The day to day routine of a helicopter pilot flying in the Gulf of Mexico does not suffer from having “too much” variety in it. Once you’re assigned to a job, and have flown that contract for awhile, you’ll essentially figure out the routine and settle into a nice pattern. The only time that really gets broken up is when a pilot elects to “work over” and make some overtime pay. It is when this happens that we find our variety. Today was one of those days for me, as I’m working over for two days. I was tasked with flying my first ever turtle watch flight – yes, we’re watching turtles from a helicopter and the reason why might surprise you! I totally wasn’t expecting #3….oh wait that’s a clickbait tagline. Well the reason might actually surprise you too, but never mind the clickbaity-ness of that sentence and click to read more! Damn…there I go again…
First of all I want to say thank you to everyone that’s been reading the latest posts, commenting, and messaging. Some loyal readers that had been waiting in the wings for me to start putting content back out – and some new readers! Welcome! I’ve been getting questions about certain aspects of being a helicopter pilot flying Oil and Gas in the Gulf of Mexico, so I’ve decided to field them here. The one I’ve been getting the most so far has been “What is life like off-shore?” Though my account of my current conditions are not representative of ALL platforms you might find yourself “living” on – it’ll give you an idea of what to expect.
This is one I’ve been meaning to write since I started flying off-shore. It’s a topic I get questions about from time to time, and one that is worth mentioning. What is the weather like in the Gulf? How do you plan, fly, and work with it? Now that may seem like a ridiculous question to some of the old dogs of aviation, those long in the tooth greying, bitter old bastards that have heli-bellies and retirement on the horizon – but for the younger up and coming generation of pilots these are the things that they are thinking about, asking about and interested in. So I’ll take a stab at it.
Even though I haven’t been writing for the past year and a half (give or take) I still get messages on this site, instagram, and on Facebook. It’s been a long time since I managed any helicopter pilot groups on FB so that last one is a bit of a mystery to me. Let’s roll with it. Lately, since starting in the Gulf the most common request I get is to write about what it is like to fly here, someone asked me to make a youtube video (not gonna happen for a few reasons), and now that I’m back writing again I figured this would be a good place to start.
So here we are again, a year between posts and I’m writing that I’ll do better, I’ll post regularly, I’ll stay more involved in the blog process. We’ve been here before. This past year has certainly been an interesting one, and there are a few reasons why “the roaming pilot” hasn’t been roaming much at all lately. The biggest reason of them all is that I took time off to run for U.S. Congress in Idaho. I didn’t win, but I learned a great deal, and it’s certainly given me a focus and a drive to continue on and do more.
I also took a job flying for PHI in the Gulf of Mexico, the salary and schedule are great, but there hasn’t been much time for roaming, and frankly the job itself doesn’t lend well to exciting reading, it’s not at all like being a sky pirate in the south pacific bombing around off of tuna boats.
But this blog is my passion, I love to fly, travel, photograph, and write. So here we are again, you, me, this page, my words. I’ve done a few domestic trips in the past few months, outing and localized adventures, I’ll see if I can’t breathe any life into those as posts in the next week or two.
For now, I’m looking for a WP guru to help me streamline and awesome-ize the layout and graphic design of the blog, and I’m also going to explore a VLOG/Podcast option. I’m getting the cameras out and dusted off and you should see more content from me as we go. In addition to some backdated posts I’m going to address a question I still get often from people that have read my tuna pilot guide, or my blog in general – what can we low time pilots do? I’m also going to address pilot saturation, pilot shortage, and the airlines (RTP).
One thing I’ll promise to try and do is remain neutral and focused on travel, flying and life. Though I’m more politically active now than ever before in my life, this blog isn’t the format for those views or platforms. So yeah, there we go, back to it, again! If you have any ideas for content or topics you would like me to address leave a comment below!
Let me start first by qualifying myself to even make the following comments. I am a US Army Veteran, I served honorably in combat, and my honorable discharge reflects that. I carry a VA service connected disability rating of 20% (getting blown up and shot at a lot will do that to a guy – it’s mostly hearing related), and I am one of the many helicopter pilots currently working in the industry that earned not only my ratings as a pilot – but my degree – through the Post 9/11 GI Bill. On March 15th LA Times reporter Alan Zarembo published an article that sparked an online wildfire of judgments against Helicopter flight schools, vets, the VA, and what was mischaracterized as a “loophole” in the VA program – The Post 9/11 GI Bill. In the weeks, and months that have followed two schools have seen new enrollments stopped (albeit one was voluntarily), and now Congress is talking about pulling flight funding for the GI Bill, and all because one article, poorly researched, led people down a path of misinformation. With all due respect to Alan Zarembo and the LA Times, you’re messing with the wrong group – and your reporting on this issue was half-baked at best – though I appreciate you bringing light to the issue and hope that your reporting will help us solve this problem, I feel as though you set your sights on the wrong “big picture”. Allow me to not only fill in some holes for you, but also give you the solution to the problem. Vets represent some of the most capable and intelligent members of American society – this is a well known fact – we not only saw the problem coming, we know exactly how to solve it.
Today I started on the way to the South Pacific to take on an adventure of a job. What some might call the true last bastion of the “wild west” for helicopters, I was hired recently by Tropic Helicopters to fly on one of the Tuna Boats that was out fishing the region. They say that this is the adventure. They weren’t kidding. I’ve spent the last two weeks putting in my notice, packing out of my apartment, moving out of my office and packing and repacking my bags for the trip. One year, that’s the length of my contract – so I’m bringing a lot of gear with me. It’s probably too much, it almost always is, but I’d rather be over-prepared than under-prepared.
An adventure. It started before I had hardly left my home. My original plan was to fly from Spokane to Portland, and then from Portland to Los Angeles and on to Brisbane. From there the idea was to fly into Honiara in the Solomon Islands and go over to the company base, do some training on the MD 500 I was going to be flying and wait for my boat to show up.
That plan changed. As my plane landed in Portland, my first stop, the familiar buzz of my phone going off in my pocket exploded. Message after message came in – naturally I was curious. HR wanted to know where I was, was I with my luggage, what kind of time did I have in Portland and again in LA, where my bags checked all the way to Honiara or just Brisbane – and they needed to know now.
It would seem they needed me somewhere else. Instead of going to Honiara like originally planned, they wanted me to divert and go directly to Fiji, where I would meet my Korean fishing boat, and climb aboard. Her name, the ‘Caribe’.
Of course I had questions. What about my training, what about my schedule, how many pilots would be on this boat, what was the plan going forward. It would seem I was to meet a senior pilot in Fiji and he would train me – on the boat – during the sail from Fiji back to Honiara. Where he was done with his contract. Well, isn’t that fun.
I’m writing this passage from Portland International, waiting for an email with my new tickets and for my plane to board. Still bound for Brisbane, over-nighting in Fiji, then getting onto my Korean boat. No better way to learn how to land on a moving ship in pitching seas than to do it for real the first time right? The Adventure Begins.
A lot of cool things have been in the works for some time now, but I’m happy to say that as of right now, as I’m writing this – I’m officially roaming again. I took a job with Tropic Helicopters flying with a tuna boat. I’m sitting in the airport waiting for my first flight of many to relocate me to the other side of the globe. This blog will be updated whenever I get back into port, as I’m going to try and really document what it is exactly to be a tuna pilot and what I’ve gone through getting here.
My plan is to draft the first big post while I’m flying between here and there, detailing what I did to get here, and how I prepared. For now, I just want to say thank you to everyone for their support, and I look forward to seeing you all out there!
Spokane to Portland, Portland to Los Angeles, Los Angeles to Brisbane, Brisbane to Honiara. I’ll post pics.
I was sent to Murray, Idaho with one of our company R44’s to fly rides for their Molly b’damn Gold Rush days festival. All in it was a really uneventful weekend in a sleepy town nestled in the beautiful North Idaho mountains. The real pleasure of this assignment was the chance to do something that I think every young helicopter pilot wants to do in their career, and that is – go helicopter camping!
All day as I was taking off and coming in to land with passengers I was eyeballing this beautiful field next to the creek below where we were operating. It was open enough to put my helicopter right on the bank, and was close enough to the town that I could lock up and walk in for dinner. It was settled – I was landing there at the end of the day to make camp.
Here are a few pics from the best camp site in the world.
The other weekend I was bringing one of our company R44 helicopters back from a job in North Idaho and had to ferry it all the way back to Moses Lake. It only made sense to call up a friend of mine and ask her out. The date? A helicopter flight across central Washington to a small remote lake for some swimming at a beach not many people have access to other than by boat…and umm…helicopter.
The conditions? Haha – just show up looking beautiful and lets go have some fun. Katelyn is a rock star and we had a blast.