RPMN: What is your current position?
I’m president of D&L Gold Coast Services Inc. and a designated pilot examiner.
RPMN: Tell me about your first flight.
I was very young, flying with my father in a variety of aircraft. I remember the early flights were in a Cessna 180 flying to Kelly's Island in Lake Erie near Sandusky, Ohio.
RPMN: How did you get your start in helicopters?
My first flight was at age 13 in a Enstrom. I lived near Ft. Lauderdale International Airport and handed some tools to a guy working on his helicopter. He asked if I wanted a ride; I couldn't refuse that offer! Fast forward a few years I earned my fixed-wing rating at 17, and a couple of months later I received my gyroplane rating in a McCullogh J2. (Yes, it was made by the chainsaw company.)
RPMN: When and how did you choose to fly helicopters? Or did they choose you?
In 1987 I received a $2,500 grant to go to school. I had an interest in helicopters and was curious about their operation. I didn't intend to complete the course due to the expense ($130/hour) and I really had no need for a helicopter rating, however when the fund money was gone, I was having too much fun to quit, so I pulled out my credit card and exclaimed, “Let's do this!”
I was employed by the sheriff's office at the time working road patrol. Just prior to my checkride I was asked to assist with a drug-sting operation. My partner for the evening was none other than the commander for the aviation, marine, and K-9 units. By shift’s end, we knew quite a bit about each other and his parting words were, “If you ever want to fly for Broward County Sheriff's Office, you just give me a call.”
Two weeks later, I took my commercial add-on checkride and called my old buddy. He said, “Grab a flight suit and pick a pilot to fly with.” There I was, a 50-hour Robbie pilot flying Jet Rangers. The rest is history.
RPMN: Where did you get your start flying commercially?
My first commercial job was flying banner planes at Aerial Sign Co. at North Perry Airport near Hollywood, Florida. It was run by the kindest man I ever knew, Mr. Jim Butler. I believe the skills I acquired there assisted greatly in furthering my flying career.
RPMN: If you were not in the helicopter industry, what else would you see yourself doing?
That's difficult to say as I never really chased the proverbial dream, things just happened for me. I'm sure it would be interesting wherever I landed.
RPMN: What do you enjoy doing on your days off?
I don't feel like I have many days off. I've been quite busy, but a good kind of busy. During the slow periods, my wife and I travel—any excuse to travel! She also bought me a guitar, thinking when I retired from the sheriff's office I would have all this time to learn to play it. Well, I do play every day; I enjoy it but I’m no Stevie Ray Vaughn, for sure. I also have a boat and a motorcycle that get dragged out occasionally.
RPMN: What is your greatest career accomplishment to date?
My greatest career accomplishment to date is staying alive. I didn't pick the safest of employment choices, which can be very unforgiving from both the police and flying side. On a professional note, during my tenure as supervisor of the Aviation Unit, we had no accidents or incidences. I had a great group of pilots, medics, and maintenance staff that performed to the best of their ability. It is one thing to be responsible for only your own flying, but to be responsible for a group of pilots and the lives they carry, is a heavy weight. I was grateful for the opportunity to work with these crews and grateful we are still friends.
RPMN: Have you ever had an “Oh, crap!” moment in a helicopter? Can you summarize what happened?
Oh gosh, there were so many, but one that comes to mind was a hovering auto during a checkride. The student rolled the throttle off, inputted right pedal and kept the nose perfectly aligned (I was thinking to myself this is going to be a great auto) until the throttle rolled out of the detent under the student’s sweaty palm. As the nose went right the student countered with left cyclic before I could react. I dumped the collective, rolled off the throttle and gave it full, right cyclic, which did nothing but gave me something to do while screaming! The helicopter landed on its left skid in what felt like a 90-degree bank. I leaned hard right pushing against the student as the aircraft sat there balanced on the left skid for what seemed like an eternity. The helicopter finally fell to the right and back onto both skids. The student asked if he could try that maneuver again. (WTH!)
RPMN: If you could give only one piece of advice to a new helicopter pilot, what would it be?
My advise: Fly the aircraft the way it was meant to be flown and you will eliminate 99 percent of your problems.
My second piece of advice is to find a job with a retirement package.
RPMN: In your view, what is the greatest challenge for the helicopter industry at this moment in time?
From the standpoint of a DPE, I can tell you it is the inexperience coming from brand-new instructors teaching brand-new pilots. The FAA is correct about scenario-based training, however new instructors have no experiences to base that on. This is seen with the lack of situational awareness and aeronautical decision-making. I like to spend extra time with new instructors to give them and their students the benefit of my years of flying. (I am retired and I have a captured audience.)
As for the future, we haven't even scratched the surface of the technology that lurks around the corner. Our great grandkids will be stunned that they actually had pilots in aircraft. They will look at us with admiration and amazement. I will tell them...
The older I get, the better I was.