RPMN: What is your current position?
I am the director of safety outreach at Helicopter Association International (HAI). My wife says that I finally found the perfect job: They pay me to run around the world to talk about aviation and tell war stories.
RPMN: How did you get your start in helicopters?
I was a “High School to Flight School” Army helicopter pilot during the Vietnam era. The qualifications were high; so was the mortality rate for combat helicopter pilots. After basic training, flight school, a tour at Fort Knox, and a year in Vietnam, I was discharged from active duty six weeks after my 21st birthday.
RPMN: When and how did you choose to fly helicopters? Or did they choose you?
In 1968, shortly before high school graduation, a group of us were sitting around drinking beer. Around beer number three, my friend said to the group, “We are not going to get into college, are we?”
Since there was still a college deferment from the draft and we were poor kids, we said “No.”
After beer number four, he asked, “If we don’t get into college, we’re going to get drafted, aren’t we?” We said “Yes.”
After beer number five, he said “If we get drafted, we are going to Vietnam, right?”
We said, “yes.”
After beer number six, he asked, “When we go to Vietnam, do you want to walk or do you want to fly?”
I said, “I am too lazy to walk!” and he said, “Good, I made an appointment for us tomorrow with the Army recruiter.
One of us had a medical deferment, another was color blind and he became an Army helicopter tech inspector, and three of us became helicopter pilots.
None of us died in Vietnam.
RPMN: Where did you get your start flying commercially?
I started an aviation unit for a local police department, went to the Gulf of Mexico and flew offshore and finally settled into a long career in air medicine. After starting several air medical programs, I moved to the management side of the house; it was much more exciting! I finished my career as a business development guy and then came to HAI where I put on safety seminars with small operators, pilots, and maintenance techs.
RPMN: If you were not in the helicopter industry, what else would you see yourself doing?
I’d do something entrepreneurial.
RPMN: What do you enjoy doing on your days off?
Fly fishing. It takes you to pretty places, keeps you from thinking about work or anything else and it humbles you to know that you are not always smarter than a fish.
RPMN: What is your greatest career accomplishment to date?
The industry does a lot of work on safety issues… smart people strategize on ways to improve our safety statistics by working on human factors, fatigue, aeronautical decision making, technologically improved cockpits, and a myriad of other “interventions” that are designed to lower the accident rate.
My personal favorite is that people who participate in the FAA WINGS Program or in type clubs (like the Bonanza Club or the Cirrus Club) have an accident rate that is a factor of 10 lower than their peers! I am privileged to work with the FAA Safety Team (FAAST) to take the benefits of the WINGS Program (continuing education and peer-to-peer networking) out to venues where the small operators, pilots, and ATMs can participate in a helicopter-specific safety program.
RPMN: Have you ever had an “Oh, crap!” moment in a helicopter? Can you summarize what happened?
As a young pilot, whose career began in Vietnam, I experienced a lifetime’s worth of “oh crap” moments. I feel like maybe more than most of your readership combined.
RPMN: If you could give only one piece of advice to a new helicopter pilot, what would it be?
They say that flying a helicopter is “hours and hours of boredom accentuated by moments of sheer terror!” If that moment ever comes, you (and your passengers) will only live through it if you have spent those “hours and hours” wisely. Hone your skills and knowledge every day and never allow yourself to become complacent. If you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life!
RPMN: In your view, what is the greatest challenge for the helicopter industry at this moment?
As we speak, our industry is being challenged by the drones! They will rapidly expand in both numbers and in capabilities and we will have to continually justify our jobs as pilots. In the future, we will be working with both manned and unmanned aircraft in the National Airspace. We need to make sure that we are changing with the times and increasing our value to the customers who ultimately pay for our flight time.