The Author

Sunset in Oia, Santorini Island

It has been 40 years since I veered off the highway on the way to Forestry College. Helicopters were flying off the ramp from a roadside hangar and I thought I just had to go see what that was all about. Not only did I get a walking tour of the facility ,I also received 30 minutes of helicopter flight training,for, free!

After a brief time at the controls I was told that I was a “natural pilot”. Uhuh. Well two phrases came to mind.

You must work very hard to become a natural golfer.

— Gary Player

“There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”- Milton Friedman, two-time winner of the Nobel Prize in economics

42 Responses to The Author

  1. Cathy & Kevin Gill says:

    Thank goodness for snowy days!! It has taken us all morning to download your blog and we still haven’t got to see all of one of the videos, but it is definately worth it. Thanks for sharing. They are awesome. We have enjoyed reading what we have previously missed and watching the professional smile box videos.

  2. JFM says:

    Hey Keith,
    I’ll be flying an R44 for a private owner on Ambergris Caye starting in the next few months. I’d like to chat with you about flying in Belize sometime before I get there. Please drop me an email at


  3. Jason says:

    I enjoy your blog very much. I hope you keep writing as you get some freetime. I start helicopter training in a few months. Anyways safe flying and thanks for writing, it provides prespective!


  4. Hi Jason, Thanks for your comments. Many of the stories I write may serve as warnings as well as amusement, I hope.
    I once told a Chief Pilot that naturally he does not hear from me very often. I don’t need to call and tell him I am doing a good job,that is what he expects.
    When things go wrong and they will ,in a 35 year career ,I often write about those events.. It has not been a career full of mistakes or I would have never lasted this long
    Enjoy the stories.

  5. Vanessa Richardson says:

    Hello, Keith,

    I’m the wife of a (damn good) helicopter pilot who is trying to get his foot into the door. Your career sounds like one he is dreaming of. I’ve been reading your posts and find them very interesting and, as a freelance writer, they’re really well-written too! I’m curious about your wife’s (Paula?) experiences too.
    Any advice she and/or you can give me about hanging in there as Justin strives to reach that magic “1,000 hours” mark (or is it now 1,200 hrs?) would be greatly appreciated.

    Safe flying,

    P.S. We both went to Belize last fall to dive on Ambergris Caye. Great people and fun times, but diving there was so-so, and much better farther out on the remote atolls.

    • Hi Vanessa, I wanted to reply sooner but I have been quite busy flying on the recent fires in Victoria State near Melbourne Australia. I am happy to see if I can help your husband improve his employment situation.
      If you want to send me an email I will reply with my cell phone number. Persistence, a willingness to accept a less than desirable assignment and a verbal rather than written reference have always worked best in what is still a small close knit helicopter community.

  6. Vanessa Richardson says:

    Hi, Keith,

    Thanks for getting back to me. I didn’t see your e-mail address listed on the reply you sent, but my e-mail is Cell phone (we live in California) is 415-215-4976. I can then give you my husband’s contact info and details.

    Hope you’re safe and making good progress in putting out those wildfires. Sounds even worse than what we get here.

  7. Jordan says:

    Hey Keith!

    Nice sharing a beer with you in Kevin Barry’s! You just got yourself another frequent voice from the peanut gallery. Until another one of your posts catch my interest, safe flying!

  8. Rick Cooke says:

    Hi Keith,

    Came across your blog while looking for Bell 412 systems stuff of all things. Really interesting articles 🙂 I work at a large UK military helicopter flight school for pilots and crewmen and would really like, every now and then, to print of some of your thought provoking articles for all in the crewroom. They would add to the instructors frank ‘I learnt about flying from that’ tales told every Friday and everyone, of course, never stops learning! I would copyright them to you at the end. What do you think? Best wishes,


  9. Hi Rick, As long as you use the stories with the copyright acknowledgment and use them for your flight school I am happy for you to do so.

  10. Rick Cooke says:


    Thanks for your generosity. Your articles will make a valuable contirubtion to our safety culture, as well as bringing a smile or two to the crewroom.

    Regards, and look forward to more,


  11. David Cliff says:

    Hi Keith,
    Just stumbled on to you researching becoming a Helicopter Pilot. A passion I had as as a child but other opportunities took me elsewhere (Engineering). I’m an avid sailor as well and unfortunately will be laid off shortly due to the recession. What advise could you give me on pursuing this path at the young age of 43. In Aug I will have the dedicated time and finances to get my commercial license. For me it’s not about corporate America anymore but living a more exciting less constrained life style.

  12. Hi David, Write me @ and we can set up a better line of communication.I am currently flying in Greece and my email is not so great but I am happy to give you some information that may be helpful.

  13. Brian Burke says:

    Hey, didn’t I collect money for you on carnival helicopter rides around 1979-80 in Tilbury Ontario?
    Looks like you are doing ok.
    Is your old partner at Arrow Smith still around?

  14. Hi Brian, I am sure you did collect money for the helicopter rides. I am not sure which partner you may be referring to? I was an employee of Arrow Smith and I think everyone at the company is still around with the exception of Greg Smith the owner who died in a helicopter accident in Nova Scotia in about 1983?
    The company name stiil exists as an operation in B.C. and I have talked to most of the former pilots and employees over the years.
    Thanks for writing.

    • Brian Burke says:

      I was referring to Keith. That’s too bad.
      I remember those days fondly. Were you with me when we made a forced landing in a farmer’s field in the fog? We were treated like celebrities.

  15. mike says:

    HEY!! I wanted to write you and tell you how much i have been enjoying your blog. I am a aspiring heli pilot currently working in Afganastan saving money for flight school and your stories of flying and travel really keep me motavated. I also like the saftey and tecnical aspect i can glean from your stories of flying. I havent found ANY other places where i can read stories of flying other than the fourms. ANyway, thanks for writing it down!!!…mike

  16. Chris Pappas says:

    A BIG Thank you Keith.
    We have to learn so much from you.
    Awesome stories!

  17. Glenn Smith says:

    Hi Keith,
    Last I saw you I was purchasing my UH-1H/703 from Northwest. I enjoyed reading your stories. If I didn’t start my own company, I would have liked to have gone to Erickson and tried to see if I had what it takes to fly that beautiful SkyCrane! What an AWESOME machine! Keep up the good work both on the computer and in the cockpit! Say “hi” to Randy Erwin, Rob Chambers, Sean Stavang, and Brock, if you fly with any of them soon. Stay safe n we’ll see you on the fires here in So Cal sometime.


  18. Keith Gill says:

    Thanks for commenting Glenn. I am certain you would enjoy flying the Crane.Its just a big S-58T with an automatic flight control system that thinks it is a better pilot than the guy flying. Sometimes it is and other times, not so much.
    Fly safe.

  19. Sotos says:

    Hello Keith!
    Nice blog you have there. I found it by luck.
    We have a web-site here: dedicated to Hellenic Air Force. A special section is the one with patches:
    Do you use any patches that you or your company could donate us to present in the gallery?
    It is extremely interesting due to your participation i n firefighting in Greece.
    Thanks in advance. Please drop us an email since I do not have yours.

    Best regards

  20. Heligypsy says:

    Hadsome intereesting and weird email of late. Thought it would be cool to see who the other heligypsy was…I’m the one who has the heligypsy emails at most of the email sites. Hubby works for a company that their primary service is wildland firefighting with of course heli’s. In fact we’ve crossed paths in years past. Fly Safe….fellow Heligypsy

  21. Scott says:

    Hey Keith, I randomly came across your site looking for my friend Mike Fergione. The Mike you refer to who passed away…Is this Mike from Denver, who flew big ships and lots of long lining oddball jobs? Mustache cigar smoking Mike?

    I dont know if i’ll get a notice if you reply to your site, but i’d appreciate an email if you have the time. Lots of us at VHSG really liked Mike alot. My email is Thanks in advance.

  22. George Maclean says:

    Keith; I can relate to the old Skyrotors days. Started in 1970, and can’t remember the instructors even having a office in those days, but remember those machines and the guys, some are still at it like me, Rick Gerunden, Tom Smith?, Bob Kursten, Bill Shabes?, Bob Waddingham, Gary Smith. In those years we didn’t even have a ground school like we know today. But after 41 years and 20,000+ hrs, I still enjoy it, Hardly no area in Canada that I haven’t been. Flown just about everything except for bigger than 412’s. Remember flying G2’s, Hiller 12 E’s across Canada to do a summer contract. George Maclean

  23. Keith Gill says:

    Hey George, Thanks for writing. Good to see there are still a few of us still out there!
    I have been away from writing for a bit but I plan to get back to it soon. I’m sure I have a few more Skyrotor stories tucked away as well.
    Keep in touch. Fly safe.

  24. George Mckay says:

    I have been wondering if there were any Skyrotors people still out there I trained there in 1969 along with George Houl My name is George McKay and Iam from Arnprior however I have been in western Canada for the past 35 years I ran into Bill Shabes a few years ago in Vancouver. I flew for a number of years with Dominion and there i a site for old Dominion pilots to keep in contact I found your site looking through the Brantley Helicopter site I trained on those they were neet I got a chance to fly one a number of years ago back in Arnprior a frend had bought it but had not flone it for a few years. It was intresting to fly it having been away from a throttle for a number of years like about 25 but I managed to take it around the block and get it back on the ground.
    Tom Cannon passed away a few years ago probley 8-10 I ran into him from time to time when I was home visiting famley. I rember one weekend when I was just finished training I was in the hanger atick doing somthing it was cold outside and I herd a brantley starting up inside the hanger so I went down to see what was going on and there was Tom Cannon trying to oppen the hanger door when I asked him what was going on his responce was that if you walked by the brantley with an ice cream cone in your hand it would not start so he started it inside with the rottor brake on then pushed it outside and went flying. Those were the good old days.

    • Keith Gill says:

      Well, George I once worked with a Scotty McKay who had been at Skyrotors. You wouldn’t be the same fella would you?

      • Beverly (Mckay) Macri says:

        No he wouldn’t but that was my father and my hero. He unfortunately passed away of cancer in 2000. But its nice to hear from someone who trained with him. We miss his flying and his stories. It was also nice to find out about Tom Cannon. Still have his recipes he was also a great cook. Never the same without these greats.

    • Angela Havey says:

      Great story!

  25. George McKay says:

    No Scotty McKay is no relation however I knew him he was around Skyrotors around the same time did you know George Howell we were trained by Bill Shabes and Jack Jardine in 1969 that year I only recall the two of us training the aircraft CF-OTO the Brantly B2B amd CF-HNT the Bell47/G2 and a few other machines. In those days the lunch room in the hanger was the study place Tom Smith I know well we both grew up in Arnprior and went to the same school he was about a year older than me however I did see him a few years ago on a visit back to Arnprior. I had a chance to fly CF-OTO about 15 years ago the fellow who bought it from Tom had not been in the air for a number of years and he asked me since I was home on holidays from Trans North if I would fly it from one location over to his shop so he could work on it. That was intresting having not flone any thing with a throttle for a lot of years but it was a chalange so I did it got pictures of that neat to see a brantly B2B on floats at that time it belonged to Bob Sanders a local well driller bo you recall the Brantly 305 that was around at that time I think I was one of the few people other than Tom to fly it not many of those left in the world .

  26. Greg says:


    Just wanted to thank you for the great stories!

    Started my first commercial job in May; flying tours in South Carolina. Actually getting paid to fly! Seems like it would never happen. Your storied career is inspiring to say the least.

    Thank you so much for sharing, and God bless!


  27. Maren Hovi says:

    These messages are all a year old but anyway here goes. I wanted to look up info on Skyrotors and some old names popped up! My husband Allan Hovi trained there and had many stories. BTW one of our first dates was going for a ride in the famous Brantley (that’s a story too). Allan had a wonderful 15 more years flying…mostly in the west but actually all over. We laid down our rotors here in Ottawa way back when and he started up a small condo repair business and he followed his passion down at the Connaught Ranges. I lost him to lymphoma in 2005 and then the light of my life was gone. Take care all helicopter pilots! Maren

  28. Lee Davis says:

    Hi Keith,

    Really enjoyed reading your Helicopter and travel blogs. You are a Pioneer of our Industry and is very inspiring to hear your experiences over the years and helped provide some insight to where I would like to go with my career. I have enjoyed flying a wide variety of Helicopters in Canada and the US logging just shy of 6000 hours mainly with external loads. I have come to these conclusion’s: 2 engines and 2 pilots are better than 1, external loads are more enjoyable to fly than passengers and finding a job you enjoy you will never “work” another day in your life! Would like to buy you a beer someday to hear more of your experiences. Fly safe and look forward to hearing more from you.


  29. Ali says:

    HI Keith
    Hope you are still out there doing what you do best.
    we are back in Belize and anytime we see helicopter thinking of you two .just find the site in my old computer . sending our love to Paula.

  30. Heligypsy says:

    Hi Ali,
    I hope we get down to Belize again soon and look you up. See you then, be well.

    Keith & Paula

  31. Hi,
    Would anyone have photos of the H-21s operated by Skyrotors?
    Colin McKeeman
    Aviation Historian
    Dublin, Ireland

  32. Steve Mills says:

    I trained at Skyrotors in 1972 – graduated on the notorious Hiller 12E etc. Tom Cannon leased a 319B (?) for geophysical work towing a bird which everyone including me wanted to get some stick time on. With my whopping 100 hours I got a job with Roy Kilburn at Northern Wings Helicopters and sent to deliver the mail up and down from Sept Isles to Blanc Sablon. Ended up in Africa in the early 1980s with Viking Helicopters – been here ever since.

  33. Heligypsy says:

    Hi Steve, I recall you as one of several flight instructors in 1974/75. You and Ron Williams did what you could with the fledgling aviators in your care. Greg Charbonneau and Bob Griffiths also instructed for a bit. Do you recall the inscribed pen we gave you one night at the pub? It might have been Molly Maguires Pub, but I’m not sure. I probably wasn’t certain the next day, for that matter. I have been flying primarily international contracts in The Air-Crane for several years. I might do a couple of more years of flying, or I may just hang it up and play with my grandson? I see you have or had a few financial-type businesses around Africa. My email is if you want to chat some more about what we have done for the past 47 years.

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