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RPMN: What is your current position?

I am the Vice President/General Manager of the ERA Training Center located in Lake Charles, Louisiana. I have the pleasure of working with the Era Training Department to facilitate pilot and maintenance training to Era staff and third-party clients.

RPMN: Tell me about your first flight.

I was thirteen attending an airshow with my father. As a career automotive mechanic, my father had a desire to fly but never the opportunity. My dad bought me a lesson in a Cessna 150 for my 14th birthday. Needless to say…I was hooked!

RPMN: How did you get your start in helicopters?

My only method to fly would be through sweat equity. I traded washing airplanes for my flight time. It was during these years that I met my friend Brian Parker, owner of the original Palm Beach Helicopters. I approached him with a payment plan and asked for his assistance finding a funding source for my training. A few days after our meeting, he offered me an opportunity to train with him and get my first job. I earned my Commercial Helicopter certificate on my eighteenth birthday and began my career crop-spraying with a whole 52.8 hours in helicopters.      

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

I don’t know…rather a mutual admiration I guess. Although I’ve had a passion for the craft since my first ride, the people within the industry have provided the opportunities. I was nineteen the first time I attended a Bell Helicopter training course in the Bell 206. My career choice was sparked by that training opportunity. I’ve found no greater enjoyment in this industry outside of teaching!

RPMN: Where did you get your start flying commercially?

After completion of my helicopter training, I was sent to Georgia to aid in the development of a new crop spraying company. I didn’t know what tired was until that time in my life. Watching the sun come and go day-to-day while working was a new experience for me and not always enjoyable. It was during this time I gained the not so unique experience of what happens when there is more water in the tank than fuel. Being graced with NOT bending any metal, I realized what we do has very real consequences. Although I was rated to fly commercially, it took a reality check to set my professional compass on True North!

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

Wow…I think of this often so it’s funny you ask. I would be a better Dad to my kids! The industry is a pay-to-play environment; cash is not always the method of payment. Anyone that has spent time in the helicopter industry knows that your personal life WILL pay a toll for your success. In my career, my family has paid the greatest toll through my absence. My wife is the pillar of strength for our family so I appreciate her for supporting my career. Another career choice…never really thought about it! 

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

I’ve found that my life is rooted in the helicopter industry, so even my time away from the office includes some element of a rotor driven machine. I really enjoy engaging with people, so I spend tremendous amounts of time developing programs with my friends such as HeliSuccess, NightCon, Night Vision Advisory Council (NVAC), and flight instructor workshops around the country. I guess I’m not a “walk on the beach” kind of guy. I do like golf on occasion. 

RPMN: What is your greatest career accomplishment to date?

I feel my greatest accomplishment was also my greatest failure. In 2007, I truly felt that I could accomplish any goal that I set my sights on. I was given an opportunity to repair a broken helicopter training school that had taken the country by storm. Silver State Helicopters offered me the opportunity to lead their training division in August 2007. To keep a very long story short, the demise of the company was simply accelerated by doing what was right for the industry. My team was able to stop the seminars, increase flight hours from 14,000 hours to 18,500 hours per month, and graduate 600 students from June 2007 through December 2007; more than all of the graduates for all previous years combined. At the end, the increase of flight time to repair the overcapacity issue combined with no additional cash into the company due to the secession of the seminar program finally killed the beast. There is no pride in any association with that moment in history, but we are a better industry for it.

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

Sure…if you haven’t…you will! Things happen every day to professional pilots and you never hear of the successful decisions and exemplary skills that were used to cure the few moments of terror. It is only when an unfortunate incident occurs where the crew was unable to get out of a situation that we tend to look deeper at root cause. In my years of experience, the aircraft has rarely let me down however, on more than one occasion I have led a perfectly good aircraft into a situation where I had to work really hard to keep it that way. We are often our own worst enemy. I often tell instructors “when your next maneuver is decided by instructional boredom….stop”! I would bet money that most of the responses to the “Oh Crap” question would be situations that have been self-induced.  

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

Be passionate! Study hard, fly with caution, and most importantly…listen. Don’t get caught up in all the negative you hear and read. Be positive as life is nothing but one big roller coaster ride that happens over and over again. Know at the beginning of your career that you will reach your goals, but know that a dream IS NOT a plan. Be patient…earn your experience and your experience will keep you alive. And if I didn’t say this already…listen!

RPMN: In your view, what is the greatest challenge for the helicopter industry at this moment in time?

Mentorship! The evolution of the helicopter pilot has changed. Training methods and standards have influenced positive and negative outcomes on our industry. Technology is driving a pilot to manage systems in lieu of managing the aircraft. I’m not sure if this was their intent, but it is affecting our pilot pool. Often, training facilities accept the minimum standard as an acceptable standard. This way of thinking embeds mediocrity in our industry. Mentoring new pilots and mechanics is the key to our success. This mentorship should begin at the ab-initio level, not limited to the largest of operators. We as an industry MUST take responsibility for the current and future state of our industry now. My career was shaped by mentors to include Wayne Weseman, Gary Young, Dan Crowe, Lonnie McCann, and many others that are too numerous to list.

Posted in: Human Interest

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