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Meet a Rotorcraft Pro – Anthony Burson

RPMN: What is your current position?
I am the Chief Pilot of UTFlight, the flight department of United Technologies.  I am responsible for helicopter and fixed winged operations, both domestic and international. We have 36 pilots that operate a fleet of ten aircraft with bases in Hartford, Conn. and Charlotte, N.C. 

RPMN: Tell me about your first flight.
My first flight was in a Piper Super Cub that was owned by a family friend. I was ten years old and remember that I could not see out the front wind screen. The flight was only about 20 minutes long but I knew then that flying was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. 

My first helicopter flight was in a Hughes 500 at the age of 23. I was working as an A&P mechanic and had just been trained on how to do rotor track and balance. I was so excited in that first ride that I had a hard time concentrating on what I was doing.

RPMN: How did you get your start in helicopters?
I was working for a company called Progressive Aviation as a mechanic’s helper. We were a Hughes helicopter service center and maintained many of the local and state police helicopters. I started by doing odd jobs around the hangar and eventually gained my A&P through practical experience.   

RPMN: When and how did you choose to fly helicopters? Or did they choose you?
When I really think about it, helicopters may have chosen me.  In 1978, I was working as a fairly new A&P mechanic and was trying to get my fixed wing flight ratings. I originally wanted to go to Navy flight school to fly fighter jets, but money was tight and I was far from finishing my college degree.  At that time the U.S. Army had a program called “high school to flight school” and I realized that if I wanted to fly professionally I would have to make a choice. I chose flight school and it turned out to be the best decision of my life.

RPMN: Where did you get your start flying commercially?
I first started flying commercially at my current employer, United Technologies. Throughout my 25 years with UTFlight I have been afforded many opportunities and have been fortunate to learn from some of the best pilots in the industry.

RPMN: If you were not in the helicopter industry, what else would you see yourself doing?
If I were not in the helicopter industry, I would probably be building custom hotrods or boats. But quite honestly, I could not see myself doing anything else.

RPMN: What do you enjoy doing on your days off?
I enjoy spending time with my family, working on my antique car and playing my guitar.

RPMN: What is your greatest career accomplishment to date?
I have worked in the aviation industry for more than 35 years and I have been fortunate to have had many opportunities for accomplishment. Throughout every stage of my career I have had many accomplishments to be proud of. One that comes to mind was bringing one of the first corporate versions of the Sikorsky S-92® helicopter into operation for UTFlight. This involved completion of the aircraft, introduction of new technologies in the aircraft and the first operation of a helicopter in an icing environment in the commercial sector of our industry.  I took great pride knowing that in operating this aircraft I was managing a team that was pioneering the way helicopter operations would be conducted in the icing environment and paving the way for how other operators would use helicopters with anti-icing technology.

RPMN: Have you ever had an “Oh crap” moment in a helicopter? Can you summarize what happened?
Honestly, if you are in this profession long enough you are bound to have one. Throughout my career I have had several - Chip lights, smoke in the cockpit, bird strikes, procedural errors and just plain stupidity. Each one carries a lesson to be learned. For example, I was flying a Sikorsky S-76® on a cross-country flight heading south near Lakehurst, N.J. on a bright and sunny day. During the flight, a silver Mylar balloon flew under our rotor system and was not noticed until just before the balloon bounced off the windscreen.  It had turned towards us and we were face-to-face with a bright yellow smiley face. My copilot was startled and screamed, just as the balloon flew out of sight. Realizing what it was, we could not help but laugh all the way to our destination.

RPMN: If you could give only ONE piece of advice to a new helicopter pilot, what would it be?
My advice for other pilots is to strive for excellence in all that you do.  Do not accept average performance in yourself or others. Just because you follow written standards, doesn’t make it exceptional performance. It means you have only met the minimum required standards. 

 
RPMN: In your view, what is the greatest challenge for the helicopter industry at this moment in time?
In my opinion, the greatest challenge for the industry is developing our future professionals. With advanced cockpits, dwindling talent pools and many retiring professionals, there are many challenges for young professionals in the next decade.  Opportunities and advancements are coming at a much faster rate and seasoned industry professionals continue to retire out of the workforce.  Our duty as industry professionals is to mentor and develop the next generation in order to meet future challenges of our industry.     

 

Posted in: Human Interest

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