Harley Bloecher

Rainbow Helicopters, Honolulu, Hawaii

Current Job: I’m a helicopter tour pilot. I fly aerial tours of the island of Oahu as well as the occasional charter flight to off-airport landing sites around the island.

First Aviation Job:My first helicopter job was working as a CFII at the school I trained at, American Helicopters Inc. I taught on the Robinson R22 and R44. I worked part-time at the flight school in tandem with a normal 9-to-5 desk job. I typically taught lessons on the weekends and sometimes after work during the week.

“Once it finally ‘clicks,’ you unlock a level of freedom you’ve never known before.”

Favorite Helicopter: The MD 500, for its iconic look and sound and the variety of missions it can perform: police, fire, utility, and military applications. It’s small but mighty. A close second is the UH-1—another true classic—and its variants.

How did you decide helicopter aviation was the career for you?

I was a high school student unsure of what I wanted to do, and one day I truly noticed the air ambulance helicopter that would regularly fly over my neighborhood. I thought, “There’s a person flying that helicopter for a full-time job. I wonder how you even control a helicopter.” That night, I Googled “helicopter flight controls” and started reading about how these aircraft fly. My fascination took off from there.

Aerial tour pilot Harley Bloecher

How did you get to your present position?

I built some flight time as an instructor before deciding to try flying tours. Although I didn’t instruct all the way to the 1,000-hour bench­mark, I know that teaching for a few hundred hours was vital for my own growth as a young pilot.

Rainbow Helicopters is a Part 135 operator, and the hiring minimum for a 135 VFR pilot is 500 hours. I had around 530 hours when I applied, along with about 80 hours in the R44.

What are your career goals?

It’s hard to imagine I’d want to be anywhere but flying tours in Hawaii. This is an awesome job and the most beautiful flying I’ll ever get to do. That said, I ultimately want to get into a more “mission-oriented” style of flying, be it air ambulance, search-and-rescue, law enforcement, fire suppression, or government contract work.

What advice would you give someone pursuing your path?

Training is so expensive and probably the biggest barrier to entering this industry. Look for scholarships. Apply to every scholarship you may be even remotely qualified for; $500 here, $2,000 there, $5,000 over there all adds up. Scholarship funds, including those I received as an HAI Commercial Helicopter Pilot Rating Scholarship winner in 2018, helped me immensely in my training, and even though you’ll get plenty of nos, you may just get a yes here and there.

Also, take your training one rating at a time and never take your eye off the ball, even if “life happens.” It takes years to get there. If you want it badly enough, you’ll find a way. I started my private-pilot certificate when I was 18 and finished my CFII when I was 24.

I wouldn’t recommend instructing part-time if your goal is to build flight time quickly, nor if you’re unwilling to study hard to stay sharp. If you’re not instructing every day like the full-timers, you’ll always feel a little rusty on the maneuvers and material you’re entrusted to teach.

Who inspires or has inspired you?

My parents. My mother is my biggest fan and has always supported me in chasing my dreams. My father and I are incredibly similar. Although we have different interests, we pursue them with the same tenacity. Seeing his work ethic reminds me I’m cut from the same cloth and inspires me to never give up on my goals.

Tell us about your first helicopter ride.

My first helicopter ride was in an MD 520N. I was 16 years old and was visiting a local helicopter com­pany to learn more about how to become a helicopter pilot. After an hour of Q and A with one of the pilots, he asked if I’d like to go for a quick spin in the helicopter. That turned into a short hover lesson and traffic pattern and, like every other helicopter pilot after their first ride, I was totally obsessed. I had no frame of reference at the time, so little did I know how nice that helicopter was.

What still excites you about helicopter aviation?

I just love flying helicopters. As a pilot, you’re the critical component that holds this chaotic symphony of moving parts right on the razor’s edge between order and chaos. Right there you balance it, sometimes for hours on end. There’s something truly captivating about it. It’s the bug that bites you on your first flight. And once it finally “clicks,” you unlock a level of freedom you’ve never known before.

What challenges you about helicopter aviation?

Staying sharp. Whether it’s knowledge of regulations, aircraft systems, emergency procedures, or a flight maneuver you haven’t done in a while, there’s always something you can be studying. Skills and knowledge can fade if not exercised. The battle against complacency never ends.

What do you think is the biggest threat to the helicopter industry?

Competing with the fixed-wing industry for pilots, both new and experienced. Experienced helicopter pilots are enticed by substantially higher pay to convert to fixed wing, and they often have their training paid for as well.

Aspiring helicopter pilots face much higher training costs than fixed-wing pilots—some never complete their training. Many choose fixed wing from the start, due to the lower training costs and greater opportunity.

It’s true—there are more airplanes than helicopters out there, and you’ll generally be paid more to fly them. I’ve met a few experienced helicopter pilots who made the switch, saying, “I was tired of being paid less to incur more risk.”

Complete this sentence: I know I picked the right career when …

… passengers tell me through the headset, “You seriously have the best job in the world. I can’t believe you get paid to do this.” Then, I show them whales, dolphins, rainbows, and waterfalls.

Complete this sentence: I love my job, but I’d rather be back at my desk job when …

… life happens and priorities change. If a good work/life balance as a pilot can’t be struck and one thing absolutely has to give, you’ll find me in a cubicle with a bunch of cool flying photos tacked to the walls around me.

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