RPMN: What is your current position?
I am currently a law enforcement helicopter pilot in South Florida and the owner of a contract helicopter pilot services company.
RPMN: Tell me about your first flight.
My dad had arranged a helicopter flight with a company operating out of the Tampa International Airport for my 18th birthday. This company would fly around to all of the large banks in the Tampa Bay area and pick up the bank notes and other paper transactions. Since there was no Internet in those days, the quickest way to get the “goods” to the airport for an overnight flight was by helicopter. The pilot would hover over the roof of the bank and the guy in the back, known as the “hooker,” would use a long pole to snatch the bag off the top of a flagpole. My fate with helicopters was sealed at the conclusion of that flight.
RPMN: How did you get your start in helicopters?
After obtaining my commercial rotorcraft rating my instructor purchased a Bell 47G2. Somehow I convinced him that it would be the smartest thing he ever did to allow me to conduct photo flights, birthday flights, and aerial tours around the Tampa Bay area . After all, he knew the quality of my training and to not let me fly would call into question that quality.
RPMN: When and how did you choose to fly helicopters? Or did they choose you?
I attempted to enter the Army as a helicopter pilot but in the early 1980s you could not enter flight school if you wore glasses to correct your vision. The Army NVG program consisted of Army pilots having to wear full-face goggles; eyeglasses would prohibit their use. So after two enlistments, I had saved enough money to start my flight training as a civilian. It was a much longer path (10 years) and cost me $100,000 but I finally achieved all of my ratings and flight time to be “employable.”
RPMN: Where did you get your start flying commercially?
In Tampa flying that Bell 47G2. I was working as a deputy sheriff in Tampa and knew that I wanted to be a law enforcement helicopter pilot. Flying that Bell 47 provided me with enough flight hours that I finally met the minimum qualifications for the agency I am with now. That was 17 years ago. How time flies when you love what you do.
RPMN: If you were not in the helicopter industry, what else would you see yourself?
I would be an entrepreneur and lawyer. I love working in an environment that is always changing and challenging. I feel like I do my best work when I am under pressure or the task at hand is very difficult. I also like communicating with people and solving problems so my passion would have been satisfied with those areas of interest as well.
RPMN: What do you enjoy doing on your days off?
Cigars! Nothing beats enjoying a great cigar. Combined with any interest or event makes it that much better.
RPMN: What is your greatest career accomplishment to date?
The ability to give back. I have been blessed over the years to receive some really great training and fortunate to have worked in many different roles that make the helicopter an incredible machine. That experience allows me to pass on valuable information while working as a CFI or as a member of the FAASTeam (FAA Safety Team). I had some really good mentors when I started out flying and their decades of experience etched an important mindset at the beginning of my training. It’s an honor to have that opportunity now in this stage of my career.
RPMN: Have you ever had an “Oh, crap!” moment in a helicopter? Can you summarize what happened?
Yes! We were called to search for a burglary suspect that had fled the scene on foot. It was 2:00 a.m. and our fourth call for our shift. As we were arriving on scene, 500 ft AGL and 90 knots, I reached down to switch radio channels when all of a sudden I heard an explosion. I immediately found myself slumped over towards the center of the cockpit, barely capable of moving. I remember feeling an intense amount of wind flowing through the cockpit and hearing the other pilot state, “something has locked the controls of the helicopter, and we’re going down”. I saw on the FLIR video screen that we were in a right hand turn heading towards the ground. With large and small pieces of Plexiglas and unknown liquid covering my body I realized we must have just taken a bird strike. It was then I forced myself to sit up in the seat and the pilot stated, “I have control”. We pulled out of that dive at about 100 feet AGL. It was me that was causing our descent by lying on the collective! Not knowing the extent of the damage we agreed that since we were still flying that we would try to make it back to the airport which gave us access to emergency crews and plenty of runway to get the aircraft on the ground. It was the longest five minutes of my life. We were able to land without incident, and the evidence showed that we had hit a Moorhen, a kin to the duck family. Half came into the cockpit and the other half went through the rotor system. If it was not for my helmet I would not have survived a direct hit to my head. I learned a valuable lesson that night about the benefits of effective crew resource management.
RPMN: If you could give only one piece of advice to a new helicopter pilot, what would it be?
If you treat every flight like it was a checkride, barring a catastrophic event, chances are greater that you will have a long, prosperous career while earning a stellar reputation for professionalism.
RPMN: In your view, what is the greatest challenge for the helicopter industry at this moment in time?
The drone industry. Some are embracing it while others fear it, believing that they will reduce the amount of flying jobs or opportunities. I say, embrace it with open arms. All industries evolve over time; it's inevitable. There is no doubt that certain jobs can be accomplished more efficiently and cheaper using a drone. But who is better suited to operate that drone than a professional helicopter pilot who has the prior flight experience to know exactly what the job needs to accomplish the customer’s goals. That perception alone is a great marketing tool and places you above your novice competitors. Successful business models must adapt to market demands and technology. Adding this service to your listed professional services will make you a competitor in a rapidly growing new industry, and you’ll earn additional revenue.