Interview with a Marine Helicopter Pilot

in Jobs in Aviation, Outdoor Jobs, Physical Work, Public Service, Salaried Jobs

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What do you do for a living?

I fly 53-echoes in the Marines, they’re a helicopter. /

How would you describe what you do?

You go to work, fly for a while, do a lot of paperwork and then you go home.

What does your work entail?

The last three years I’ve been in training and I’m just now complete with that, so up till now it’s been studying a whole lot. You have to study and get ready for briefs and while I’ve been in flight school that’s what you do basically; get ready, study systems, emergency procedures, aerodynamics, and stuff like that and then you go brief with an instructor. Kind of a one-on-one with someone that’s typically about 5 years older than you that’s been to Iraq a couple of times. Then you go fly for a few hours, land, de-brief and go home and that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing. While I was in flight school down at Pensacola I was probably working maybe 15 hours a week of actual real work and it wasn’t even real work. We didn’t have any kind of job except for flying, that was it. I was with the Navy and I trained with the Air Force too. Now I’m back with the Marines. In the Marines you have a ground job too and my job is operations, I write the schedule. The first month I was there it was about 14 hours a day, 5 days a week so it sucked.

it gets boring flying(jets) when you never see the ground, you’re not going to get shot at, you’re not going to drop that many bombs anymore so…I wanted to fly helicopters, and that’s why I got into helicopters

And it was all paperwork and there was 270 people in the squadron, like half a billion dollars worth of aircraft, writing the schedule for that kind of gets stressful.  When I get out(of training) and get to what we call the “fleet” the “fleet range force” I’ll check in and I’ll get some job. I don’t know what kind of job it will be but probably a few hours a day on a ground job, a few hours a day flying, and a few hours working out or something. It’s not a typical 9 to 5 job. What I’m hoping to do is get on that boat ’cause everybody is either going to Iraq or going on a MEU which is Marine Expeditionary Unit; but if you go on the boat like some…and you’re deploying from the West cost which is where I am moving, you go out for 7 months and you hit Hawaii, Okinawa, Thailand, Australia and all those places, and then if there’s something going on like a natural disaster, like in Indonesia when they had the Tsunami, a lot of the guys I’ve flown with here were all there rescuing people and carrying shit in and stuff like that. Or if China invades Taiwan then you’re the first to go there too, that kind of thing, but the good part is that usually that kind of stuff doesn’t happen and you can go to Australia, Thailand and all those

We get free medical and health insurance. And life insurance is really cheap which is good ’cause we need it.

places and have fun. So that’s what I am hoping to do, that or go to Iraq for 7 months and, yeah…that’s a blast from what I hear.

How did you get started?

Well, I always wanted to fly since I was little and I always wanted to fly jets and I kind of pursued that. I took the Marine route instead of the Air Force like normal people that want to fly because the Marines have air and ground together. So I started flight school, which is kind of a pain to get into, but I got there and I was flying this little jet with the Air Force and it was pretty fun; it wasn’t like a fighter but it was pretty cool. But it gets boring flying when you never see the ground, you’re not going to get shot at, you’re not going to drop that many bombs anymore so…I wanted to fly helicopters and that’s why I got into helicopters.

What do you like about what you do?

Well, I get paid to fly and that’s pretty sweet. I get to live in pretty cool places, get plenty of travel and I work with really good dudes.

What do you dislike?

My helicopter doesn’t have an air conditioner so it’s really hot. And it’s like any big company, you get the whole Office Space effect where you get like 8 different bosses, so there is a little bit of that sometimes.

How do you make money/or how are you compensated?

It’s a salary so you get your base salary then you get like a basic allowance for housing. Like if I move to North Carolina, I make a certain

I guess that’s the misconception, people make it(the military) sound more brutal than what it really is. And sometimes it is but I haven’t been yelled at in weeks.

amount and then now I’m moving to San Diego and the amount will double. So it’s wherever you live they set a certain amount for that area.

How much money do you make/what is the salary? 

This year about $70,000. Next year it’ll probably be more and I’ll be out in California.

Would you say there are any perks to this career?

Well, you get trained in a pretty valuable skill, they spend about $2 million on every pilot. With helicopter pilots you’ve got a ton of training, so when you get out you have a marketable skill. We get free medical and health insurance, and life insurance is really cheap which is good ’cause we need it.

What education or skills are needed to do this?

You have to have a Bachelors degree. Skills, you have to be really healthy and you’ve got to have, not perfect vision, it doesn’t need to be perfect but pretty close to perfect and it can be corrected by a PRK(laser surgery). To get through flight school you’ve got to be coordinated, and to get through just the Marine shit you have got to be at least semi athletic. If you are good at videogames, that helps. I think that all my Halo playing in college really paid off.

What is most challenging about what you do?

Well, I guess the flying part, like when a bunch of shit’s going wrong in here you’ve got to think pretty fast and work pretty quickly too… like with my helicopter if we lose hydraulics,

To get through flight school you’ve got to be coordinated…If you are good at videogames, that helps. I think that all my Halo playing in college really paid off.

you’re fucked, so you got to do a whole checklist to try an keep them alive. I guess the most challenging thing would be just flying, the stress of flying. I haven’t gone to combat yet so I imagine once I do that, that will turn into the biggest challenge.

What is most rewarding?

I don’t know, you are doing something good, I think for the most part. On the overall strategic level people have different opinions of what we should or shouldn’t be doing. But on a smaller level, at least in my helicopter, I can help. Like a guy at the bar last night was telling me how a Marine had flown in a 53(Helicopter) and saved his buddy while they were getting shot up and they got the hell out of there. That would be rewarding, I haven’t done that yet. So really for me right now it’s just a lot of fun, I meet good people and travel a lot.

What advice would you offer someone considering this career?

Stick with it. It’s kind of hard sometimes to get into the program. I don’t know, really just stick with it and work your ass off.

How much time off do you get/take?

About two months this year, but I don’t think that will be typical. It’s 30 days paid leave per year is what we get.

What is a common misconception people have about what you do?

I’d say pretty much just being in the military people have huge misconceptions. They think it’s all Full Metal Jacket or something. No one really knows the difference between being enlisted or being an officer. My work’s chill, no one gives a shit what time I get there as long as I get everything I am supposed to do done, no one is yelling at me. I don’t know, I guess that’s the misconception, people make it sound more brutal than what it really is. Sometimes it is but I haven’t been yelled at in weeks.

What are your goals/dreams for the future?

I want to work it to where I can get out of the Marines when my commitment’s up. It’s like a six year commitment after you get out of flight school so I’ll be in a total of 8 and a half years. I want to get out and do Heli-skiing and I might go do some work for Blackwater just ’cause they pay a hell of a lot.

What else would you like people to know about what you do?

No, I don’t have any words of wisdom.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeff Daniels March 6, 2012 at 8:31 am

My dad is a Marine and i have been in love with helicopters since i was little. I also want to fly a 53-echo and it has been my favorite helicopter since i was little also. My mom was also in the marines so i am dedicated to the marines right out of college.
Semper Fi.
Gunnery Seargent Daniels

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richard james November 29, 2007 at 1:02 am

that job rocks!!

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