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Meet a Rotorcraft Pro – Jim McCoy

Posted 6 years 319 days ago ago by Admin


What is your current position?

Being the owner of a small business, I ask myself that question every day! My official title is chief pilot and CEO of Raven Helicopters LLC in San Diego. That means that my responsibilities range from washing the helicopter and scheduling reservations for charters to sitting in the middle of Mexico watching motorcycles and trucks race across the desert, and filling out all the fun paperwork and administrative duties that come with owning a business. I never know what I will be doing on any given day. Obviously my favorite days are when I just get to fly.

Tell me about your first flight.

When I was in high school I went to Hawaii with my parents and we chartered a helicopter to go out to some waterfalls for swimming and lunch. By the luck of the draw I was picked to sit in front with the pilot. That flight is where my love for flying began. It turns out that the pilot was from San Diego and my mom was his brother’s driver’s ed. teacher in high school. It’s a small world!   

How did you get your start in helicopters?

I took a few lessons, and after a month of training I knew I needed a helicopter of my own. I started looking for a used one, and two weeks later I was the proud owner of a R44 Raven 1. I took my wife on our first flight, to Palm Springs for a wedding. I asked her what she thought while we were flying. She said, “It’s great.” I then told her that I had purchased the helicopter and was going to start a helicopter company.  

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

A friend of mine, Steve Wright, took me for a ride in a Jet Ranger about 11 years ago. That’s when I told myself that I was going to take lessons and learn how to do this. Two-and-a-half months later, with 40.1 hours under my belt, I received my private pilot’s license.

Where did you get your start flying commercially?

My friend, Jeff Tilton, needed a helicopter to do some filming in the Glamis Sand Dunes (Southern California) for a TV show called The Great Ride Open, which featured freestyle motocross riders. This was my first time filming video from the helicopter and it was amazing. The aerial shots for the first season were kind of a last-minute idea, but after seeing what we had captured they knew that for season two they had to have the chopper the entire trip. The next year it was an 18-day trip in five states: California, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and Nevada.

Since that show aired, my phone has not stopped ringing. I have become a go-to guy for freestyle motocross and off-road racing, and now have the CBS Sports contract for all the SCORE International off-road races. I also film two other shows for off-road racing champion and TV host Cameron Steel: Rip to Cabo and Trail of Missions. It’s a cool marriage of my two passions: flying and off-road racing. Because I love off-road sports, I’m able to think ahead and see the best line to get the ideal shot. I think that ability sets me apart from some pilots that don’t have an understanding of the sport they are filming.

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

I have owned a boat rental company on Mission Bay in San Diego for the last 21 years, so when I’m not flying I’m down on the bay renting boats and WaveRunners to people enjoying the San Diego sun. Also, my degree is in environmental design. While I didn’t pursue a career in architecture, I was able to use that knowledge to design and build a home for my family. If I wasn’t flying or renting boats I think that’s a direction I could have gone in.  

What do you enjoy doing on your days off?

Having two successful businesses, it’s hard to have much time off. I love tubing and wakeboarding out on the bay with my wife, daughter, and her friends. I also love riding motorcycles: track, street, and dirt. I recently earned my fixed-wing license. It was fun to learn a new skill but I’ll take my chopper over a plane any day. I also just try and have some downtime. I tend to burn the candle at both ends, so just relaxing with my family is sometimes what is most important.    

What is your greatest career accomplishment to date?  

It has to be my relationships with my customers. Working in off-road and extreme-sports filming, as well as being a high-end chauffeur, I have met some really amazing people that I am grateful to know. They are customers, but more importantly they have become friends. I have had clients tell me that they will change their schedule based on my availability to fly for them. I am grateful for their loyalty and am very fortunate to get to work with so many people that are at the top of their craft.

Have you ever had an “Oh, crap” moment in the helicopter?

Yes, the first time I landed in Mexico on a beach and was surrounded by four trucks and 20 men in uniform with guns. I was freaking out. I had hired two off-duty policemen to accompany me on the trip and they were about 10 minutes behind me on the road. Those 10 minutes felt like forever. I was trying to explain myself in broken Spanish and show them I had the correct paperwork, but that was going nowhere. When my guys finally arrived they were able to communicate with them effectively. They went from aiming guns to aiming cameras; I had to wait for each soldier to take his picture with the helicopter.

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

If you are going to make a career out of flying, be the best you can be every step of the way. Take pride in your work from a safety standpoint, as well as providing outstanding customer service. Develop relationships and continue to learn. There are an endless number of lessons to learn; keep striving to learn them.

What is the greatest challenge for the helicopter industry at this moment in time?

Drones and UAVs have had a big impact on a lot of the film work that I do. It will be interesting to see the direction they take in the future with the new rules and regulations.