Helicopters are incredible machines, able to accomplish otherwise impossible tasks in the most remote parts of the world. There is also the glamour associated with flying a sleek vip Bell 430 or rescuing a stranded hiker with an AStar. The desire to become a helicopter pilot is not unusual, but is it the right career for you? If so, how does one go about selecting a flying school?
To find out more about a career in flying helicopters, the anj team visited Lylle Watts, a seasoned flight instructor at Heli-College Canada at Langley Airport, bc. Watts has four and a half decades of helicopter flying experience, while his fellow full-time instructor Geoff Stevens has about four decades of flying experience. Stevens happens to be the most experienced Robinson R22 pilot in the world.
According to Watts, the first step is to consider whether flying helicopters really is the right career choice for you. Because of their extreme versatility, helicopters are often used in areas that are otherwise impossible to reach. Therefore, a helicopter pilot needs to be willing to relocate to where the work is and, if necessary, sacrifice comfort or luxury. Operators look for pilots who are dedicated to getting the job done, problem solvers with a good attitude and perseverance. New pilots often enter the job market with incorrect expectations, virtually assuming that job offers would be raining upon them. The reality is that it requires effort and resourcefulness. Similarly, in advancing one’s career, it is important to remember that a pilot’s reputation goes with him or her. Again, when employing helicopter pilots, companies look for someone who ‘gets the job done’, so a reputation of being reliable is vital. In terms of training, self-discipline and study skills are certainly advantageous.
Still interested? The next step is to choose a flying school intelligently, rather than emotionally. “Do the research, don’t get caught up in the hype and glitz, and make sure the school is interested in you,” said Watts.
Make sure you understand what the total cost of the training is likely to be. When contacting a flying school, ask for a breakdown of the costs. What is the aircraft cost? Cheaper is not always better, as a more expensive helicopter could indicate a better and safer training experience, but make sure that is indeed the case. Is the instructor’s fee included in the aircraft cost? Is fuel and insurance included? Will you be paying for pre-flight briefings as part of the flight time? How much will ground school cost, and will it be taught by flight instructors? What about books, equipment, licence and flight test fees, safety equipment and accommodation? It is also necessary to understand the school’s payment schedule. It is best not to pay one large deposit to cover the whole course. Instead, pay as you learn and fly. Also, find out what the school’s refund policy is, should you decide to leave the course early. Make sure you have this information in writing.
Next, find out how many aircraft the school has on line. It is ideal to have at least one backup aircraft to keep interruptions in your training to a minimum. In the words of Watts, “Even if you are their only student, two aircraft 'on line' (available at a moment's notice) are better than one. Helicopters have a habit of occasionally going 'unserviceable' (requiring maintenance) and this may delay your training.” Also, what helicopter types does the school have available? Does it have turbine-powered helicopters available locally? Does it have an ifr (Instrument Flight Rules) helicopter and its own simulator?
“It has been proven that your performance will likely be best, if you stay mainly with one instructor for most of your course,” said Watts. However, “as with the aircraft, it is desirable to have a backup instructor as well, to minimize delays in your training programme. It may also be helpful to have some experience with an alternate instructor to allow comparison of flying techniques.” Therefore, find out how many instructors the school has on staff, and which class instructor ratings they hold.
Is the school open year-round, seven days a week? Does it have an in-house ground school programme, with training aids such as computer-assisted learning programs or a reference library? Find out how the students do in their written exams, what the passing grade is and if anyone has recently failed the exam.
Make sure you understand how long it will take to complete the course. “Assuming full time attendance, less than three months is probably too short. You need sufficient time to absorb and retain all the information you will with which you will be presented. If you try to cram it in too quickly, you will forget too much,”, said Watts. “More than seven months is probably too long. You must have as much continuity as possible to get the maximum benefit from your flight time. If there are large gaps in your flying schedule, you will waste too much time trying to catch up to where you were previously. Somewhere in between is ideal.” Remember to take poor weather, possible aircraft or instructor unavailability and financial delays into account. Also ask if the flying school has a job placement programme, bearing in mind that no company can guarantee you a job before you commence training.
Lastly, try to meet your instructor and arrange an introductory or familiarization flight. How interested is the instructor in you and your training needs? Would you be able to get along with him or her?
Deciding if and where you should begin your career as a helicopter pilot should not be taken lightly. To someone with enough dedication and love of flying, it could result in one of the best careers in the world.
There is a good chance that right now, while you are reading this article, a rhino is being slaughtered, most probably in a brutal and excruciating manner, so that its horn can be severed and smuggled out of Africa. Often, the horn is severed while the rhino is still alive.
At the moment, there are 18 600 white rhinos and 5 500 black rhinos in Africa. This might not sound too bad, considering Asia’s three rhino species number 3 500, 100 and about 60 respectively. However, bear in mind that in the late 1960s, the black rhino population alone was about 70 000. In South Africa, which is home to about 80 percent of the world’s rhinos, three to five rhinos are killed by poachers every day. Over the past five years, about 5 500 rhinos have been killed in South Africa. Widespread corruption and a lack of coordination within crimefighting units exacerbate the problem. Earlier this year, South Africa’s Minister of Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa celebrated the fact that 447 poachers had been arrested in or around the Kruger National Park, one of the biggest game reserves on the continent, during last year. However, she had to add that “there has been arrests made for poaching-related offences from amongst our own personnel. Regrettably, during 2017, 21 officials were arrested in this regard.”
Rhino horns are smuggled to Asia, where it is erroneously believed that they have medicinal value. Poachers and smugglers are extremely well-connected with international syndicates. There is even evidence that the money raised from rhino poaching is funding terrorist groups. Bear in mind that the illegal trafficking of wildlife is the fourth largest illegal industry in the world, after drug smuggling, human trafficking and counterfeiting. In recent years, poachers have become increasingly militant and ruthless in their operations. They are well-funded and often well-armed. It is not unusual for poachers to attack rangers and attempt shooting down conservation helicopters. At any given time, there are more than a dozen syndicates active in the Kruger National Park alone.
Nico Jacobs has served as a volunteer pilot in support of rhino conservation for more than fifteen years. In 2015, he met Fred Hees of Battle Born Munitions, based in Nevada, in the usa. Frustrated by the lack of progress made in the fight against rhino poaching, Hees wanted to use technology to empower those who combat poachers. To do so, he joined forces with Jacobs. The result of this collaboration is Rhino 911.
A major goal of the Rhino 911 initiative was to 'take back the night' from poachers, with the use of infrared cameras and night vision equipment. In support of the initiative, bbm brought a Bell 407GT to South Africa. The camouflaged helicopter had quiet rotor blades and was equipped with advanced sensors, including an L3 Wescam thermal imaging system. This allowed operators to locate and track animals or poachers from several kilometres away, long before the helicopter itself could be detected.
Rhino 911 was officially launched in 2016, at the biennial Africa Aerospace and Defence exhibition, held near Pretoria. The Bell 407GT was on display during the event. For the Rhino 911 team, it was quite an eventful exhibition. On one of the trade days, Rhino 911 received a call regarding a wounded rhino at a game reserve. The team responded and, using the Bell 407GT, the rhino was quickly located and tranquilized. The helicopter landed and dropped off a veterinarian to conduct the necessary surgery, saving the rhino's life. Later during the exhibition, thieves broke into Rhino 911's show stand, stealing laptops, hard drives and anything that could contain information on its operations. Thankfully, police tracked down and apprehended the criminals. The incident was a clear illustration of how real the rhino war is and showed that poachers would go to great lengths to fight those who oppose their efforts. It is no secret that the volunteers who aim to protect and help rhinos are risking their lives to do so.
Sadly, due to its military origin, the Bell 407GT could only be used in South Africa under a temporary permit. After serving in game reserves, it was returned to the USA, where it was used to raise funds for anti-poaching operations in South Africa. Hees is working on returning the helicopter, which has proven to be vitally useful, especially at night, to South Africa.
Meanwhile, Rhino 911 continues to work with South African government authorities and collaborates with existing rhino and anti-poaching groups, private game reserves and other role-players in the industry, in an attempt to deal with the poaching problem in a holistic manner.
Above: A rhino calf seeks comfort from her mother, who has been killed by poachers. On the right, she can be seen playing at a rhino orphanage.
Nico Jacobs continues to fly about 40 hours per month, without any remuneration, in support of Rhino 911 missions. About 90 percent of his flying is done with a Robinson R44. For more specialized missions, such as airlifting orphaned or injured rhino calves, he uses an AS350. Last year, Rhino 911 helped treat 86 rhinos, of which four were orphans that were successfully airlifted and reared. Tragically, during flight operations last year, Jacobs reached about 120 rhinos that were already dead, or so badly mutilated by poachers, that they could not be saved.
When Jacobs is unable to reach a wounded rhino, he relies on help from friend and fellow conservation pilot, Tokkie Botes of Flying for Freedom, who flies about 400 hours per year with his Bell 206 in support of rhino conservation.
How can we help? Additional helicopters and volunteer pilots would obviously be useful, but the easiest and most effective way to help is to assist in exposing the problem. In the words of Fred Hees, “It is not just about money, but about understanding and educating. People need to see what
is going on.”
If, however, one were to help financially, it is comforting to know that donations are exclusively used to keep the helicopters airborne and to directly help the rhinos. No donations are used for pilot fees or administration, as examples. In return for helping, the donor receives a tax certificate, an audited account, as well as a letter from the relevant game reserve, indicating how the money was used.
For further information, please visit www.rhino911.com
www.fffsa.org.za and www.davidshepherd.org
Click here for additional photographs and video footage.
Be warned that many of the images are extremely graphic and disturbing.