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The STEM Career lesson that matches this interview, “Aviation”, can be found in Ellipsis Education Computer Science Fundamentals. Explore our Computer Science Fundamentals courses for third grade, fourth grade, and fifth grade. In addition, download a free lesson that matches the K-2 grade band. In Scratch Skills & Movement, students learn how to move Scratchy the cat using the coordinate plane.
Name: Kyle Roth
Title: Helicopter Air Ambulance Pilot
Company: Parkview Samaritan Hospital
STEM Career Lesson: Aviation
Course: Computer Science Fundamentals 4
Get ready for takeoff! Explore a career in Aviation with Kyle Roth of Parkview Samaritan Hospital. As a helicopter air ambulance pilot, Kyle helps transport patients from accident sites so they can receive medical care.
Learn more about Parkview Samaritan Hospital emergency services.
Katie: We’re all familiar with different types of flying vehicles, like airplanes, helicopters, and drones. They have the ability to capture video or photos, transport goods, and even carry people from place to place! But what does it take to operate these aircraft?
Today, you’ll hear my conversation with a pilot that has a lot of training and experience flying these vehicles. Kyle Roth is a Helicopter Air Ambulance Pilot at Parkview Samaritan Hospital, working to help transport patients from accident sites so they can receive swift care.
Welcome to My STEM Career, inspiring the next generation of leaders. This show is brought to you by Codelicious Computer Science Curriculum; I’m Katie Baird.
In this first section of the episode, we’re diving into questions from our Aviation STEM Career Lesson from Computer Science Fundamentals, built for grades 3 to 5. Then, we’ll transition and learn more about Kyle’s life, career, and advice.
Katie: Kyle thank you so much for joining us on the show today.
Kyle: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Katie: We’re going to get started with some questions from our STEM Career lesson called Aviation, and this is from our Computer Science Fundamentals course. If anyone listening right now, whether you’re on video or on the podcast, you can find more information about this course in the description box. But for now, Kyle, I’d love for you to introduce yourself. What’s your name, your job title, and where do you work?
Kyle: So my name is Kyle, I’m a Helicopter Air Ambulance pilot for Parkview Samaritan up in Fort Wayne.
Katie: And what are some of your responsibilities as a pilot?
Kyle: My biggest responsibility is just the safe operation of the aircraft. The nurse and medic that I carry, their job is to patient care. And my job is just to get everybody where they need to go safely.
Katie: What are some of the safety procedures that you do before every single flight?
Kyle: So we do a daily pre flight by the pilot. Our mechanics five days a week do a daily, daily inspection which is just a more in depth pre flight. We have regularly scheduled maintenance every 10 hours, 15, 2500, certain rules of maintenance where these aircraft are getting looked at and inspected pretty regularly. All three of our crew members before we hop in the helicopter everybody does a final walk around and make sure all the doors have properly secured, there’s no damage that we didn’t see before.
We also do risk analysis paperwork before every time we press the start button we’re looking at all the conditions whether we’ve had enough sleep, whether or not we feel rested, if there’s external stresses we will get all of those factors before we determine if we’re going to accept a flight or not.
Katie: And what does your normal day look like? You start with some of those safety procedures, but what are some things that you do every day in this part of your job?
Kyle: So we work 12 hour shifts. Every day we show up, no more than about 15 minutes early, because we are restricted on the length of our day. Even though we work 12 hour shifts, for the FAA, we can’t go past 14 hours. So, sometimes if we get a flight late in the evening, we can still accept it, and it might end up being a 13, 13 and a half, hour day, but if we came in early, then that would kind of effect where our day ends. So, I usually show up between 6, 6:15. Our day starts at 6:30 in the morning or 6:30 at night, we have a rotating schedule. So like right now, I do four days, four nights, and then three days off. Then, I go back and do four days and four nights. Normally, it’s seven days on seven days off with four days and three nights or three days and four nights depending on what rotational run.
So, whatever shift you’re on. We always show up for a brief with the pilot, the med crew will brief with each other. Pass on any information on problems from the previous shift, things that they notice, things that they want addressed.
Everyday there is a brief between all the crew members, and once the departing shift leaves, then the new oncoming shift will sit down and go over what the med crew talked about. We go over some of the safety precautions for the day.
Cold weather: we’ll go over different precautions that we’re going to take. Summer: same thing. The climate changes, and weather, we go over that and address it. Make sure everybody’s staying properly hydrated. Pretty much everything. Then, as soon as we do our morning brief, I’ll go pre flight the helicopter while the med crew goes through all of their meds, bandages, pumps, monitors, make sure everything’s functioning properly and ready to go.
And then, we hang out for 12 hours some days. Sometimes you don’t get a flight, and we just watch movies and relax, study. I usually spend an hour, sometimes two, studying emergency procedures, random aviation knowledge, just make sure I’m staying on top of my knowledge that I need to maintain. But if it’s a slow day, we might sit around for 10, 11 hours just watching Netflix and playing video games. We have a PS5, PS4, big screen TV so we’ll play those if we get really bored. We have weights, so we can lift weights if we get, it’s just like a fire station, except when we fly a helicopter instead of driving the fire truck.
Katie: Gotcha, so what happens if a call does come in?
Kyle: So as soon as we get a call, it’s a loud alarm, which may go off – I’m currently on duty so the tones might go off while we’re doing this. They go off; we have two bases, one here in Fort Wayne and then one in Rochester Indiana, so each base will hear the tones and our dispatch center will advise who the tones are for, give us where the request is coming from, and where we’re supposed to be taking them to.
And it could be anything, from a car accident scene to basic hospital transfer, we cover all, everything in between.
My first job is to check weather and make sure that we can actually safely make the flight, due to the duty time that we already talked about or the weather conditions.
We’re very fortunate with this location as we are IFR capable, which means we are certified to fly instrument flight rules, so we can fly in the clouds, we can fly and more inclement whether that a lot of other operators in the area, which allows us a lot more flexibility in what flights we accept.
So we get a tone. I check the weather. As soon as I check the weather and decide that we can do it, we have a risk analysis tool that I have to submit, which goes through all the weather, the crew rest, all those things that I already talked about, and submit that so then our dispatch center has a record of what is going on with that particular flight.
This time of year, we’re actually in our hangar. So while I’m doing that, the crew opens the door and gets ready to pull it out, pull the helicopter out of the hangar. So, by the time I’m done with the weather check and submitting our Baldwin safety report, doors open, I pull it out and hook it from the tractor, and hop in. Do our final walk around, get started up, and go.
Usually from tones to lift, the goal is about eight minutes.
Katie: What are some key traits you think a pilot should possess?
Kyle: I think a pilot needs to have – definitely discipline. A willingness to always be learning. And I don’t want to – I’ll say hardheadedness.
Because in this industry specifically, ee’re one of the very few IFR capable, there’s a lot more nowadays, but it used to be very few EMS operators flew instrument cable helicopters, and they were restricted to visual flight rules only. And what ended up happening was, no matter whether you’re flying people offshore, you’re doing tours, flying VIPs, doing power line patrol, flying for the hospitals, there’s always a pressure put on you to complete your “mission”, which we’re not even allowed to call these missions because it, it makes that mindset of, “we need to get this done” when you don’t.
So you have to be able to put your foot down and say no, the conditions that are present, are not safe. We cannot do this, and in the helicopter air ambulance industry it’s very tough because when you stand those down that means somebody’s bad days probably getting worse, because it’s going to take them longer to get to the care that they need.
And then VIPs, tour, they’re all trying to make money. They have an industry they’re trying to support. They want those flights done, but you have to be able to to stand up to that pressure and say, “No, I can’t”.
Katie: Yeah, you have to know how much risk you’re willing to take on and and make sure that you’re going to do everything safely.
Katie: Those questions drew from our Aviation STEM Career Lesson, part of Codelicious Computer Science Fundamentals for grades 3 to 5. You can find more information about the course in the show notes. Now, on to the second part of our show. Join me as Kyle explains the training, schedule, and responsibilities of an Air Ambulance Helicopter Pilot.
Katie: So, I’d love to take it all the way back and ask you, how did you know you wanted to be a pilot?
Kyle: I honestly don’t know how I knew I wanted to be a pilot but it’s something that I always knew from a very young age. My grandfather was a crew member on a PVY which the float plane in World War Two. He flew a Piper, I never even saw it, he sold it well before I was born. But he flew a Piper Cherokee, some little single engine airplane that he flew around a little bit for recreational purposes.
And it was just one of those things I always knew: I wanted to be military, and I wanted to fly for the military.
Katie: That’s kind of a good transition- so, you were in the Marines. And so I’d love to know what what kind of training did you go through to be able to operate a helicopter, or an airplane or – Yeah, what what training did you need to get started? How many years to become a pilot?
Kyle: So there are a ton of different routes. I went. It took me about 12 years to become a professional pilot after high school.
So I initially went to Indiana State for one semester of college, and that was in the fall of 2002. Over Christmas of 2002, I decided to enlist in the Marines and went to boot camp in January of 2003. So in that fall semester I did some flight training I got maybe 17 hours in that one semester.
But I decided that I didn’t want, I was on a path to go Air Force as an ROTC. I was kind of following that path, and I decided I would rather get enlisted experience on the ground. And then eventually get my degree to become a pilot. So, I want reserves in the Marine Corps, which meant I would still be able to serve while getting my degree, and it worked out perfectly to my plan.
I just did not finish my degree so I end up deploying in 2004, I went to college, 2005, deployed again, in 2006, went to college, in 2007, deployed again, 2009. And after, you know, seven, eight years of being in the Marines and I hadn’t finished my degree with my goals still being the fly for the Marine Corps. In order to do that you have to either have enlisted experience and become a warrant officer, or get a degree and become a commissioned officer.
So in 2009, after that last appointment, I got out of the Marine Corps, to focus on my degree with the plan of after I graduated, I would put in a package to get a commission to try to get a flight slot and go into the Marines that way.
So I was up and down back and forth: civilian flight training, fixed wing, I started fixed wing, never got that rating. After 2009, when they came out the post 911 GI bill, I started the rest of the training.
Katie: So how much does it cost to become a pilot?
Kyle: When it comes to airplanes or helicopters, airplanes are way less expensive to operate, which means the cost of training’s way less. The path to get either rating is the same, you have to get a private pilot’s license, whether it’s fixed with your helicopter.
Then, the normal transition is an instrument rating because that gives you also some hour building. Getting more proficient in flying in the clouds, following your instruments instead of just navigating on what you see outside the aircraft. Then after that you get your commercial license.
Know the commercial license you can start flying for compensation or higher, you can get paid to be a pilot, but you’re not gonna have enough hours for insurance to allow you to work there. A lot of the commercial operators jobs, they don’t come in as an airline pilot with the 150 to 250 hours that it takes.
So the normal transition is tours or flight instruction. I went flight instruction, so after I got my commercial license through my college program, I went and got my flight instructor, my instrument flight instructor rating, And I taught for three years, until I got enough hours to move on to the next level which is a turban job, flying a turban engine helicopter is kind of the next stage in anybody’s career.
And again, the lower time jobs that are Gulf of Mexico, flying tours in Vegas or Smoky Mountains or New York. Places like that have a lot of turban helicopter operations. And then it’s all about just building time until you get experience to get the job you want.
Katie: So once you got some of that experience, tell me about some of your other jobs that you’ve had with the Seminole Tribe of Florida and some of your work with oil rigs.
Kyle: So, Like I said after I got out of Marines and finished all at flight training, that was a flight instructor for almost two years. And then the industry kind of started to crash. This is 2015 when the oil prices started to drop. The VA started defunding a lot of programs that they were sponsoring. So I left my job as a flight instructor in West Palm Beach, Florida to go to the Gulf of Mexico.
There, it’s a nice work environment because you work two weeks on two weeks off, so basically have two weeks of vacation every two weeks, and you only work half the year, but they’re long days early mornings. Usually start at 4:30 to 5:30 in the morning and out there, they were typically 12 to 14 hour days.
But it was a great – I’ve worked two different operations in the Gulf of Mexico. And I’d say the four years total that I was out there was a very good experience. Basically, you just fly contractors that work the oil rigs or the drilling vessels, you fly them to their work, then you bring them home. You resupply them and move them around the different, different rigs that they’re doing maintenance or other work on.
Then, after the oil rigs the first time, then I went and worked for the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which introduced me to a wide variety of work. I was able to spend two seasons, dropping water on orange stuff. So as we did fire suppression for the tribe. And that’s very rewarding work; it is really rewarding. Seeing the damage that the fires can cause and being a part of the process of putting out those fires.
It’s very exciting work also. And then, just like anything in the helicopter world, it also kind of turns into job. Everything gets repetitive, no matter what you’re doing in life. A lot of the work becomes work, even if you have a passion for it.
I would say flying firefighting and doing agricultural spraying for mosquitoes are the two that were the least likely to turn into work, just because you can’t beat the adrenaline of it. The mosquito spray, we sprayed 20 feet above the trees at 100 knots at night, with night vision goggles. And when you’re sporting, if you’ve ever seen agriculture airplanes, the bright yellow ones over the road, making a turn and coming back down. That’s what we’re doing at night with night vision goggles.
But I also realized that was very dangerous and decided that I liked the, you know – Historically, the helicopter air ambulance industry has been one of the unsafest aspects because there’s been so much pressure for pilots to complete missions – flights – that they shouldn’t have taken has led to many fatalities in our industry over the past 20 – 30 years. That trend has changed quite a bit.
So I’m very thankful that now I’m out of the more dangerous work in my opinion, and I have a much more stable career path now.
Katie: Gotcha. So that kind of brings us us to present day. So I’d love to know in your current position is an air ambulance pilot, what’s your favorite thing about the work that you do?
Kyle: My favorite thing is, knowing that what we do is helping somebody.
I don’t like the aspect that it’s their worst day, if I get a tone and I go fly, I still love to fly. But when I’m going it’s because it’s somebody’s worst day, but it’s still very, very rewarding, knowing we can make a difference.
Going hand in hand with that, my least favorite thing is the pay. It actually does not, you would be very surprised how low paid you are as a helicopter pilot, even in air ambulance is kind of the top considered top tier employment.
This or VIP, like in South Florida, VIP pilots down there make very good money. But you can’t go into aviation, especially helicopter industry, expecting to make a lot of money. It’s because you have a passion for it, and not necessarily, can’t, you can’t. The short version is you can’t do it for the pilot salary.
Katie: That’s what I was going to ask, because a lot of pilots that people are familiar with are like commercial airline pilots. So how does being a helicopter and being, like, an airline pilot, how does that compare a salary wise usually if someone’s interested in going into aviation.
Kyle: So it’s, it’s kind of a reverse bell curve, I guess. So in the helicopter industry the initial training costs twice as much, on average, to get the same number of hours and get that first job. But then the first job pays twice as much. So when I was initially a flight instructor, I made double what most of the fixed wing flight instructors were making at the same airport. But then as you progress in the helicopter industry, we cap at a lot lower than what an airline pilot would do.
Katie: How long does it take to become a pilot for a major airline?
Kyle: It’s easy work hard spent a lot of time studying, building up ratings, networking properly, and you build your way up to the major airlines, the Deltas, the Americans, the Uniteds, and you go to Captain doing international routes then yeah you’re making a commercial pilot salary of $250,000 to $350,000, working three days a month. Helicopter industry, you’re never going to see those numbers, no matter what.
Katie: Gotcha. So, you mentioned ratings. Can you talk a little bit more about to study to become a pilot and what ratings are in your industry?
Kyle: Yeah, so the different subject requirements to become a pilot are more for the airplane side. So helicopter, we don’t have multi-integrations; we just have private instrument, commercial, CFI, CFII, which are flight instructor and instrument flight instructor. Airplane you have tail dragger ratings, high wing, low wing, high performance. Sea plane, multi engine, which have more than one engine in the aircraft, all those are extra ratings that you can get. And I want to stay, Private instrument commercial, airplane single engine land, Airplane multi engine land, and then your flight instructors for all those are the main ones.
Now the tail dragger in the high performance, high performance you actually have to have free commercial, but it’s like 10 hours in a high performance performance aircraft, if I remember correctly. So all those are different ratings that you can get. Then, if an aircraft is above 12,500 pounds, you have to get a type rating for each one of those. But most employers will pay for those type ratings, as you gain that experience and knowledge and get those jobs that will require type rating in the aircraft.
Katie: Gotcha. So this is really an industry that requires a lot of continuous learning and studying and being able to build up your experience to get to where you want to go. So that being said, you know you were an instructor, what, in your opinion, are the kinds of things that are most important to teach to new helicopter pilots.
Kyle: The most important – so I said, definitely the most important thing is a term we call aeronautical decision making. ADM. That is something that is crucial to the safe operation and having a long, healthy career as a helicopter pilot. If somebody is unable learn the decision making process and how to make proper decisions and not have hazardous attitudes as we’re taught, that’s the most important thing to teach. Anybody can learn how to push buttons and pull up on a stick and push forward on a stick, and use pedals, those skills, anybody can learn over time. But decision making is the, and it’s also the hardest. Unfortunately, one of the hardest things to teach are how to make good decisions.
Katie: And then my last question here is, what advice would you give to students who are interested in following your career path?
Kyle: Biggest advice is have – always have a second plan. Have something else you can do because, so we have to do check rides twice a year, we do training every month. We have to. I think I just said that we have to get a medical certificate every year. If I ever lose that medical, that means I can’t fly anymore. So I have a degree in business as an alternative. If something happens, hopefully I can go into management that doesn’t require me to fly, but with 20 years of military or aviation experience, I am kind of narrowed down to only really being able to be a manager in some aviation capacity. So have options, just in case.
Save your money. Flying a helicopter, specifically is very expensive. Find a way to – go the military route. They’ll pay for your training if you qualify, so that means studying hard in school, getting good grades and getting scholarships, ROTC, to help you get into the military for them to pay for it. Same thing, there are civilian scholarships too. There’s a lot of scholarships out there, I don’t know where all of them are. I was not very good at filling out the applications, I wish I was better so I’m still paying student loans, even though I had the post 911 GI Bill help a lot with my education. I’m still paying a lot of money and student loans. So, hard work, paying off getting those scholarships will pay off dividends in the long term. Because if I didn’t have the student loans the money I make would feel a lot better than it does.
Katie: That’s true. Well it’s practical advice because you know you said you get into fine because you love to do it but then they’re all these different costs associated that people might not be aware of, so great advice.
And we’re going to wrap up now! Thanks so much Kyle for coming on the show, really appreciate having you, and hopefully we’ll talk to you soon!
Kyle: Sounds good.
Katie: Thank you Kyle Roth, Air Ambulance Helicopter Pilot at Parkview Samaritan Hospital for coming on the show today. Listen to every episode of My STEM Career at ellipsiseducation.com or wherever you get your podcasts. See you soon!
Teachers and students: explore STEM careers and discover the ways computer science knowledge can help regardless of your path. In this show, we speak with industry experts that share information about their careers, describe their professional experiences, and offer advice to students. This show is hosted by Ellipsis Education.