10,000 Flight Hours Later
Read my Story
Check out my story as featured on pages 10-11 of the August 2014 edition of Rotorcraft Pro.
RPMN: What is your current position?
I am an Assistant Chief Flight Instructor for HeliStream, Inc. located at John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California. My current assignment includes recurrent high altitude mountain and IFR flight training, in addition to day and night emergency procedures in the AS350 B2 and B3. Primarily I fly with U.S. Customs and Border Protection and local law enforcement pilots.
RPMN: Tell me about your first flight.
My first training flight was in a Robinson R22 at a flight school in Southern California, but the flight that changed my life took place in Switzerland near St. Moritz. My lovely wife and I were lucky enough to be passengers on one of Heli-Bernina’s first B2 Squirrels and the experience convinced me that I needed to become a pilot. A big thank you goes to Ueli Baerfuss for that wonderful flight and for all his advice!
RPMN: How did you get your start in helicopters?
My dad worked as an engineer, overseeing power line construction, and he took me along on a flight. That was enough to infect me with the “flying bug.” Later I moved to Southern California to get my flight training at Hiser Helicopters. Since then I have added other qualifications like the ATPL(H) and CFII.
RPMN: When and how did you choose to fly helicopters? Or did they choose you?
As a little kid I always appreciated planes and helicopters when I saw them at the airports or in flight. Today I still enjoy hanging out at airfields and I never seem to get tired of it. Taking off and rising into the sky myself is really like visiting a different world. After my dad exposed me to helicopters, I started taking my first flying lessons in fall of 1988.
RPMN: Where did you get your start flying commercially?
I took my first FAA Part 135 check ride at HeliStream Inc. in a B2 Ecureuil. I had about 2,000 total helicopter flight hours then and was thrilled about the opportunity to expand my career horizon. However, being an instructor pilot is my real focus and passion. Plus it allows me to fly a lot, which is why I became a pilot in the first place.
RPMN: If you were not in the helicopter industry, what else would you see yourself doing?
Flying is one of the coolest things I’ve ever done and I’ve been very lucky to find a position that has allowed me to earn enough to get my dream car—a grey/black Porsche GT3 RS. Sports cars have fascinated me my whole life so I could see myself in the car industry. Teaching people how to drive on a race track, testing new technology, and pushing the limits of a Porsche Cup car or RSR car as a factory driver/instructor must be very rewarding and fun as well. But I’m just dreaming.
RPMN: What do you enjoy doing on your days off?
It’s always nice to have a break from work and do something different. I like having fun with my family and staying fit. We just recently flew to Sydney, Australia, on a QANTAS 747 to celebrate both my birthday and my reaching 10,000 hours. It was an amazing vacation, well worth the long flight over the Pacific.
RPMN: What is your greatest career accomplishment to date?
It’s great being an instructor and knowing that my job lets me help pilots improve their skills and situational awareness. I'm also extremely happy to be able to fly a B3 on a daily basis. Now, more than 10,000 flight hours later, I continue to learn from the many pilots I fly and interact with. Every one of them brings new experiences and insights to the table.
RPMN: Have you ever had an “Oh crap” moment in a helicopter? Can you summarize what happened?
On a routine AS350 B2 training flight at Los Alamitos Army Airfield (SLI), one of my pilots pulled the collective too early to cushion a full touchdown autorotation. My mistake was not having my hand on the controls to hold him back. We were still too high and I had to immediately advance the fuel control lever forward to prevent critical low rotor RPM and a hard landing while not exceeding any engine limits. Everything ended up fine but it reinforced the fact that I should ALWAYS be ready to jump in if necessary. By the way, if you train in the B3, watch that forced idle switch. It can get stuck and the engine won’t go back to “fly” in case you need to abort a training autorotation.
RPMN: If you could give only one piece of advice to a new helicopter pilot, what would it be?
Be determined, dedicated, and have a plan. Flying has a bright future. Use all the available resources to ensure your career choice is right for you and you know what you are signing up for. Then, once you’ve reached your goal, enjoy it and be smart about how you handle yourself and your aircraft.
RPMN: In your view, what is the greatest challenge for the helicopter industry at this moment in time?
Technology has improved our lives a great deal in almost every aspect, including aviation. However, it is crucial that pilots— and everyone, really— does not rely only on technology when operating aircraft. Basic skills still need to be developed and maintained if we want to keep a safe flying environment. Just look up some of the many unfortunate aviation incident and accident videos posted on YouTube. There is simply no substitute for continuous real-world flight training!
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