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Bob Yerex (above right) checks his course prior to the start of a ferry flight out of Juneau, Alaska last month.

Meet a Rotorcraft Pro
BOB YEREX of Max-Viz

RPMN: What is your current position?

YEREX: Vice President of Sales and Marketing with Max-Viz Incorporated, an infrared Enhanced Vision System manufacturer based in Portland, Oregon.

RPMN: Tell me about your first flight.

YEREX: I’m not sure I remember my first flight, I grew up flying with my father who was a pilot for Ford Motor Company. We flew fast freight out of Detroit in the mid-60’s and early 70’s with one of his friend’s cargo companies, so he was able to share his love of aviation with my brother and me.  My first Army helicopter flight in training was an interesting exercise made up of two components.  One, how much of a huge field I could try to crash in while, two, at the same time trying to keep the shiny side up.

RPMN: How did you get your start in helicopters?

YEREX: The U.S. Army, having done an interservice transfer from the Marine Corps in 1983 after six years as a structural mechanic in electronic warfare jets and C-130 cargo aircraft.

RPMN: When and how did you choose to fly helicopters? Or did they choose you?

YEREX: I always wanted to fly.  The problem in the Marines is that the requirements for flight school required more college than I had, and with my deployment schedule, college wasn’t an easy thing to start much less complete a single course at a time.  I was able to qualify for the Warrant Officer program in the Army ---I was breathing and could walk forwards and backwards while talking .. I’m kidding of course! ---  and helicopters were the only option within that program.  Once I started, there was no turning back as they (helicopters) have facets to the aviation world that are just not possible or experienced in fixed wing aviation.  So … long story made short … the military was the only tunnel with a light at the end of it when the decision was upon me.

RPMN: Tell me about your experience in the US Coast Guard (USCG)

YEREX: There are so many stories about each of the services, the Coast Guard was a special mission because the training was almost always put into real world application.  Everyone involved with USCG ops were integral and instrumental in completing a successful mission.  The camaraderie was extraordinary and units were a very tight knit group of incredible professionals. Some of the most gifted aviation professionals I have ever met --- both pilot and mechanic --- were my counterparts throughout the 13 years I spent in the USCG and many remain close friends.

RPMN: Where did you get your start flying commercially?

YEREX: On leaving the Coast Guard in the fall of 2001, I had an option to head to the FAA in Raleigh, N.C. or an opportunity to fly with the airlines out of the Pacific NW.  Although transitioning into the airlines right at 9/11 might not have been the most optimal timing, I opted for the airlines and cannot ever replace the experience of functioning (like the Coast Guard) in another extremely standardized and professional environment.    As they say though, the Good Lord has plans and the route you take is an essential part of that journey. Flying EMS helicopters in a single pilot IFR environment was the next step just
prior to my current position with Max-Viz and was instrumental in introducing me to both the company and my mentor in the industry.

RPMN: If you were not in the helicopter industry, what else would you see yourself doing?

YEREX: That’s sure a $50,000 question … I’m on the industry side of aviation and out of the cockpit right now and never thought I would find myself in that situation.  I love the technical and integration side of my current job and draw a hard commitment line in the sand where customer service is concerned. Ultimately being in a position where I could help facilitate solutions to complex technical or operational situations is incredibly rewarding. I’m incredibly lucky to be with Max-Viz and in a position where I am always working for both the company and the customer, rather than solely focusing only on the company bottom line.  Focusing on the bottom line works in the short term, but you have to ultimately be able to work with and be respected by your customers and look yourself in the mirror at least a couple times a day !!  You can’t ever regain integrity once it’s lost with a customer.

RPMN: What do you enjoy doing on your days off?

YEREX: I have a couple young daughters that keep me busy coaching and helping with their different sports teams and activities.  I always enjoy fishing and hunting, but much like flying, I get the chance to do them all too infrequently.  I play golf with my wife as often as I’m able, which actually is far more frequently than flying, fishing or hunting. Although golfing doesn’t seem to fill the freezer nearly as successfully,  I’m getting really good at biting my tongue and watching my wife beat me repeatedly … hole after hole !!!

RPMN: What is your greatest career accomplishment to date?

YEREX: A rescue, that didn’t result in any medal of significance a number of years ago, on Thanksgiving eve in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  A plane had crashed on approach to an airport and the weather was 0/0 on scene. Having recently come from the Army, I could read a map like nobody’s business so I navigated DR with a radalt and radar low level in the mountains West of Houghton Hancock while Pete Spence flew the helicopter.  We drew a flare from the crash site and loitered to fuel exhaustion overhead at around 200 feet while we vectored a ground party into the family.  Everyone survived and I very quickly realized what a dramatic difference my newfound profession was going to mean to the remainder of my military career, and what resulted in countless lives that might not have otherwise survived.

RPMN: Have you ever had an “Oh crap” moment in a helicopter?

YEREX: Exactly which bucket do you want me to go looking in for the answer to that question … ??  I suppose being down in 30 – 50 foot waves offshore at night and dimly noticing in the glow of the external lights a rogue wave coming in 15 or so feet above your rotor system and knowing that the squeaking sounds (like a 13 year old girl) were coming out of your mic … that would probably be one of my finest highlights !!  Or the time we had to ditch the helicopter a bunch of miles offshore in Kodiak because we blew a transmission filter off the aircraft (no pressure = really crappy night). We were in an amphibious S-61 and water taxied in for way too many hours and then jumped up onto the end of the runway.  I remember our Safety Officer, Randy Moesing waiting for us as we climbed out of the aircraft with a whole arm full of beers … that helped out a bunch !!

RPMN: If you could give only ONE piece of advice to a new helicopter pilot, what would it be?

YEREX: Never wholly trust technology, a second engine, or reserve fuel as a get out of jail free card.  Basic needle / ball / airspeed, dead reckoning, and remembering that it’s not what’s broken that is important, it is what is working for you that is going to save your life.

Posted in: Human Interest

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