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Helicopter pilots are no different than members of any other profession.  They, like the others, are human, process oxygen, and possess an ego which drives them to believe “I’m better than so and so.”  I call this the “My daddy can beat up your daddy” syndrome.”  “Look at me…”.

I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, an expert on the human condition.  I do, however, believe that we have a responsibility to insure that those who come into this profession behind us deserve the benefit of our great wisdom.  That may seem to be an egotistical statement in and of itself, but hear me out.

Not too very long ago I overheard a statement, from a very highly experienced pilot, which compelled me to stick my nose in uninvited.  This is not unusual for me.  At any rate, the statement was this;  “Before you know it all we’ll have around here are a bunch of Robbie guys.”  For those of you not in the profession the term “Robbie guy” refers to those who have received their training through civilian schools, flying the Robinson made helicopters.  I, for one, have a great deal of respect for the folks who became R22 Picturehelicopter pilots through the military, and served, during the Viet Nam era.  These guys earned it, the hard way.  But I just couldn’t help it, and commented;

“Hey Joe (not his real name), let me ask you something, which type of helicopter do you feel was more challenging to fly, recip or turbine?”

 “Recip”, he replied.  The look on his face, as well as the inflection in his tone clearly indicated he thought I was a moron for asking such a stupid question. 

“Well, do you have any recip time?”

 “Of course,(chest puffed out, chin high) I  flew 47G’s out here, 5000+ hours.” 

“Oh, by the way, are you a CFI (Certified Flight Instructor)?”

 “Nah, came to the Gulf straight from Nam.” 

“Oh, so what you mean is simply because a new pilot went through training in an R22 that somehow he isn’t as qualified?”

“Oh, you know what I mean, it just isn’t the same anymore.”

Yes, I do know what you mean, and that is not necessarily a bad thing.

The days of the Armed Forces being the largest provider of trained helicopter pilots are quickly coming to an end.  The military, by design, has reduced the number of pilots graduated each year for the past dozen, or more years.  This trend will continue.  The advent and fielding of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles during the past five years alone strongly suggest that our military simply will not need the number of helicopter pilots as in years past.  But, the numbers of civil aircraft, new and used have been on the rise….So, where will the helicopter pilots of the future come from?  You guessed it.

Training methods change, and they should.  When we can develop new training methods, cost effective methods, we should implement them.  But the one aspect of training that many of us have been the most reluctant to share is our own experience, mentoring those new to our profession.  I’d like to share one more story.

While I was working in the Gulf of Mexico a few years back I, again, overheard a conversation which really set me back.  An obviously new, VFR Bell 206,  pilot had entered the pilot lounge and asked, to no one in particular, “Can someone show me where the IFR missed approach points are out here?” 

“What the hell do you need to know for, you’re just a little ship driver.”, was the response from one of the more “seasoned” IFR Captains.  I was floored.  Here was a young pilot, asking a very appropriate question, and he gets flamed by a “Senior” pilot.  This young pilot did not say another word, turned on his heels, and departed.  I was furious.

I waited a few minutes, tried to compose myself, and approached the “Senior” pilot.

 I said, “Hey man, can we talk?” 

“What do you want?” was his sarcastically toned reply. 

“You are one of the more experienced guys around here, and this new guy looks to you to help him out, and you nuke him.  Imagine for a minute what he is thinking right now.”  The look on this “Senior” pilot’s face was priceless.

To his credit the “Senior” pilot rethought his position, tracked the new pilot down, and spent the better part of the next hour explaining the Gulf of Mexico IFR system.  This is what should have happened in the first place.

Make no mistake about it, these new pilots are here to replace us and they are ambitious.  We, as a group, have an enormous amount of experience and it is our job to share that experience and do whatever we can to insure all that “experience” is not wasted. Share it. 


Posted in: Opinion-Editorial


# Bob
Wednesday, May 26, 2010 5:22 AM
The military is beefing up helicopter pilot training. There will be more military pilots in the future not less. Do some research.
Andre Connan
# Andre Connan
Wednesday, May 26, 2010 6:55 AM
Great article !

To experienced pilots with many thousands of hours do not forget how you started ! and please pass on some of your knowledge and help your fellow (younger pilot).
Have a safe flight !!
Howard Anderson
Wednesday, May 26, 2010 7:11 AM
Thanks Ron for the insightful, accurate, and true words on how the "old" community treats our young. I have been a victim of this treatment and made a solid determination never to treat others like that. It is a fact that we "old helo pilots" are not getting younger and if we want the industry to grow and be safe, our skills and experiences need to be passed down the the next generation. Thanks Ron.
Peter Locke
# Peter Locke
Wednesday, May 26, 2010 7:44 AM
Ron (?),
I assume that's you cause the previous comment calls you by name. I really enjoyed your article. I think it addresses a very important point. I was a Navel Aviator, ASW helicopters, came home to PHI, Houston Helicopters, and then FlightSafety. Helping the new guys can become the only game in town for older pilots. We should embrace the opportunity.
Ron Whitney
Wednesday, May 26, 2010 8:20 AM
Hi Bob,

I did the research, the article is factual. For instance, the U.S. Army plans to graduate somewhere in the neighborhood of 1200 helicopter pilots this FY. That number used to be around 1400-1500 exclusive of foreign military sales contacts. I've got more background to support my position on that paragraph, but it really isn't all that important to the point of the article, is it? If you'd more information please email me at ron@rotorcraftpro.com.

Ron Whitney
Peter Locke
# Peter Locke
Wednesday, May 26, 2010 11:46 AM
Just got to weight in on this 'needs of the military' in the future thing. How about, almost all aircraft will be operated remotely by High School computer gamers, from a cubical at the Pentagon. Whoops, at least a 3 second delay there. No gamer would stand for that! O.K., near the action. No human G load restrictions! Don't have to worry about being shot down. What's not to like?
John Bishop
# John Bishop
Saturday, May 29, 2010 5:56 AM
I really appreciate this article. I trained on a R22. I wish i could have taken the military way but here in canada it could take 4 years to get full time position in the air. Time goes by to fast and I didn't want to waste any time getting experience. I'm still a low time pilot and i really hope to soak up every good little detail i can to become as skilled as the high time vets out there today. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bgCGMfFYg9o&feature=PlayList&p=32650C64269E912C&playnext_from=PL&playnext=1&index=15
Marc Wynn
# Marc Wynn
Wednesday, June 02, 2010 8:52 AM
Peter Locke,
That may be great (lack of human restrictions) for observation type missions. However, when it comes time to place troops on the ground swiftly, I would be reluctant to place my life in the hands of a high school gamer at a remote station whose life is not in the same type of jeopardy. There's a lot not to like!

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