RPMN: What is your current position?
I am currently the President and CEO of Sevier County Choppers Inc. Our main business is conducting overhauls on Robinson helicopters, along with a small flight school and touring business. We are a family owned and operated business.
RPMN: Tell me about your first flight.
My first flight in a helicopter was during Army flight school. About halfway through I was pretty sure I would not be able to do this. I really thought I was going to throw up on my instructor and was probably several shades of green. Of course this was August in lower Alabama, so the heat didn’t help much.
RPMN: How did you get your start in helicopters?
I started in the U.S. Army and liked it so much I stayed 24 years.
RPMN: When and how did you choose to fly helicopters? Or did they choose you?
My choice to fly helicopters was easy. I was in the Army Band at Fort Gordon, Georgia and part of our job was to play in parades. It was so hot and miserable one day as we were marching around the parade field, but I noticed a Huey long lining an antenna onto the top of signal towers and I thought it looked pretty cool. So I started the application process that next week and here I am.
RPMN: Where did you get your start flying commercially?
When I retired from the Army in 2000, I applied for a job with University of Tennessee Lifestar. They interviewed several people and gave the job to a younger guy who didn’t last 90 days. When they called me I had already agreed to fly tours and help run a local company. A friend had told me if he knew I was going to interview, he would have told me not to since they knew who they were going to hire.
RPMN: If you were not in the helicopter industry, what else would you see yourself doing?
If I wasn’t in this industry today I would probably have continued with music, and who knows where I would have ended up. Everything happens for a reason, and in my case having a family-run business with both sons in aviation is perfect for us.
RPMN: What do you enjoy doing on your days off?
During days off I enjoy playing Texas hold ‘em during World Series of Poker circuit events with one of my sons. The rest of the time I just enjoy life. I have five granddaughters who I love to see as much as possible.
RPMN: What is your greatest career accomplishment to date?
I would say my greatest career accomplishment was to be able to say I served my country with pride. I watch some of the civilian-military conversation and don’t understand why our community isn’t tighter. It doesn’t matter to me if a person was trained in the military or civilian world, what matters is how they fly and the knowledge they have. I have seen great pilots from both communities, and neither one is better than the other. Yes I am proud of where I learned and served, but that doesn’t make the other better or worse.
RPMN: Have you ever had an “Oh crap” moment in a helicopter? Can you summarize what happened?
My biggest scare in helicopters came as a young pilot in command in Honduras. I recall flying a mission off the coast to take a commander to a meeting on land. As we were flying along, I had my copilot flying and I was navigating. We had only maps back then, which is a lost art today. Anyway, we were going up a valley when the crew chief yelled, “Wires!” I focused in on them, grabbed the controls, slammed the collective down and passed under the wires by about three feet – just to have another set in front of me that I had to climb over. Of course the ride for the passengers was wild, but we survived. I landed along a river below and proceeded to smoke a pack of cigarettes.
RPMN: If you could give only ONE piece of advice to a new helicopter pilot, what would it be?
My biggest piece of advice for the young pilots today would be to never stop learning, stay humble, and stay alert. Never get to the point where you think you know it all.
RPMN: In your view, what is the greatest challenge for the helicopter industry at this moment in time?
The biggest challenge for our industry at this moment is the FAA. There is no continuity across the different FSDOs, and it doesn’t seem like there ever will be. While I know some very good inspectors, I also know some that are there for the pay and retirement. Until we as a community demand change, there will be none. Please don’t take this as, “I hate the FAA.” I really want to support them. I have offered to address the powers that be in Washington and see if they would take some input, but haven’t heard back yet. I may make this my last goal in my aviation career.