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Meet a Rotorcraft Pro – Dean Springer

RPMN: What is your current position?

Presently, I guess you would say I am semi-retired, meaning, I have retired from my first career as a Senior Special Agent and former Customs Service Pilot after 20 years.  I no longer fly full-time, but fly relief or on-call by the day.  This is usually one-to-three days a week as needed in a Bell 206BIII, King Air B100, or Beechcraft Baron.

RPMN: Give us a short rundown of your career.

I started taking airplane lessons in November 1973 in West Virginia.  I began teaching in early 1975, then flew charter, and finally as a nightly “mail” pilot in Cessna 402s. 

In early 1977, I had about 1700 hours and a B.S. degree in Professional Aviation.  This was a decision time for me, as I had already decided that I wanted to become a “police pilot” somewhere.  I figured that I had the degree, ratings, and hours needed, but in order to set myself apart I needed to have some police experience.  To leave full-time flying and join a police department, with no expectation of flying for them, was the hardest career decision I ever made.  I joined the Joplin Missouri Police Department in 1977.  In 1984 I completed my rotorcraft transition of my commercial and CFI rating in Bell 47s and also completed my M.S. Degree in Aviation Safety.

By this time I now had completed six years as a police officer and I had applied to the U.S. Customs Service’s aviation program.  I had a friend that I was hoping would be in a position to help me return to flying.  I explained my situation and he agreed to hire me to fly his Cessna 414, knowing it would probably be short-term.

In 1986, I was hired as a Customs Officer / Aircraft Pilot and assigned to the San Antonio Aviation Branch.  In 1988, I was promoted to National Aviation Safety & Training Officer for Operations at the Customs National Aviation Center (CNAC) in Oklahoma City.  I feel the primary reason I was promoted over others, was that I had a M.S. Degree in Aviation Safety.  The Customs Aviation Program was about to start a massive hiring of 350 pilots and add 70 aircraft in the next 24 months.

The Director of CNAC gave me two mandates when I showed up:
·    Get these new pilots trained as they arrive.
·    Reduce our current accident rate of 5.7 per 100,000 flight hours.

Step one was to expand and formalize our Aviation Safety Program and to develop a Hazard Notice Reporting System.  Step two was to develop a formal national training program.

At the two-year mark the pilots were trained and the accident rate was reduced to 0.69 per 100,000 flight hours.

Later I was promoted to Special Agent, and finally to Senior Special Agent before retiring in 2006.  By the time of my retirement, the Department of Homeland Security had been created and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had the Aviation Program.  Now Customs & Border Protection (CBP) has it.
From late 2006 to late 2009, I completed a three-year contract doing international training for the Department of State.  This involved training and mentoring on aviation and border issues overseas.

In late 2009 to late 2011, I worked two years with the MITRE Corporation on DOJ “classified” projects.

RPMN: Tell us about your first flight.

I assume you are meaning my first helicopter flight.  The flight was a typical intro-flight.  It was with Dick Hill, owner of Dick Hill Helicopters in Ozark, Missouri.  The day was Sunday, August 21, 1983.  He explained the basics, started the Bell-47D model, and then he let me follow him on the controls.  Once we were away from the ground he let me fly, and I did pretty well for my first time in a helicopter.  It was a blast!  From that time on, I knew I wanted to fly helicopters more than airplanes.

RPMN: How did you get your start in helicopters?

Because I was dual-rated when I came to U.S. Customs, I was one of a few, at that time, to be classified as an “aircraft” pilot, versus an airplane or helicopter pilot.  The first helicopter I flew in Customs was an “H” model Huey.

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

No doubt, helicopters chose me.  I was 13-years-old when I first saw a helicopter up close.  It was a Bell 206, owned by a coal company in West Virginia.  The Bell 206 landed along the river about 300 yards from my house.  I ran over and talked to the pilot.  All I could think was, How cool to be able to land anywhere!  I knew at that point, I wanted to fly helicopters.

RPMN: Where did you get your start flying commercially?

For helicopters, it was with the U. S. Customs Service.  Airplanes was with a typical flight school in Rolla, Missouri.

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

I would definitely be in aviation, probably teaching aviation courses at the university level.

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

I enjoy flying my 1976 Cessna 182, especially to visit our children.  Also, I am the president of our local airport authority.  I enjoy mentoring pilots and coaching them throughout their careers.  I try to use my connections to help open doors for pilots.
RPMN: What is your greatest career accomplishment to date?

Let’s see, for a person that combined two fields (aviation and law enforcement) into one career, may I give two?  For aviation, it was being the first National Aviation Safety and Training Officer for Operations at the U.S. Customs Service and developing the infrastructure, of which some is still in use today.  For law enforcement, I received a heroism award for rescuing two men trapped inside a burning pick-up truck.

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

No, I have been very lucky in that respect.  However, I have had a couple in the airplane.

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

Display Integrity in everything you do.

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

The two greatest challenges are the high costs of training and insurance, and two: regulations.

Posted in: Human Interest


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