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Meet A Rotorcraft Pro - Bill Orvis

Posted 6 years 330 days ago ago by Admin



RPMN: What is your current position?

I’ve just recently accepted the position of chief pilot at Sundance Helicopters in Las Vegas. This means I’m now responsible for the hiring, training, and scheduling of pilots under CFR part 135. We have anywhere between 35 and 60 pilots, depending on the time of year, which makes it a major challenge to balance the needs of the operation versus the needs of the human operating the helicopter. I work with a bunch of good people though, so I’m looking forward to leading the troops for the foreseeable future.

RPMN: Tell me about your first flight.

My first helicopter flight was in a Jet Ranger out of Montgomery Field in San Diego. It was on my birthday (I believe in 2001) and my father bought a ride for himself and me. It was a quick flight up and down the coast along San Diego. I remember being impressed by how much you could see from a helicopter compared to a fixed-wing ... and the takeoff and landing was much more fun!

RPMN: How did you get your start in helicopters?

My wife convinced me. I’d been medically disqualified from the military for asthma when I was 18, and I convinced myself I’d never have the time or money to be a pilot on my own. In my mid-30s, my wife encouraged me to check out one of the local flight schools. When I found out I could finance the training, she told me I was out of excuses. The rest is history.

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

Helicopters chose me. I had always thought I’d be a fixed-wing pilot if I ever was able to become an aviator, but the opportunity to fly helicopters presented itself at the right time and place so I jumped at the chance.

RPMN: Where did you get your start flying commercially?

I started as an instructor in San Diego, then moved to a small operator out of Long Beach. There I continued to instruct while also doing photo flights and local tours. Pretty typical stuff. There was even a ferry flight to Brazil across the Caribbean.

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

I’d be a school teacher. One of the things I enjoy most about my job is the training, whether it be instructing new pilots or learning myself. As a result, I’ve realized I love teaching people about anything—sometimes to the annoyance of others. So, if I wasn’t flying I’d definitely be a school teacher.

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

To be honest, I enjoy simply spending time around the house. I’m pretty much a homebody away from work.  

RPMN: What is your greatest career accomplishment to date?

My greatest accomplishment has to be becoming the chief pilot at Sundance Helicopters. I feel fortunate to be in a position where I can contribute my time and experience to other pilots. It has been one of my goals in life to be a leader, and hopefully I will be successful. I’m sure the pilots here at Sundance will let me know how I’m doing.

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

Absolutely. I was an instructor with about 600 hours and flying with a commercial student. It was a beautiful Southern California day. We were in an R22 beta, which was getting very close to overhaul time. Suddenly, he and I ran out of power on a pinnacle approach. The spot we had chosen was about 3,000 MSL with an outside temp of about 65 degrees. It was big and flat and very inviting, so we thought it was a no-brainer. Based on previous experience, we made a bunch of assumptions about our performance capabilities that turned out to be incorrect. Fortunately, we reached the limits just as we were coming into ground effect, and using the added performance we were able to make a getaway without hurting the helicopter … and more importantly ourselves. After returning to base, the student and I spent the afternoon coming to terms with our stupidity before proceeding to review all the things we should have done before making an attempt at the approach.

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

Be Humble. Understand that you are human. You will make mistakes … and some of them will be horrible. I’ve worked with guys who have an “I’ve got this” attitude. They seem to develop bad habits that they never break, even when critiqued  by more experienced pilots. I believe they are mistaking confidence with machoism.

What I’ve learned to appreciate is a pilot who has the confidence to do the job combined with the humility to believe they can always improve. There is a best way to do something; a humble pilot will continually try to find it. The pilot who believes they’re awesome will believe the way they’re doing something is the best way, and not realize they’re flying beyond their limits.

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

I think the greatest challenge facing the helicopter industry is a lack of early training in decision-making. We seem to concentrate on stick skills when training new pilots. I can say when I was an instructor that I was guilty of this as much as anyone. Everyone wants to nail that autorotation; I get it.

Looking back on my career, I know I would have been much better prepared for my first 135 gig if I had incorporated more scenarios, stories from experienced pilots, and researched accidents and incidents. At 1,000 hours, I was very good flying in a nice pre-planned known situation, but just OK when new things came into the picture. Now I can deal with changes more comfortably as a result of several thousand more hours of experience. I know you can never give the pilot-in-training all the knowledge possessed by a pilot with years of experience, but you can at least give them a head start in how to approach new situations. If a pilot can learn to skillfully adapt to changes while flying earlier in their training, I believe it greatly decreases the chances of a horrible event later on in their career.