Former computer scientist finds his passion, career success in rotorcraft flight.
His love of the aviation industry, Matt says, stems from the US Air Force Academy, located in Colorado Springs, only an hour’s drive from his childhood home in Parker, Colorado. Matt’s experience attending events at the academy and seeing the aircraft fly largely fueled his passion for aviation.For some, the inspiration to fly for a living comes from family members who work in aviation. But that wasn’t what drew Matt Goodrich to flying.
A New Career
The first time Matt seriously considered becoming a pilot came following a helicopter tour he took in Alaska in summer 2012. He dismissed the idea as unrealistic, however, and pursued a career in computer science instead.
While working behind a desk for a few years and reflecting on his early enthusiasm for aviation, Matt decided to take helicopter flying lessons. He knew by the end of his private pilot license training that he wanted to switch careers and find a job as a professional helicopter pilot. But it wasn’t easy.
Matt faced several setbacks early in his new career.
“The first series of trials occurred during the training itself, where I struggled to learn a brand-new skill,” says Matt. “I remember failing my first stage check and questioning if I was fit to become a pilot. But I didn’t give up. I collaborated with other students and studied every day.
“I built muscle memory practicing maneuvers in a hangared helicopter, a technique called ‘chair flying,’” Matt continues. “The training was rigorous, but it taught me the skills I needed to become a professional.”
Matt found the training process demanding not only mentally but monetarily, as well. “It was financially challenging to make it through my CFII training,” he says. “All my paycheck and personal savings went toward training. Every minute of flight time counted.”
After completing his studies, Matt had to find a job, an experience that left him “taking steps to create my own work,” he says.
One such step entailed acquiring turbine flight time as well as networking with other professionals through his training and attending HAI HELI-EXPO® and other conferences.
“Seeking work as a new pilot taught me the importance of networking,” Matt says. “Becoming qualified to fly turbine helicopters took patience and perseverance, in part because the experience and insurance requirements for turbine helicopters are much higher than for piston helicopters.”
Networking and Collaboration ‘Mean Everything’
Matt is quick to credit those who’ve mentored and trained him along his path to becoming a rotorcraft pilot, including the person he says was his biggest role model, helicopter CFI Gary Cleveland, owner of Cleveland Helicopter Services in Plymouth, Indiana. Cleveland guided Matt as a new instructor.
“Gary opened my eyes to the commercial aviation world,” Matt says. “I had come from a rigid flight school, where I was trained effectively as a private pilot but wasn’t given the freedom to explore my limits. Gary showed me that side of aviation and taught me how to mentor other new pilots in an industry where it can be difficult to get started. Most importantly, he taught me how to build a helicopter business.”
Those business lessons sparked Matt’s strong entrepreneurial spirit. After teaching a few students with Gary, in June 2020 Matt began his own flight-instruction business, Pilot In Command, also based in Plymouth. The venture involved collaborating with Gary in Plymouth and traveling to students in places as far apart as Florida and Wyoming.
In October 2020, Matt teamed up with friend Jessica Meiris to open a second business, a tour company called Columbus Helicopter Tours in Columbus, Ohio. He says his ability to start a new business was possible in part because of his background in computer science, his original career track. It turns out the graphic design, marketing, and website-development abilities he used in computer science are also key skills needed to run a helicopter business.
“My schedule [just starting the businesses] was busy, instructing in Indiana during the week and flying tours in Ohio on the weekend,” says Matt. “But the two businesses were unique, and the variety kept it exciting.”
Matt cites Meiris, a “Future Faces” alumnus (see December 2021 ROTOR, p. 56), pilot, and HAI ambassador, as another mentor. “Our careers are parallel, as we’re both helicopter pilots with similar flight hours,” Matt says. “We share our experiences with each other, which lets us learn twice as much. The biggest lessons Jessica has taught me are patience and resourcefulness.”
Matt is a firm believer in networking and collaboration and says he couldn’t have produced the same results without help from others.
“Networking and collaboration mean everything to me,” he says. “It’s how I’ve found mentors, jobs, students, and friends.”
Matt has cultivated three additional, important skills on his journey as a pilot—perseverance, humility, and ambition.
“It can be dangerous to think we know it all, but confidence is equally important,” he says.
Now a chief pilot with 1,300 flight hours, Matt runs several thriving businesses. In addition to Columbus Helicopter Tours and Pilot In Command, in December 2021, Matt began a new company in Fullerton, California, called Horse Creek Helicopters. The company provides tours and flight instruction in various types of aircraft, including the Aérospatiale Alouette III, Bell 206L-4, and Robinson R44.
Matt eventually hopes to fly helicopter air ambulance operations and is interested in exploring its business potential.
He encourages new aviators not to give up, even when the journey gets difficult. “It’s important to be open to constructive criticism to strengthen your skills,” Matt says.
Matt also has a word of advice for other aviators who dream of starting their own business: when things inevitably become overwhelming, he says, take it one step at a time.
Matt also stresses the importance of planning.
“Always think a few steps ahead in your career,” he advises. “This is just like flying, where you want to stay ahead of the aircraft. Network in preparation for future opportunities.”