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Ma’a salama (“Farewell” in Arabic) signaled my final goodbye to the Middle East on January 31st 2013, ending 28 years of flying in the land of sand.  I feel fortunate to have been able to finish up my flying career as a flight simulator instructor and flight examiner in the Bell 412EP, operating from the CAE complex in Dubai where I trained and examined Airline Transport Pilots from more than 20 countries.  I felt it was time to go because a little micro switch in my head suddenly tripped signaling, “It’s time to give back. “

I first went to the Middle East in 1976, becoming a senior instructor for Bell Helicopter in Iran teaching pilots the art of flight instruction.  I flew in Iran for three years, before we Westerners were unceremoniously kicked out during the Islamic Revolution. 

Returning to America, I flew as a HEMS pilot for six years, trying to prove the concept until I was headhunted by the Royal Oman Police to set up a countrywide HEMS program.  I only went for two years, but stayed for thirteen.  After that I spent three years as a HEMS pilot, this time for the King of Saudi Arabia flying a Bell 214ST from his 500’ yacht.  These past nine years I’ve been flying for Abu Dhabi Aviation.

I’ve had plenty of adventures while flying in the Middle East, some scary, like having to flee Iran on the last commercial charter out of the country when working for Bell.  I’ve got memories I will cherish always, like scuba diving with my wife, Kaye, in the warm, azure-blue waters of Oman, or the camping trips we used to take with friends and co-workers where we would have barbecues and long walks on pristine, unspoiled white-sand beaches. 

The flying was some of the most challenging I have ever done, especially when working for the Royal Oman Police.  We did repeater site maintenance at 10,000’ in the rugged Jebel Akhdar.  Even more challenging was landing on the stern of the Sultan’s 250’ yacht at night, as it steamed ahead at 20 knots, or perhaps landing on a huge container ship 120 miles offshore at night to pick up an injured crewmember. 

Every year during the rainy season, we would be tasked to rescue people who had become stranded in their vehicles caught in a flash flood, or called to winch people to safety from rooftops and trees in towns or villages that had become completely flooded. One night we winched 97 people to safety.

When I flew for the King of Saudi Arabia, another pilot and I were tasked to ferry a Bell 214ST helicopter from Jeddah, to Malaga, Spain transiting the airspace of five countries in five days, including Egypt, Greece, Italy, France, and Spain. We then rendezvoused with the king’s yacht that was steaming across the Mediterranean from Morocco to the Spanish mainland.

The real prize I’m bringing back home from those 28 years is the new paradigm I was exposed to over there after flying HEMS in the States, where I’d been flying single-pilot IFR for San Diego Life Flight.  When I arrived in Oman, I was immediately taught how to fly two-crew ops using proper CRM by the ex-British forces and former North Sea pilots.  The professionalism I witnessed was something I immediately aspired to.  Probably the greatest compliment I ever received in my aviation career was when they asked me to be their head of training at the Police Air Wing.

Flying offshore oil work for Abu Dhabi Aviation (ADA) had its own rewards.  I’ll never forget the colorful characters I flew with there.  Going to Abu Dhabi, for me, was like returning to the womb where my aviation career began.  Like Vietnam, ADA had its fair share of colorful and eccentric characters. 

In Vietnam we were baby pilots with 210 hours right out of flight school to perhaps 1,200 hours after a one-year tour.  When I arrived at ADA, the average logged flight time per pilot was well over 10,000 hours; same characters, just older, a bit more nuts with a lot more flight time. 

I shall always be an expatriate at heart.  I crave the adventure that living and working abroad offers.  My first flying job after Vietnam was herding cattle by helicopter while living on a 1,369 square-mile cattle ranch in the Australian Outback.  As I spent more time working abroad, it didn’t take long to begin to see Americans as others outside America view us. In many ways it’s because of that unique view of America that I became an activist, to try to bring about change in the HEMS system back home.  I return now with a valuable message, a different way of doing things that, if followed, will save lives. There’s no reason to reinvent the helicopter to “fix” our HEMS system in America, but people are operating more safely in other parts of the world, or what I call “outside the cave,” the “cave” being America, (AC) where my flying career began.  I am returning after 28 years to share the “good news,” my way of giving back.  My new job is Chief CRM/AMRM Instructor at Oregon Aero, a position the company created for me because they believe in my safety message.

Wish me luck!

Posted in: Human Interest

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