for different jobs or turbine time etc. I might not have ever gotten started.       

RPMN: Where did you get your start flying commercially?

My first commercial flight was doing photos with a realtor in an R-22. By this time I was flying out of a school at Ft. Lauderdale Executive Airport. The realtor walked in off the street and wanted to hire a helicopter to take him up to the Palm Beach area for the photos. I had my commercial certificate and was just hanging around so the Chief Instructor asked me if I wanted to take the flight. Of course I said yes and I appreciated his confidence in me since I was a low time pilot. I have been lucky to be able to do some different types of flying on a part time or off duty capacity but my full time professional flying has always been in law enforcement.                                   

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

If I wasn’t a pilot I would still be in some facet of public safety. I was both a volunteer and a career firefighter for a brief time before I started my law enforcement career which I have been doing since 1980.

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

On my time off I enjoy traveling with my wife, particularly cruising and I binge watch a lot of Netflix. I really don’t have any hobbies. I also do some contract flying off duty from time to time. I have also organized an American Heroes Airshow in Florida which helps educate the public about helicopters.

RPMN: What is your greatest career accomplishment to date?

I would say my greatest accomplishment was becoming a CFI and being able to mentor a lot of folks coming up in the industry. I have also served as a member of the Board of Directors and been an instructor at the Airborne Law Enforcement Association.   

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

I had a low side governor failure on a patrol flight and autorotated onto a city street at 4:30 in the afternoon. Luckily I missed a nearby mini- van and landed with no injuries and minimal damage to the aircraft. We were at 800 feet and 50 knots orbiting a suspicious vehicle. The Tactical Flight Officer, who was on his third flight as a TFO did a great job of putting out a mayday call over the police radio. I credit this to doing emergency procedures training twice a year and our unit does full touchdown autos  as well.    We also have a mishap response plan in place for this type of incident which helped everything go smoothly. The police dept. repaired the helicopter and it was back in service within a few months.   

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

My advice to anyone coming up in the business today, don’t burn any bridges, this industry is a lot smaller than you think!    As an example, I ran into a guy at Heli Expo that had been my initial instructor almost thirty years earlier, he still remembered me. Use the various opportunities that are available to network, like Heli Expo and the American Heroes Airshow. Speaking for myself, I keep every resume that I get, even if we are not looking for a pilot at the time.

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

One challenge I see is the increasing interest in drones and UAS’s. In law enforcement, there are many smaller to medium sized agencies that are seriously looking at these unmanned systems as a replacement for their air units. While I believe that they can be useful in some situations, they really can’t replace the multi mission capability of a helicopter.