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MILITARY to Civilian Flying. Advice on making the jump by Anonymous Visitor

At the request of many JH visitors, we have extracted this post from the forum as a resource for those in need of some advice on making the transition from Mlitary to Civilian flying. The post was made anonymously.

...I have a few words for those who are trying to start a civilian flying career.

You should understand I'm a twenty-year retiree who served in two AD branches, plus the National Guard. So if you're smart, you'll listen, because I'm going to talk to you out of actual experience.

The most important thing I can say to you is: Stay in the military until you can retire. Having a pension is the difference between poverty and worry-free living in this industry. If you are really smart, you will bank your flight pay and live off your base pay.

First, the good news:

You have the best basic helicopter flying training in the world. But the emphasis should be on the word "basic."

Second, you have had discipline drummed into you if it wasn't there already. You know the value of standardization and attention to detail.

Those two things are about all you have going for you when you get out.

The bad news follows:

Flying on the outside is completely different from the military. I recommend sitting someplace quiet each day for about five minutes repeating this over and over to yourself:

"Flying on the outside is completely different from the military."

First off, management and labor: Management runs a business and is interested in profit, period. If you help the profit, fine, if not, you will have to go. This applies not only to people but to methods and equipment and supplies. This is not such a bad thing as it appears, just different. Get used to it. As to your relations with management, they are not your friends. They may tell you that, but they are not. The only way for a pilot group to safeguard its interests with managment is to organize and get a CBA. If you don't know about unions, learn. If you aren't "comfortable" with the idea of a union, change. You may be employed by a union operator; if so, keep any anti-union feelings you have well to yourself. If on the other hand you are employed by a non-union operator, you will sooner of later compare and contrast your lot with those of your friends who did go to work for a union shop. This alone will cause you to change any anti-union views you have.

Second, coworkers: Sooner or later you will have some disagreement with a coworker. Whenever this happens, say nothing; take two aspirin and lie down for a few hours, then get up and you yourself fix whatever problem the other person caused. Never mention it. This applies to getting along with pilots, mechanics, and medics in EMS. Trying to change other people in this business is absolutely impossible and will only lead to you getting a rep as a prick, and eventually, gotten rid of. If you are retired military, those of your co-worker pilots who do not have a pension coming in...both civilian and former military...will have some resentment at the difference between your financial status and theirs. You cannot change this, but the best thing you can do is to let it be known...subtly and quietly...that you support any effort on their part to better their own lot; what I am talking about here is union organization, and if you are retired you should support any union that is in place by willingly joining, and any drive that may occur in a non-union shop...but quietly, so that management will not terminate you (it happens).

Third, operations: Somebody once said (and I wish I could remember who) that military pilots are good at what they do but they are used to having a lot of help. This just about sums up the situation. Your job as a civilian pilot is to "manage" the aircraft while on shift. This means many things which I'll try to bullet-ize:

--On the first day of the job you should be familiar with your operating area, including terrain, general climate characteristics, any special use airspace, and all B/C/D airspace. You should be able to fly anywhere in your area day or night without getting into any trouble with ATC.

--You must be able to stay up on the weather using only a weather computer, or even more limited tools, such that you can launch on a VFR flight within 5 minutes and on an IFR flight with just a few more minutes of planning.

--You must be able to determine the airworthiness and maintenance status of the aircraft, including compliance with all ADs and inspection intervals, and avoid any overflights of same during your shift. Additionally you must work closely with a mechanic who you'll probably see only a few times for brief intervals each week to document and follow up on any maintenance discrepancies. You must service the aircraft, including fuel, oils, and oxygen for EMS, plus do whatever preventive maintenance is allowed for your operation, such as changing light bulbs and clearing chip indications.

--You must accurately and completely, without fail and without error, completed required paperwork concerning the company's flight operations, the aircraft's flight hours, and your own flight and training activities. Any errors you make will be discovered, the later, the worse for you, and they will not be looked at lightly, since you will cause your coworkers to do extra work.

--There is no urgency in civilian flying worth anyone's life. If you take the attitude that there is, you will soon find yourself in all kinds of trouble and eventually fired. The "word" will be put out on you. Management and in some cases your co-workers will try to give you the impression that a flight is worth some risk of life, however this is a total falsehood. Repeat after me: "Flying on the outside is completely different from the military."

--Multi-Tasking: You are expected to be able to single-handedly accomplish all flying aspects of a job from start to finish, including communications, navigation, and aircraft handling...the latter of which may vary in one hour from setting the aircraft into a hover hole to landing at a class B airport.

--Weather flying skills: You must do your own risk assessment, nobody is going to do it for you, and it must be nearly automatic and in near real time. This can only be done by staying up on the weather, being familiary with the characteristics of your operating area, and constantly seeking information from whatever source you can think of. If you fly a VFR ship and are so stupid as to press on in deteriorating weather conditions without making a precautionary landing and eventually punch in, you must be able to control the aircraft by reference to flight instruments sufficient to keep it right side up until you can regain VMC, or get enought help to make an approach somewhere. You may think this is simple but try doing it unplanned, at night, with no copilot, no autopilot/SAS, and with precip and turbulence thrown in. It is not nearly as simple as it sounds and in fact is well-nigh impossible, therefore the emphasis should be on not accepting a flight unless you are sure of the weather, AND terminating it (i.e., precautionary landing) when you find deteriorating conditions that you can't get out of...by turning around, for example.

Lastly there is the matter of attitude. I am not talking just about ego here, although that is a large part of it. Your Country and even some of its citizens are grateful for your service. However, when you take off the uniform, you take off your former identity, and it means nothing our here anyway. The only job at hand is the job at hand. No matter who you were, where you've been, or where you think you're going, you're "right here, right now." This is a good thing to keep in mind on a daily and even an hourly basis. The main thing I am referring to is the attempt by many people I have seen to try to live in the past. Never, never use the phrase, "In the , we used to do it such-and-such a way." You are not there any more, nobody cares, and you have to do it the civilian way, period. If you don't or can't, nobody will be amused, they will just write you off as another military putz who can't adjust and get rid of you.

I have written this long post in an attempt to set out and correct, before they occur, many common errors I have made and which I have seen other military pilots, especially retireees, make when they transition to civilian flying. I have done this because I really would like to help ex-military people who don't know these things, and who would otherwise have to learn them...as I did...the hard way.

When you get out here you are going to find yourselves flying with people who, you will think, have much less "experience" than you, but who are able to out-perform you operationally, in terms of speed, accuracy, and ease. You might find yourself asking what they know that you don't, and some of these very points are what I have tried to outline.

The only way to compete in this game is to learn the rules and play by them. If you try to do otherwise you will not last. You probably won't even get the chance to start.

You might be doing yourselves a favor to print this out and post it on a bulletin board somewhere. Of course, there's an equal chance you might think what I've written is complete bullsh*t. This is for you to decide.

It is not such a bad life, this civilian flying...just different. What you don't know may cost your your job and your life. It would be a shame to complete a tour of service and be killed while scud-running to an oil rig or with a patient on board.


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