In this industry, I always talk to those people that I envision had airplane models hanging from their ceiling and Top Gun posters up on their walls.  They are the ones that always knew that they wanted to be a pilot.  It was their dream from since they were in the womb.  That is not me.  I was that kid that wanted to be a veterinarian, but as I grew older I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to be because becoming a vet was way too much work.  I was a slacker in high school and afterwards, I had no idea what to do in life.  I wanted to get paid money to have fun.  The problem is all the jobs that make money also make you sit at a desk and type on a computer all day long.  Shortly after high-school, I went on a religious mission to the Philippines to the Island of Leyte.  In the everyday memory of most people, they have no idea where the Philippines is located let alone the small island of Leyte.  In the annals of time though Leyte plays a very significant role as the location of the largest naval battle in known history.  The Pacific fleet defeated the Japanese navy and allowed General Douglas MacArthur to proudly walk ashore on Leyte.

My time in the Philippines sparked my interest in the military as I found out that my Grandfather entered the war in Ormoc, Leyte shortly after the naval battle.  Upon returning home to the U.S. I promptly enlisted in the Army reserves as a truck driver because the training was the shortest and I would be finished in time for the next semester of college.  To make a long story short, I finished my basic and advanced training as a private in the Army a full two weeks prior to September 11, 2001.  On February 1, 2003, I was called to active duty to deploy to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.  February 1, 2003, is a significant day in aviation history and one that I will always remember not only because of my military activation but because it was also the day that the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated on reentry.  A short time later I found myself in the oppressive heat of Iraq driving trucks and realizing that life decisions had consequences.  I did not pick a fun job.  It paid good but it was not fun.  While spending what seemed like endless days on that initial 18-month deployment I constantly looked over the sand berm at the flight line and watched the helicopters take off and land.  Oddly enough it wasn’t the job that I was thinking of it was that those aircraft must have air conditioning in them.

Waiting to get fuel at a refinery in Basra, Iraq

Upon my return home from my adventures in Iraq I decided a career change to Army aviation was in my future but the Army had different plans.  The recent uptick in improvised explosive devices had truck drivers scurrying like cockroaches for the exits.  The Army stop lost my position and I was not allowed to change jobs.  Six months after returning to the United States I was recently married and finishing my associates degree at the local community college.  Life was good and I had promised my wife that in three years time I would be done with the Army and wouldn’t look back.  I was driving to work one day when I heard an advertisement on the radio to come to the local municipal airport and learn to fly helicopters.  I spoke to my wife and a few weeks later I was enrolled and learning in the illustrious R-22 piston-powered helicopter.  While working full time and learning to fly it took me the better part of two years to complete my commercial and CFI ratings but I was excited to finish and start my career.  My initial enlistment would be complete in one year time and I would be free of all constraints put on me by Uncle Sam.  A full one week went by as I prepared my resumes and set out my feelers for a new job.

my first solo flight in an R-22

It was Super Bowl Sunday 2008 and I was at a party when a friend of mine called wondering if I knew anything about why there were chains on the doors to our flight school.  Soon it came out that the company had gone bankrupt and the owner had skipped town leaving many students with school loans and no ratings to show for them.  The economy was at the beginning of collapse and all the available CFI jobs dried up or were filled by more qualified candidates, many of which had come from the school I had just finished with.  I was left there holding my newly minted pilot’s license with no way of getting a job.  I turned to my beautiful wife and guaranteed her that we were a shoe-in for active duty Army helicopter flight school.  I was right and almost one year and one eye surgery later I was on my way to the jewel of the south, Ft. Rucker, AL.

As I had just finished civilian flight school, the Army’s flight school wasn’t too difficult but it was another 18 months of school work.  After the initial and instrument stages, I selected the UH-60L Blackhawk as my primary aircraft.  It’s funny how life hands ties in significant dates with other aspects of your world.  While learning to fly under night vision goggles I had an amazing instructor, Mr. McCool.  One day we were getting gas at some little airport in the panhandle of Florida and there was a TV special on about the Space Shuttle Columbia.  Mr. McCool told us to go home and google the crew of that shuttle.  That night the realization hit that my instructors’ brother, William McCool was the pilot of the shuttle.  After completing the night phase of the curriculum I received orders to report to Ft. Bragg, N.C. as they would soon be deploying to Afghanistan.  With those orders came an additional set of orders to start the UH-60M qualification course as they would be delivered to the 82nd Airborne Division shortly before my arrival.

Primary flight training at Ft. Rucker in the TH-67 (Bell 206)

I was assigned to C Company (DUSTOFF), 82 Combat Aviation Brigade and nine months later we deployed being the first unit to field the Army’s new HH-60M in the high mountainous terrain of Afghanistan.  We would be assigned throughout the northeastern part of the country providing medevac support for all coalition forces and some civilians.  We soon realized that the Army had developed an amazing platform for medical evacuations as long as those flights were at much lower altitudes than we were operating.  It became clear that we would need to tear out most of the newly designed cabin interior to reduce weight by a few thousand pounds and that is what we did. Millions of dollars of new equipment became a junk pile in the corner of our hangar.  After 12 of the most memorable months of my life as a DUSTOFF pilot, I returned to the U.S. knowing that I had picked the job I had been looking for.  HEMS work is like a drug to me.  Sitting around talking to friends or playing video games one minute and the next you are going full speed ahead trying to save someone’s life is something that is hard to describe to someone that has not experienced it.

Brand new HH-60M, Bagram, Iraq

Wounded soldiers  arriving at the Craig Joint Theater Hospital, Bagram, Iraq

A year and a half after returning home from Afghanistan came a new set of orders to report to the medevac company in South Korea.  I packed up my family that now included three kids and we prepared for our adventures on the other side of the Pacific.

Flying in Korea was absolutely amazing.  Flying medevac in Korea was a dream.  While in this assignment I became an instructor pilot for the Army teaching new pilots coming from Ft. Rucker the ins and outs of flying in the mountains and cities that surrounded us.  Learning to fly the southern edge of the demilitarized zone with North Korea by heart and teaching others how to not stray too far north was challenging and enjoyable and being able to look north on an almost daily basis into a country that few people will ever see was rewarding.  My favorite medevac story from Korea comes from a call we received to pick up a patient at Osan Air Base.  The patient had a lacerated spleen and was bleeding internally.  He needed to be transferred to Seoul for surgery.  We picked him up and he was doing fine.  He must have been on some pretty good meds because he was more interested in taking selfies to document his first helicopter ride then worrying about his injury.  As we departed Osan I asked the medic what the method of injury was and he proudly reminded me that Osan was having their annual dodgeball tournament that day.  This poor soul had been on the receiving end of possibly the worst zinger that was thrown during the tournament.  All I could think the whole flight was, “if you can dodge a wrench.” 

Both pictures are different views of Pagoda Pinnacle, Gyenonggi-do, S. Korea

Flying in Korea was amazing however I spent a lot of time away from home and I started wondering if continuing in the Army was still the right job for me.  It’s amazing how priorities change with kids.  With this realization, I started my job search in the civilian world to see what opportunities would be there for me. In 2016 I moved once again to Ft. Campbell, KY only this time the Army in its infinite wisdom took me away from my beloved medevac job and told me I needed to broaden my career into the Air Assault world.  My education into this world would be with none other than the 101st Airborne Division.  My wife and I decided to give the 101st a year of our time to decide whether we would stay in the Army or go our separate ways. During that time I attended an expo in Las Vegas to search for a civilian job and was very disappointed in the salaries that helicopter companies were paying out.  I could not see being able to move from my current pay in the military with all its benefits to the low wages that civilian professional helicopter pilots are receiving.  I left the expo very disappointed.

Hanging out on the roof of Vanderbilt Hospital, Nashville, TN

This is my first and only time seeing Lady Liberty.

Shortly after returning home from Vegas an opportunity arose due to the looming airline pilot shortage.  It seems that the airlines were getting desperate enough to start recruiting amongst us lowly Army helo pilots.  Their Airforce pool was drying up.  Flying fixed-wing aircraft was always something that I wanted to try however I was still paying off debts from my civilian helicopter flight school so there was no way I was going pay for another flight school.  About this same time the Army deemed me fit to promote me to the rank of Chief Warrant Officer 3 but in February 2017 I accepted a job at Envoy Airlines with an agreement that they would pay for my fixed wing training in return for a few years of my life.  I turned down my promotion and in May of that same year, I gave Ft Campbell the peace sign as I watched it through my rear view mirror.

After a few weeks at home, I kissed my family goodbye and drove from Salt Lake City to Texas to begin my fixed wing experience.  My first flight in a Cessna 172 was on July 28, 2017.  What an amazing and humbling experience.  After flying Blackhawks for almost the ten years all over the world and being very comfortable in all aspects of flight it was crazy how a simple traffic pattern was so overwhelming that even making a simple downwind radio call to tower was a task.  The learning progressed and after maintenance, weather, and DPE delays I completed 290 hours of flying with my private, instrument, and commercial multi-engine ratings on March 16, 2018.  Flying Cessnas in Texas was fun and challenging.  There were many amazing flights all over the state to include some scary situations too like the time I got caught in a microburst while on an IFR flight out by Amarillo.  The downdrafts took me from 7000 MSL to 3000 MSL in severe turbulence over the course of about 20 minutes.  No ground lights at night over the desert meant we had no idea if and when we were going to hit the ground.  When center asks you what they can do for you and all you can reply with is nothing you know it is a bad day.  As we passed through 4500 they informed us that we were below our MSA but they didn’t have any other info on terrain for us.  After exiting the microburst and climbing back to altitude we limped home and lived to fly another day. In our best estimate looking at the sectional we leveled off somewhere around 1000 AGL It was hands down the most significant emotional event of my flying career.

Flying over Austin International dreaming of future jobs.

First day of working on my CMEL

In May I went through the ATP course and a few weeks later almost one year from leaving active duty I started my job at Envoy Airlines.  I continue to fly Blackhawks for the Utah National Guard and at the time of writing this, I just passed my systems and procedural validation for the Embraer 175 at Envoy.  If everything goes well I’ll be flying out of Chicago by the end of August.

It has been an absolutely crazy ride and if you had asked me 20 years ago where I would be I would have never thought that my life would take me to aviation.  If you had asked me 10 years ago where I would be I would have never dreamed I would be an airline pilot.  It is funny where the world takes us and sometimes you just have to ride the wave the world gives you.  I’m just lucky and glad that it has put me in the place that I am now.  I can’t wait to see what the next 20 years hold.

A smaller version of my new ride. I can’t wait.

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