Monday, September 13, 2010

Southland Helicopters Part 2

My schedule for flight training was full everyday.  I could do two to three hours of flight instruction before lunch and about the same amount of flights in the afternoons.  The time to use VA educational benefits for many veterans was about to run out.  For some, the time had been extended. For others the VA had such poor records, that many people were taking advantage of this error on the governments part, and using the benefits again.  We had people from all walks of life coming in to apply for training in helicopters.  Most of the people had some aviation background and were active as pilots in some other line of work, many did not.  We had lawyers, chefs,doctors,contractors and every kind of trade background you could think of.  This sometimes made the training more difficult to get  people up to speed.  Even the highly experienced airline captains that came to us would often have problems learning to fly helicopters.  The airline crews were so regimented and set in their ways of doing things.  An airline captain is so use to having a crew consisting of a copilot and in some cases a flight engineer.  The aircraft  would have several radios, navigation instruments and many other aids.  In the small helicopters used for training, it would have a single radio and a wet magnetic compass.  The helicopters we used at that time in the late 70's, utilized the same airspace and followed the same rules a great deal of the time.. The helicopter pilot would be required to do everything on his own..  When making radio contact with the control towers, it was customary to make your initial transmission using the type of aircraft and aircraft N number.  I had one captain that could not break the habit of referring to us as United Flight so and so.  The tower folks would get a laugh out of this, and we would correct the mistake on our part.  Flight instructing can be very stressful, I did a lot of it in my time, but I also enjoyed the pleasure of sharing my knowledge with a new helicopter pilot.  Many people we trained would never use this rating, but they accomplished a skill they didn't have before, that was good enough for me.

One of the people I trained was a foreign pilot from Dubai.  At the completion of his training, he approached me with an ofter to come to his country and train pilots for United Arab Emirates.  At first I declined the offer and did not put much into our conversation.  Later he brought me a couple of books from the city of Dubai and described the type of housing I would have and schools that my daughter would be able to go to.  They were offering a very generous salary with many benefits.  The more I thought about, the better it sounded.  But there was one little hitch he failed to mention.  He then later told me, I would have to join their military Air Force and assume the rank of Captain.  The people I would have trained would not recognize someone that was not an officer in their military.  Ahhhhhh, I don't think so.

As time went on, I would also do other helicopter flights doing different types of work.  We did flights to offshore oil well platforms off the coast of California.  With the two Jet Rangers, we were doing more and more charter work.  We had several pilots, so I did not always get a choice of flights.  On one particular flight, I flew several members of Occidental Petroleum from their corporate offices in Westwood, CA to their research center in Laverne, CA.  This was just north of Pomona, CA. It was a short 30 minute flight and then several hours of standby before returning the same people back to the rooftop heliport at their corporate office.  This was the first time Occidental had used our company services.  I had hoped I had made a good impression. 

A short time later, I found out that Occidental Petroleum was considering the purchase of a corporate helicopter.  Since I had flown their president and CEO I thought I might have a good chance of getting hired to be their pilot.  Unfortunately, several people had already been interviewed for the position and I was not in the running.  Isn't that strange?  When you think you were going to be first, you find yourself in last place.  Occidental bought one of the very first Bell BH-206L helicopters.  One of the board of director's daughter was dating a helicopter pilot, and that ended any chances of me getting the job.  Not too long after that, I did get a very brief check out in their aircraft. Just in case, in the event they would need  a backup pilot. My checkout consisted of a couple times around the pattern and then I read the flight manual. One other pilot at Southland received training as well.  He was sent  to the Bell Helicopter factory in Dallas, Texas.  This aircraft was larger and different from the BH-206B III Jet Ranger.  It would carry seven passengers and had several different and new systems.

Then a strange series of events happened a few months later.  The pilot Occidental hired was fired!  I thought maybe I would have a second chance, no such luck.  They did approach the other pilot in our company and interviewed him for the position.  He turned the job down.  I think he priced himself out of the running.  Anyway, what they say is sometimes true, "The Third Time is the Charm"!  I was called about a week later, interviewed and accepted the job.  Great salary, lots of perks and a company that could afford the expensive cost of operating a helicopter.  So not giving up and waiting my turn paid off.  Next post........Occidental Petroleum........

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