Monday, March 5, 2012

fly away

I am teaching a new crop of would-be helicopter managers. If you don't know what this is, the job sounds important, and it can be. We sit in the front seat of the helicopter next to the pilot. We talk on the radio to Dispatch, other aircraft, and people on the ground. We use the GPS to mark waypoints and navigate to fires. Once there, we size up the situation and order resources. We keep our crews safe.

Some of these students weren't even born when I started flying in helicopters. We show them interminable powerpoints. We tell them about policy. Flight manuals. How to complete payment documents. They look less than thrilled. Several of them wear the slightly stunned, trapped look of relocated grizzly bears surveying their new territory.

Here's what I want to say, after 15 years of managing helicopters: It's not that hard. You'll figure it out. If you really need some advice, here it is:

  • Don't be a jerk.
  • Learn some stuff. Like weight and balance, and aerodynamics. Ask the mechanic what he's working on. And when you do learn some stuff, don't be a know-it-all (see above, "don't be a jerk"). Teach other people.
  • Know that policy exists for a reason, but so does common sense.
  • Let your crewmembers figure some things out on their own. They'll respect you, and themselves, more.
  • Be a little scared sometimes, not enough to paralyze you but enough to keep you on your toes.
  • If you ever get bored flying, get out of the front seat. Let someone else sit there. It's time to do something else.
  • Check the weather. Check it a lot.
  • Make sure the pilot has food. Fed pilots are happy pilots. And don't forget the fuel truck driver. A lot of people do. You need him, too.
  • Let your crewmembers fight the fires, unless there's enough to go around. They need the experience. You had a lot of opportunities. Give them some.
  • Before you go out to do a mission, remember that the helicopter might be worth two million dollars, but the people on board are priceless.
Now get out there. Make a few mistakes, not enough to hurt anything but enough to learn from. Ask questions, a lot of them. Fifteen years will go by in what seems like a minute. I hope you'll still love it then. I know I do.

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