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Meet A Rotorcraft Pro - David Tappe

Posted 6 years 109 days ago ago by Admin


RPMN: What is your current position?

I currently serve as the director of training and standards for CHI Aviation. In my position I coordinate training, in concert with department heads, for all company employees including pilots, mechanics, fuel truck drivers, etc. On the standards side, I participate in auditing, receiving feedback, and assisting the standardization committee in ensuring standards are created and met. I also perform duties as a captain in both the CH-47D and AS-332L1 aircraft.

RPMN: Tell me about your first flight.

My first flight occurred in 1987 as a warrant officer candidate at one of the many stage fields located at Ft. Rucker, Alabama. My initial “nickel ride” was in February 1987 with Earl Willis, a very seasoned Department of the Army civilian instructor pilot. I remember being in awe of the way it felt to hover and take off in that tiny—but amazing—TH-55 piston-powered aircraft. A couple of weeks later during my first solo flight, my feelings of joy and awe were replaced by a repeating mantra of “I hope I don’t die … I hope I don’t die.”

RPMN: How did you get your start in helicopters?

After completion of U.S. Army warrant officer flight training in 1988, I received orders to a UH-1H Huey unit with the 101st Airborne, located at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky.

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

As a child growing up watching people walk on the moon, I had a burning desire to fly and a love of all things aviation. With that in mind, during high school I oriented my course work in the hopes I could apply and receive an appointment to the Air Force Academy. However, I knew I was never going to be a math star and with a football scholarship on the table, I elected to play college football. That endeavor lasted only a year and before long I found myself looking at the military. Without a degree in hand, I still found a path to fly through the U.S. Army warrant officer flight program. It was the best decision I ever made.

RPMN: Where did you get your start flying commercially?

I spent nearly 11 years as an Army instructor pilot flying the UH-1H and MH-6 helicopters. In 1997 I left the service and decided to try new challenges in the civilian world. After a few hard months of searching, I landed a job as an EMS pilot at Valley Aircare in Harlingen, Texas, flying a BA model A-star.

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

After nearly 30 years in aviation, I have a hard time imagining what else I would be doing if I weren’t flying helicopters. That’s a tough question. All I can think of are things I don’t want to do.

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

My days off are alternately filled with my love of restoring classic full-size Jeeps, and when the weather permits, mountain biking. Happily, it also appears I will have to make room for grandchildren during my time off as we now have two, and probably more on the way soon!

RPMN: What is your greatest career accomplishment to date?

I think my greatest career accomplishment to date was the honor of flying in the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. There was an extremely rigorous screening and training process just to get you to the point where you could simply begin to learn the mission. It was an amazing time being immersed in a secret world where you were counted on to deliver the best fighters our nation can provide to protect our freedoms. It was an honor to serve with them.

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

There are more than I’d like to admit. Still deeply etched in my memory was the moment I experienced a full loss of tail rotor effectiveness at night under NVGs, over the Atlantic Ocean, during a special operations training exercise. While well out at sea, my sister ship and I were the pointy end of a large helicopter assault on a hapless Navy ship. Seas were about 12 feet and winds were howling from the south around 30-35 knots. I had several customers on board and we were moderately heavy. No sooner than we arrived at our designated position and slowed to a hover, about 30 feet over the water, the aircraft yawed hard to the right and began to spin. I knew I couldn’t lower the collective, though in hindsight if I’d been quicker, I might have stopped the spin before one revolution. To create some space above the water, I increased collective, spinning at least four revolutions until we reached 70 feet. We then lowered the collective and nosed it over a bit and recovered at 11 feet above the water. I remember that number exactly because that’s all I could see because the centrifugal force was making my eyes bug out. My sister ship lost sight of us as we dipped below the swell. He said to me later that night, “I was about to call SAR (search and rescue) when I saw all the spray, and then like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, you guys flew up out of the trough.”

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

The best advice I can give to a new helicopter pilot is to listen to and respect your fellow pilots. Talk to them, both young and old, and listen to them. Fill your mental rucksack with their techniques and experiences. You won’t agree with everything you hear and that’s OK. Toss out the stuff you don’t like and keep what you do. The point is to survive this highly dangerous environment we love so much, and maybe help the next generation as they start the process.

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

Due to the dangers involved with so many of the job fields in which we fly, I think our biggest challenge is reducing fatal accidents. From my perspective, that can be accomplished through more meaningful training. Will that cost operators more up front? Of course! But what are the “costs” of a fatal accident? An investment in training by operators will pay far greater dividend in the long run.