It’s odd to think of myself as “not a helicopter pilot anymore.” I’ve been trying to divorce myself from this lousy industry for a long time. Meanwhile, my friend Larry Curtis had “retirement” agonizingly and prematurely forced on him when a heart problem put him on the sidelines for good. He wasn’t ready to go just yet. I’ve been ready for a long time. And that time has finally come.
The last job I had was so shitty that I ended up hating both the job and the guy I was working for. And I don’t “hate” anything! Not a good situation.
Within aviation, many pilots aspire to “corporate” jobs…that is, flying for some company instead of doing charters or whatever. Corporate flying is generally held to be “better” in that you usually fly nicer equipment, have a better schedule and better pay. But this is not always the case.
In my case, the Boss issued me one of those walkie-talkie Nextel phones. All he needed to do was hit the push-to-talk button and he expected me to reply immediately. If I did not, I’d catch hell. From seven o’clock in the morning to nine o’clock at night, he would expect me to be available for his calls. Yes, seven days a week. It gets old.
Truthfully, we did not fly a lot. On the other hand, I never knew when we would be flying, and had to be ready all the time in case the Boss needed to go somewhere. In fairness, he rarely called me to fly without at least one-day notice – but it did happen. I worked most holidays and a lot of weekends, and spent a lot of nights away from home. That sounds like whining and it is, I’ll admit. Such a schedule is simply the nature of this corporate/personal flying job. You sit around on “stand-by” waiting for the boss to call. It gets old.
In his mind, my Boss thought I “worked” very little, and he resented this greatly for he works his people hard. Over the course of our time together he mentioned a couple of times that I was the least-productive employee on his payroll. (To which I’d reply, “Oh yeah? Well then get your secretary to fly the helicopter.”) Thus, he’d dream up little non-aviation tasks for me to do…run errands for him and such. Nothing terribly unreasonable, just things to keep me busy. There were so many of these little tasks that one day one of the other employees was moved to remark, “Bob, you ain’t nothing but (the Boss’s) nigger!” And yes, sadly, people still do use that term freely down here in the south. As offensive and insulting as the comment was, it had a ring of truth. And it gets old.
There were other things of course; there always are. Bottom line is that I’m done with full-time helicopter flying. Gone. Done gone, as they also say down here. I hope to get back into fixed-wing airplanes. I think I’d be a good flight instructor (but maybe not!). Who knows what the future will bring?
I may…or may not even…return to Washington State next spring and do the cherry-drying thing. It’s fun and all, and I enjoy everything about that part-time summer gig, but hovering over the cherry trees in a 60 year-old helicopter is not without an arguable…let’s say “discussable” level of risk. And at this stage of my life I’m more circumspect about the risks I’m willing to take.