Path to Pilot
Posted on March 4, 2016
Path to Pilot….Everyone’s Journey is different
Have you ever woken up and realized– I hate my job, the person I am, and especially the location I live? Every mimicked day of misery begins with the most irritating noise an alarm can make, realizing it’s time to wake-up… well almost. Following this thought by slamming my hand on the magical snooze button to give me five more precious minutes of freedom from reality. Then thinking an eloquent “F#%k.” –time to go to work– only to see the snarling look of the gossipy she-devil “office manager” (in reality, just a really bad secretary).
I saw my life clearly for the first time after a near fatal accident. When I woke up (fortunate or unfortunate I wasn’t sure) I was forced to look at things in their full reality. If I would have died that day a few questions would still have gone with me. I wondered, have I done the things I have wanted to do since childhood dreams became cognitive and memorable? If there is one thing I could do regardless of money, what would it be? Where and what would I like to see?”
I realized most of these questions had not been answered, except one … Since I was 6 years old, I had a dream of flight, specifically a dream involving one of those machines that beats the air into submission with 10,367 independent parts working together to achieve human flight. I wanted to be a helicopter pilot. Not an airplane or bus pilot but a real life helicopter pilot! In fact, it is what I attended a college for. I have held all of my ratings with value from this nameless institution but the college degree, in my opinion, is simply a little too stiff to use as toilet paper.
Economic Slap in the Face
Graduating in 2010 with over Six-figures in debt, concurrent with the infamous collapse of Silver State Helicopters and the shutdown of the Gulf after the BP oil spill, was the events that set the stage for the opening act of my flight career. After these two particular incidents, even a seasoned pilot was hard pressed to find a job in the U.S. helicopter industry. There was a slim chance indeed of an overconfident low-time pilot with a penchant for burning bridges at his flight college through an arrogant process of growing up.
Feeling forced into the American dream of a tie, a mountain of debt, and my shiny piece of paper, I obtained a job managing a 3rd-time business start-up. This company had failed before, and had been flogged back to life with multiple cash injections from dreamy investors. Running a business is a dubious thing compared to owning a business. Running one means all of the negatives are experienced and none of the positives of ownership. This lead to the lifeless slave lifestyle of a good salary and the alarm clock hatred as described.
Quitting my job and waking up in the emergency room freed me, on quite a few deeper levels, from concerns of the entrapment of western life. So I threw all of my crap into storage, sold my beloved couch, and drove to an oil field of greed and greasy work to reset. After experiencing hunger and homelessness for the first time in my white collar life, a low point was realized. Driving from oil rig to oil rig asking for work I was determined to get onto one. I figured I could obtain a 2-week-on and 2-week-off rotational work schedule to pursue my Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) rating and save capital. I got on, finally, after a month of sleeping in a Chevy Malibu! I was placed with a crew on an absolute piece of shit rig, the black sheep of the fleet, Rig 7. The schedule was 28 days on and 14 days off with a daily beating of 12 hours a day, every day.
After 7 months of saving for the hope of flight instructing free from financial concerns, I attended Lyn Burk’s (Rotorcraft Pro) Heli-Success Conference. A great conference for aspiring new pilots and career-transitioning experienced pilots. A discussion for travel, some pictures, and articles of the industry surfaced in my thoughts with a brief discussion from Lyn.
About a month later on the oil rig It was -17 degrees F (-8’C). Living for nothing more clear than fighting frostbite and acting as a Roughneck, I decided enough was enough. I went to my driller, a godly man and southern gentlemen, and politely said “I am done.” I thanked the men of Stoneham Rig 7 and appreciated the work ethic they had helped instill in me.
The Collective Project
The idea of the world helicopter photo journal book was to capture the “Happiest People on Earth” at work: helicopter pilots. I had decided to capture and explore this anomaly of the people that actually make it in the industry. After working such harsh conditions in which money was the only saving grace, the numbness of life with the Roughneck occupation was brutal and the drudgery of daily slave driving was unbearable. I suppose a personal quest to find “what happiness is to me” then ensued. Without one thought I bought a one-way ticket to Dubai, a DSLR camera, and departed with an old backpack from my youth as a Boy Scout (Eagle Scout).
This project is by far the best thing I have ever done. To meet such incredible people, experience wonderful culture, hear unique foreign stories, and of course see helicopters and the unique applications in which they are used all around the world, is truly rewarding for me, and hopefully my readers.
So, when this project is done, my camera will end up at a donation box somewhere. I am not a photographer, I am a pilot. If I did not see the world now, then when? ‘Never’ is the simple answer. For now, the more common place quest to build flight hours remains for me an ambiguous and uncharted route. I am searching the earth to finish the Collective project, answering one of my childhood questions. I am simply very grateful to wake up with a smile most days (everyday would be a lie). As a personal commitment to myself, the most important kind, I WILL finish this project… And eventually… I will be a helicopter pilot someday that receives compensation for a livelihood…