Some helicopter pilots have found callings that not only support important missions, but also deliver a high level of personal fulfillment. AVIATOR takes a look at a few heli jobs that provide a unique and challenging application of flying skills.
WANT TO work in law enforcement without becoming a police officer? Then pursuing a pilot’s role with the NSW Police Aviation Branch could just be the gig for you. Of the nine pilots currently employed by the NSW Police, only one is a sworn officer. The rest are known as special constables and while they carry the same appointments as a Police officer, they’re not required to don the blue uniform and work on the streets.
To Polair pilots, the satisfaction of actually making a difference in peoples’ lives is the ultimate thrill. “Whether it’s the missing toddler that we find, or the family who were about to have their house burgled if not for the helicopter overhead on patrol, it is nice to know I am contributing to the community in a positive way through my skill set,” explains Special Constable Matt Stanton.
“No two jobs are ever the same, and being in such a dynamic workplace requires pilots to be flexible and prepared for the unexpected. One minute you may be doing a vehicle pursuit, following desperate criminals trying to escape police, before being called to a rescue where someone’s life literally rests with your experience and capabilities as a pilot.”
NSW Police pilots need to have a fairly versatile background in flying and the willingness to work in a multi-crew environment. Crew members contribute immensely to the effective operation of the helicopter and are often the difference between success and failure. For those who would like to follow this path, it takes plenty of blood, sweat and tears. Special Constable Stanton first called the Police Aviation branch as a keen 16-year-old and from the moment he hung up the phone, his schooling, training and career progression were focussed on the goal of one day flying for Polair. Now that he has achieved his dream, life couldn’t be better.
FLYING FOR CareFlight is considered to be one of the blue chip jobs in aviation. Dedicated to providing the highest standard of rapid response critical care to the ill and injured, CareFlight’s pilots are among the most respected in the industry.
CareFlight has been operating aeromedical rescue helicopters since the organisation began in 1986. The helicopter aeromedical missions include treating and transporting patients from accident scenes, transferring patients between medical facilities and search and rescue operations.
The CareFlight model of care has a specialist doctor, nurse or paramedic, pilot and aircrewman working together as a fully integrated aeromedical team. This team effectively takes the hospital to the patient – bringing the best care as quickly as possible.
CareFlight helicopters are equipped to transport the most seriously ill and injured patients. Fitted with medical stretchers and mobile monitoring systems, they carry specialised medical equipment, oxygen systems, drugs and blood products. They also carry rescue equipment.
One CareFlight pilot told Aviator that because of the intense competition for jobs and the high expectations placed on pilots, those with serious ambitions to work for the organisation need to be prepared to bide their time and to build experience in a variety of flying jobs. “Pilots need to show professionalism, a cool head under pressure, and the capability to work as part of a team,” he said. “Virtually every CareFlight mission changes on the run and it’s our job to find solutions in order to get the job done. Having a variety of work where no two days are ever the same and being able to make a difference in someone’s life is incredibly satisfying. That’s what makes this gig the best job in the world.”
AIR AMBULANCE SERVICE OF NSW
NSW AMBULANCE’S Greater Sydney Area Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (GSA HEMS) is the largest rescue service within the broader NSW aeromedical rescue system. The organisation carries out more than 3,000 missions every year, treating some of the state’s sickest patients. With three helicopter bases located in Sydney, Wollongong and Orange, the service is ready 24/7 to respond to calls following out-of-hospital trauma, as well as inter-hospital critical care rescues.
The service operates five helicopters, each with the ability to perform a wide variety of missions, including crew winch operations (doctor and paramedic), search and rescue, and complex inter-hospital ICU transfers.
The helicopter medical teams consist of an experienced critical care physician, intensive care paramedic (ICP) – including Special Casualty Access Team (SCAT) paramedics – pilot and HEMS crewman. This skill-set gives the air ambulance service the ability to manage any mission it responds to – from a remote bushland winch extraction to sophisticated critical care ICU transfers.
John Broom has been a NSW air ambulance pilot for 25 years but he’s still wary of the challenges associated with the various disciplines of the job. “Keeping on top of all the requirements that go with each discipline requires continual and constant study,” John explains. “We need to make decisions for each mission very quickly and you can only do this once you have a thorough knowledge of the above and a few missions under your belt.”
John’s advice to pilots wanting to get into aeromedical flying is to try and gain as much variety in helicopter operations before applying. “For the most part aeromedical missions are straight forward,” he says. “However, there are a percentage of missions where things can go bad very quickly if you don’t pick up on the warning signs early enough. This in my opinion is where experience counts.”
Aeromedical operations can certainly be very rewarding; there are thousands of people out there today who are alive and well because the Air Ambulance Service of NSW have turned up in their hour of need.
INSTRUCTING AND CHARTER
HELI SCENIC FLIGHTS AND TRAINING
INSTRUCTING AND charter operations are considered to be stepping stones for helicopter pilots. But that doesn’t mean that those who earn a living from these critical sectors of the industry are any less professional than their more celebrated counterparts who work in areas that are supposedly more “glamourous” and important.
According to Paul Grimes, pilot and operations manager at Bankstown Airport’s Heli Scenic Flights and Training, pilots in this sector of the industry need to enjoy working with people and have the ability to make clients feel at ease. “A charter pilot at Heli Scenic Flights and Training needs to be professional from the first flight, personable and friendly and one who takes pride in giving a great experience to the passengers,” he says.
“Charter pilots need to be very adaptable and have great people skills. My background in hospitality and dealing with people makes my job interesting whenever I am doing charter work. Being able to exceed their expectations and making them feel at ease at all times is a valuable skill.”
Paul adds that while most new commercial pilots will start with some charter work – normally scenic flights and the odd ferry flight – the major hurdle is finding work. “Most charter pilots are not full time and are always eager to get as much flying as possible to add to their log books,” Pauls explains. “Finding a charter operator to give you a flying job on low hours is the biggest challenge.”
For Paul, charter work is exciting and challenging because of the uncertainty of not knowing what each day will bring. “Sometimes it’s a proposal as we fly over the Harbour Bridge then off to a winery for lunch, or it could be some business people wanting to see a few clients in a day,” he says. “If the client returns happy, then I feel it’s a job well done.”
As far as instructing is concerned, Paul says that an instructor needs to be a people person and have lots of patience. “Being able to adapt to each person’s learning process is a skill you must work on because everyone learns differently and at a different pace,” he says. “Being able to challenge the student and make it fun is also very important.”
Keeping up with CASA changes and knowing your theory inside out is also mandatory requirement for the simple reason that a student will always ask a question the instructor will struggle to answer. “There is just so much you need to know as an instructor that you must be willing to be reading and researching all the time.”
According to Paul, all Heli Scenic pilots, whether they’re instructors or charter pilots, should always have pride in their skill levels and be prepared to go the extra mile to ensure their passengers are happy. “Don’t forget the customers are paying your wages and a lot of money to hire the helicopter, so make their time with you as positive an experience as possible. Always be friendly and be willing to answer questions, this may be their first flight or the only one they may ever go on in a helicopter, so make it the best ever, every time. Make sure your presentation is always up to the expectation of your student and passenger, a clean uniform is always a must. This industry is small, so everyone notices everything you do, from uniform to radio work and your flying skills. These qualities are always on display so practice them every time you fly because you never know where your next job will come from.”
FORESTRY AND WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT
NSW NATIONAL PARKS AND WILDLIFE SERVICE
ACCORDING TO bush pilot Allan McKay, working for the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service is the best job he has ever had. Allan loves the wide range of activities the service offers: with agriculture, firefighting, winch training, lifting operations, and general survey work offering plenty to the self-confessed “bushy”. He enjoys the variety and the fact that no two weeks are the same, plus he gets a kick out of being part of an organisation that has a meaningful goal of looking after the environment and leaving it in good nick for future generations.
When asked what advice he would offer young pilots looking at getting into this type of flying, he replies: “Get out to the bush, have a go and put in the hard work.”
AERIAL FIRE-FIGHTING is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. Pilots often face perilous conditions battling intense heat, fierce winds, and thick smoke and rugged terrain. But according to those who earn a crust from this kind of work, they wouldn’t have it any other way. “Fire fighting is a very dangerous occupation but it’s also very rewarding,” one pilot told Aviator. “I’ve flown aeromedical and law enforcement but no other type of flying has provided the same levels of appreciation as those I’ve received from people affected by bushfires.”
Apart from the obvious dangers associated with the job, fire-fighters need to be committed and willing to spend long hours away from home. They also need to be self-motivated and capable of making quick decisions on the fly. “Decision making under duress is a prerequisite to the job,” the pilot said. “A calm head equals a greater likelihood of saving lives and property. And at the end of the day, that’s our job, that’s what we do.”