Wilderness rescue pilots put their lives at risk every day. They must be prepared to face all sorts of emergencies. Each year, some are injured. Some of them die trying to save others. What kinds of people want to do this type of work?
First of all, they are all people who love to fl y. They love the skill it requires and the sense of freedom it gives them.
Many SAR pilots have a strong sense of duty. They want to use their fl ying skills to help and protect others. Nearly all of them have a sense of adventure. They prefer working outdoors and seeing new places. One pilot said, “Every day
is different, and every day is an adventure. I wouldn’t want to do anything else.”
Training and Practice
Learning to fl y is the fi rst step to becoming a wilderness rescue pilot. Some people learn to fl y in the military. That’s
what Emma Turner did. She lives in England. When Turner graduated from college, she joined the Royal Air Force. Now, she says, “My main role is fl ying and navigating a
If you are injured on a mountain in Great Britain some day, a prince may fl y to your rescue. Prince William is the grandson of Queen Elizabeth II. William is now in the Royal Air Force. In January 2009, he began training as a search and rescue helicopter pilot. He will become an active pilot in 2011.
helicopter to search for and rescue people in trouble.” How did she learn to do that?
“I did six months [of] initial offi cer training,” Turner explains, “followed by 60 hours [of] training on a Firefl y.” (A Firefl y is a small fi xed-wing airplane.) After that, Turner says, she spent “170 hours on training helicopters, and 100
hours on the Sea King, which is the search and rescue helicopter I fl y now. I also did a lot of ground school. That covers topics such as the weather, navigation, and technical knowledge about how the aircraft works.”
Turner keeps practicing. “We try to do four hours [of] fl ying training every day. If we’re out on a search and rescue job, we can be airborne for much longer. If we get called out to someone who needs help, we have to be in the air within 15 minutes.”
In 1483, Italian artist and inventor Leonardo da Vinci built a model of a helicopter. The fi rst helicopter that could carry a person was built by a French man named Paul Cornu in 1907. It fl ew only a few feet. In 1939, American Igor Sikorsky built the fi rst practical, working helicopter. The fi rst helicopter passenger service began in England in 1950. During the Vietnam War (1963–1975), helicopters were used by the U.S. military for rescue, transportation, and combat.
Tony Reece found a different way to become a SAR pilot. He grew up in Darrington, Washington. His father helped build the town’s airstrip. There were always small airplanes around. “Every time there was an empty seat in those airplanes,” Reece says, “I was in it.”
So You Want to Be a Wilderness Rescue Pilot
The fi rst step in becoming a wilderness rescue pilot is to learn how to fl y. All branches of the military and many large police forces train pilots. Private fl ight schools also teach fl ying. It’s best to learn to fl y both fi xed-wing aircraft and helicopters. Training can last for two years or more. The U.S. Forest Service maintains and protects national forests and national parks. Its pilots must take special training. Even licensed pilots must pass both written and fl ying tests before they can fl y to forest fires.
Rescue pilots need to have good eyesight and good refl exes. They must be able to keep calm in dangerous situations. They must be able to perform complicated actions when they are tired, cold, or in danger. Many SAR pilots are trained in emergency medical procedures, rock climbing, ocean swimming, and wilderness survival skills.
Reece wanted to fl y a helicopter. He found a mountain pilot to teach him. “I planned on fl ying in a risky environment,” he says, “so I fi gured I needed the best training I could get.” At fi rst, Reece fl ew planes that delivered tools and equipment for logging companies. Later, he went to work for the National Park Service. He has fl own hundreds of rescue missions since then.
Wilderness rescue pilots will always be needed—but there are not many of them. Many SAR pilots are in the military or on a police force. Others work for the National Park Service or the Forest Service. Some fl y for private companies. Although the job is dangerous, most of these pilots are happy with their work. They love to fl y, and they love the challenge of wilderness rescue.