Learning Curve

My initial helicopter flight training took place at Skyrotors Ltd. Arnprior Ontario. I had no way of knowing it at the time, but flight training for the company was a very secondary operation. I remember my flight instructor walking me into the “real ” pilots room on my first day. He introduced me to the room full of veteran pilots.

“Gentlemen, this is Keith and he wants to be a helicopter pilot.”

The remark created great peels of laughter and I chuckled too, not knowing what was quite so funny about my career aspirations.

As the weeks went by I saw new students arrive and some leave. No one actually graduated. The attrition rate amongst us was fairly high, or so I thought. There were about 12 students in class on average and we were all encouraged to attend full time. The “plan” was to graduate in early Spring and be hopefully hired by Skyrotors. With 100 hours and a type check out in the Hughes 500 or Hiller 12E we would be given our marching orders, a kick in the pants and the usual admonition to not kill yourself.

Some students never made it that far.

Gilles, was from a wealthy Quebec family. His mother had financed his training and he could care less. Gilles wanted to be a motorcycle mechanic and motorcycle racer. The instructors had twice suggested he follow his heart and do just that but Gilles would stay till the money ran out or he actually graduated.

Shortly after reluctantly being given clearance to fly solo Gilles came back from a flight boasting of his latest escapade. He had been buzzing a snowmobile on a frozen lake. The snowmobile would move one way and Gilles would head him off on a low pass and make him change directions.” Idiot” we all said in both official languages. Gilles story had no sooner been told than a noise was heard from the instructors office and two faces appeared in the classroom. One face, we seldom saw but everyone recognized the red face above the snowmobile suit. Tom Cannon, owner of Skyrotors and recently harassed snowmobiler was giving Gilles a look that didn’t require either French or English to be spoken. Goodbye Gilles, good luck with that motorcycle career.

Another student that failed to graduate shall remain nameless. Another young man from a wealthy family. His father was a successful surgeon in Ottawa. The student should never have been allowed to fly. He was an alcoholic who attended sporadically between binges and had been a student longer than some of the instructors had been pilots. Money prevails and the students father was insistent that his son amount to something. Sober, would have been something.

Skyrotors had a mixed fleet of training aircraft which included the Bell 47G-2, Bell 47G-4A, Hughes 269, Hiller 12E and the Brantley B2B.

Turbine training was in the Hughes 500. The 269 and the Brantley seemed to operate in a permanent state of “down for maintenance”. Most of us agreed that the Brantley was better off left in the Hangar and after a couple of autorotations in the Hughes 269, most students were lining up for the Bells. The Hiller scared all of us. It was a back up helicopter and back in those days most of us weanies would have rather just taken the day off, than have to fly it. We didn’t get the chance. The company put it back to work, flown by real men, who were real pilots, or so we were told.

Returning from a 4 day hiatus of alcohol induced behavioral modification, our most senior student scheduled his cross country. I’ll never know for sure why the Brantley was the helicopter chosen for the flight. I could speculate that management may have considered it the most expendable helicopter in the fleet, but I don’t know.


No matter. He never returned from his first cross country. As word got around that our worst student had not returned from his cross country, speculation abounded as to which tavern he may be parked beside. Instructors and students were dispatched for some dual instruction, (no sense having non revenue flights) to fly the route.

Along the route the aircraft was found in a clearing. It was essentially undamaged except for what we know in our business as a sudden stoppage event. It was not difficult for Transport Canada to recreate the cause of the accident. The Brantley is a helicopter built low to the ground with a correspondingly low rotor system. A person having stopped to relieve himself walking back to the running helicopter could forget that fact. The last thing that went through his mind was, of course, the rotor blade. Money can’t fix that kind of problem.

About Heligypsy

Has it really been forty-seven years flying helicopters all over the world? I guess it's time to share some stories, I hope you enjoy my adventures.
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4 Responses to Learning Curve

  1. Debbe says:

    What an ending.
    Gill humor…
    and you’re still a helicopter pilot!
    Even with that it was pretty interesting.

  2. Ren says:

    What did you not like about the Hiller? I was thinking of picking one up because of low acquisition cost and start a ride business, what are your thoughts?

  3. Joe Sawkins says:

    Great story Keith. You write, as well as you fly. Always good to hear from you. Uh12E pilot, they don’t scare me. Joe S.

    • Heligypsy says:

      Thanks Joe, the only thing that ever frightened me about the 12E was that I was starting to look like a fiddler crab with an oversized left arm.
      I recall your great story of getting stuck st a cabin with no VHF radio and no fuel.

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