Helinews Feature – Flight Instructors at Becker Helicopters

Instructors influence the way we learn and prepare us for our careers. In this issue Helinews features an interview with flight instructors James Orrom and Buck Rogers from Becker Helicopters.

When did you complete your instructor rating and how long did it take?

JO: I completed my instructor rating in 2010 and it took about two months. I was working full-time while I completed the combination of PMI (Principles and Methods of Instruction) briefs and flying.

BR: May 2012.

How many instructing hours do you have?

JO: I have about 1000 hours now. That is a pretty junior level instructor here.

BR: 700 hours.

Where did you do your initial commercial pilot licence (CPL) training and instructor training?

JO: I did my initial CPL (H) at Becker Helicopters and I was very lucky that Mike [Becker] kept me on. I started as a theory instructor.

BR: Aeropower for my CPL and Bankstown Helicopters for the instructor rating.

What made you choose instructing as a career path?

JO: I never thought I would have a career in which teaching would be part of the role. My initial career was as a project manager implementing large scale IT systems in London. Now I’m flying helicopters and living on the Sunshine Coast.

BR: To be honest, Becker Helicopters and the lifestyle they can provide for me.

What were the most challenging things about your instructor rating?

BR: Relearning or trying to break down and teach something that I’ve never had to open my mouth for before.

What do you enjoy most about instructing?

JO: First and foremost flying helicopters. A close second is being able to help people break through barriers or hurdles in their flight training. That feeling a student gets when they finally ‘get it’ is infectious.

BR: Structured days and the constant touch-ups with theory.

What do you enjoy least about instructing?

JO: The paperwork, particularly report writing. There are a few opinions on whether the trip report is for the next instructor or for the student. Getting the content balance right between what management requires and what the student needs from the report often feels like an intricate juggling act.

BR: I suppose the best things about a job can also be the least favourite.

What is your favourite lesson to teach?

JO: Anything that actually requires hands-on flying skills, low flying and anything that can’t be done in a fixedwing and is primarily helicopter specific.

BR: Advanced autos, due to the fact that if the student doesn’t make the spot, they realise they would have bent the machine up if it were real.

Which lessons do you find students struggle with the most?

JO: The lessons that require a heavy dose of decision-making. If you repeat the same thing over and over, anyone will eventually get it, but those skills that require sound decision-making are often built through experience and that can be hard to teach. You just have to expose the student to as many scenarios as possible, so that they are able to build that experience during their training.

BR: Jammed controls.

What flying experience have you had in between your CPL and your current role as instructor?

JO: Although I went from CPL to theory instructor and flight instructor at Becker Helicopters, I have been lucky enough to be part of a lot of commercial operations that Becker is also involved in: corporate pilot, flood relief, fires, lifting jobs. I personally think that this is a vital part of developing your skills as a pilot. Instructing is a very safe, sterile and standardised environment. There is absolutely no substitute for getting out there and actually living it. Especially being responsible for managing all aspects of the job, not just the aircraft. The more exposure you have, the better pilot you become – simple as that. You can see the difference in those that can bring real world experience coupled with excellent instructional technique, as opposed to those that have only ever instructed.

BR: Charter, aircraft deliveries for HeliFlight, traffic watch and jump flying.

Describe a day in the life of an instructor.

JO: Cup of tea and biscuits, chat, cup of coffee and cake, chat, some flying, another cup of tea, talk about helicopters, draw some pictures on the board, more tea… well, that’s what the missus thinks it’s all about. Come in, complete personal admin, do the aircraft admin, pre-flight brief, conduct two or three flying sorties 1.2 to 1.5 hours in length, complete post-flight admin, debrief the students, write trip reports, teach some theory, give a long brief, company admin… not sure how we actually fi t the tea in…

BR: Well, a day in the life for me starts with an hour’s surf at my favourite surf spot, cup of tea with the family and an eight-minute drive to work. Once I’m at work, the day starts with a pre-flight briefing, then I’ll fly two 1.2-hour sorties, followed by a debrief, then maybe a long brief for the next stage of flying. After that, some in-house paperwork and home again.

What do you think makes a good instructor?

JO: A passion for flying: Mike has got 15,000-plus hours, but when you fl y with him, you’d think with the enthusiasm he conveys he got his licence yesterday. Patience: not all students progress at the same pace. This must be understood and accepted by the instructor. Never lose your patience with a student; they are a customer and should be treated as such and with the upmost respect – sometimes it’s hard though. Empathy/flexibility: understanding where the student is coming from can have huge benefits in structuring not only the lesson, but also the syllabus to suit their strengths and weaknesses. This accelerates their learning. After that, good flying technique and a sound knowledge base: it’s not always the case that those with the best natural flying technique actually make the best instructors.

BR: Flexibility, willingness to pass on all information and overall calmness.

What do you think makes a good student?

JO: Someone who puts their all into their training and doesn’t go into it half-heartedly. Also, having good coordination helps.

BR: Someone who is good with their hands or can operate machinery well and is keen to study.

What do you remember about your instructors from your abinitio training that made you want to be/or not be like them?

BR: I was lucky enough to have someone with several thousand hours teach the whole way through, so it was easy to listen and have respect for them.

Who have been some of your mentors?

JO: Too many to mention and each has helped in different aspects of my flying and flying training, but up the top of the list would be Mike Becker, Fergus Ponder, Chris Lander, Paul Cross, Niels Bunte and Dave O’Brien.

BR: Mainly people that want to pass on information and help you when you need it. One of the guys would be Dick Ainsworth – no matter what was going on in his life, he would always listen and give you some techniques or knowledge to keep you safe. Someone that, when they fly, it does not matter what curve ball they get, they can deal with it and they don’t boast about their experience (Fergus Ponder).

Who have been the people who have helped you most throughout your instructor training and career?

BR: We are lucky enough at Becker Helicopters to have a very senior instructor, Kim Jorgensen – totally dedicated to quality and training
assurance. Whenever we have questions or issues, he will either fl y with us or help out in some way.

Do you see instructing as a longterm career for you?

JO: I would like to think that it is something that I will be involved with in some aspect throughout my career, but I will definitely not start and finish my career only with instructing.

BR: One day I would like to fly EMS (emergency medical services), but I enjoy what I am doing at the moment, so that’s my focus.

How might an instructor rating make you more employable for your next job?

JO: I think it helps with a disciplined approach to flying. It certainly helps with understanding your emergency techniques – having a solid theory foundation to draw on. And it also helps you understand how to structure your own learning, which can only help as you progress through your career. Hopefully those skills can be utilised by your next employer.

BR: Definitely check and training could be a sweetener at my next job interview, especially the experience we get from Becker, such as IFR (instrument flight rules) and night vision goggles (NVG).

How do you identify and accommodate different types of learners?

BR: Find out as much as possible about their past experience and focus their training around their personality – such as sanguine, melancholy, phlegmatic or choleric etc.

Would you recommend instructing as a career?

JO: Definitely as part of a career, but not as a sole career.

BR: You have to ask yourself: where do you or your family want to live and earn money, and what job do you want nearing retirement? Then ask: will instructing get me there?

What are some of the best memories you’ve had as an instructor?

JO: My first time on NVGs – in the pitch black down below LSALT (lowest safe altitude) – was akin to scuba diving when you take your first breath underwater.
You’re doing something that feels very alien, but it’s completely exhilarating at the same time. If we weren’t instructing, it would be very hard to get that experience in the civilian world.

BR: When your first student gets a job and you feel proud of the product you have produced.

How will the new regulations affect students training for CPL and those wishing to obtain an instructor rating?

JO: CASA (Civil Aviation Safety Authority) put back the implementation date, as the first draft was full of promise, but it was unworkable. I think the move to CBT (Competency Based Training) is a good one; however, it needs to be actually based around competency rather than just using the name alone. Removing random time limitations will improve safety. If you’re deemed competent, it shouldn’t matter how many hours you’ve done and you won’t get qualified until you are deemed competent.

BR: There are some positives and some negatives. CASA and every other aviation rules and regulations enforcer in the world will constantly have upgrades on the way we should conduct fl ight training. I don’t look at it as a change, just a different road to take.


We acknowledge and thank Helinews for this article.

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