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Meet a Rotorcraft Pro: Chin Tu

Posted 309 days ago ago by jhadmin

RPMN: What is your current position? 
I am the president and chief instructor of Civic Helicopters Inc. Of all the helicopter business models I could have ventured into, I chose the flight training model. I have been instructing helicopter and fixed-wing since 1974, and I’ve focused on helicopter flight training since 1987. I have accumulated over 32,000 flight hours; 26,000 of them were in all different makes and models of helicopters flown with pilots from all over the world.   

RPMN: Tell me about your first flight.
My first flight, well, I started very young. I was no more than 4 or 5 years old, Yes, I do remember that flight! It was a very short flight and I was alone in a completely dark, enclosed cockpit with all those fancy blue lights and whirling gauge sounds—it was a military airplane instrument trainer sitting on an articulating flexible base, circa 1953. It was a short flight because my pants were wet and cold. I am still not sure if it was a punishment or “follow Dad to work day.”

RPMN: How did you get your start in helicopters?
In 1970 I joined U.S. Army Aviation for a 5-year commitment. I wanted to fly fixed-wing since I was already a plane pilot. The recruiter made no guarantees, but I put it on my dream sheet. A few months later, I was sitting in a classroom looking at helicopter manuals and models. There was not any protest from me in those days. “On the ground, give me 20 trainee!” The helicopter it was.

RPMN: When and how did you choose to fly helicopters? Or did they choose you?
Uncle Sam pretty much decided my fate in aviation. In retrospect, I believe it was written in the book for my own good by the Almighty. 

RPMN: Where did you get your start flying commercially?
Coming back from Vietnam, I just caught the tail end of the mandatory force reduction ordered by President Nixon. “A dime a dozen,” I heard on the street. Not doughnut holes, but helicopter pilots were a dime a dozen! I joined Hughes Helicopters in Culver City, California.  I could only get a manufacturing operations administration position. It took me seven years before I was able to transfer to the company flight department—for a pay cut! Hey, it was a flight position that offered production flight tests for the H269, H369, King Air C90, B200, F27 Fairchild. The jackpot was the experimental YAH-64 Apache and the chase UH1H Huey.

RPMN: If you were not in the helicopter industry, what else would you see yourself doing?
I guess as a pilot, there is this natural yearning for redundancy in everything. I started to invest in real estate early in my life. I went from single houses to duplex houses to a six-unit apartment building, and to  23-unit apartment buildings. Finally, I got tired of phone calls that someone’s toilet was backed up in the middle of the night. I sold them all and transitioned into real estate investment trusts (REITs). 

RPMN: What do you enjoy doing on your days off?
There are 8,000 square feet of hangar to be organized and cleaned, 11 helicopters to be waxed, landscape to be watered and trimmed…just kidding! I like fly fishing and target shooting; it’s back-up plan in case I need food and protection. 

RPMN: What is your greatest career accomplishment to date?
Lots of pilots made great achievements, no doubt about it. However, I can say this proudly for myself: In all the 26,000 flight training hours I’ve given (including touchdown autos settling with power at short final, tail-rotor failures in all three categories, LTE at hover in slow flight), I have not injured or caused injury to any of my pilots in flight training. A few times I have let the pilot in training go a little too far to recover from, but I paid the price out of my own pocket. It was a good motivator to change my behavior.

RPMN: Have you ever had an “Oh, crap” moment in a helicopter? Can you summarize what happened?
Years ago, before NVGs filtered into the law enforcement and EMS markets, I was giving night touchdown autorotations training to the San Diego Police Department at Montgomery Field (MYF). Typically, I teach all touchdown autorotations without sliding, especially for law enforcement and powerline patrol pilots. On this particular training event, I didn’t have a Farmer’s Almanac to tell me what kind of moon I would have that night.  I thought that was not a big deal. I arrived after 8:00 p.m. at the PD’s old facility. It was pitch black with no moon. The airport had also just resurfaced the taxiway with black asphalt top, which I didn’t know. The yellow centerline hadn’t been painted yet. Now, that’s a big deal! I lost depth perception for that last few feet. Here I was coming down at 1,800 feet per minute in my beautiful shiny Bell 206BIII with executive interior and leather seats. Even with the landing light on, it was still  a blurry black pond to me at the last moment. Oh, crap! Do I pull the collective to cushion now or do I wait a half second? That was the $750,000 question. I leveled it like I do with the MD500 and slid onto the taxiway to a stop. Airport ops did not know it was me who made that mysterious parallel straight line skid marks on their new black top. 

RPMN: If you could give only one piece of advice to a new helicopter pilot, what would it be?
You made a good choice—stick with it! If you do not want to be the airline jock who wakes up at different hours to ask, “What city am I in?” If that’s not what you want, then you better stay in helicopters. With helicopter jobs, you can be there for your family, sleep in your own bed, be a normal person instead of being away half the time from your home and your neighborhood. I could have gone with Boeing to Mesa, Arizona. I could have come home on Fridays and gone to work on Sunday nights from Carlsbad until I retired. Nope! I did not want to be a half daddy. 

RPMN: In your view, what is the greatest challenge for the helicopter industry at this moment in time? 
We all have been hearing about the coming pilot shortage for years. Well, it is certainly here for the fixed-wing side right now. However, as a trainer and flight school operator, I don’t see the line up or even any normal load we saw back 10 years ago. That means there will be very few experienced helicopter pilots for the industry very soon, if it’s not already here. The potential for more accidents when our industry is forced to take on less experienced pilots concerns me. 

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