How I Became a Helicopter Pilot
Category : General
How I Became a Helicopter Pilot
By Ofonime Essien
Johann Wolfgang van Goethe said “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it”.
Becoming a Pilot is not something I dreamt of. It came through a vision I received in my office in Cotonou, Benin Republic in March, 2011. While growing up, I enjoyed flying kites. I enjoyed air travelling a lot but I never dreamt of becoming a Pilot even though I had always been fascinated by aircraft cockpits. I was always attracted to radar equipment that sends and receives signals from aircrafts in airports that has radar coverage.
Read More: My First Helicopter Flight Experience
Abandoning UK Education Dream
I studied Computer Science and prepared for six (6) years to further my education in the United Kingdom (UK). I gained admission into various universities in the UK but wasn’t ready financially until 2011. I accepted to study MEng Electrical & Electronics Engineering with the University of Bristol in September 2011. I had admissions from other top universities in the UK but elected to attend University of Bristol.
I didn’t realize the dream of travelling to UK for further studies because I received a vision to become a Pilot before I was due to resume in the University of Bristol. I wanted to major in Controls Engineering, particularly, aircraft controls. I was fascinated by aircraft cockpits. After meeting my mentor, late Captain Ejiofor Omesili, a dual rated Pilot in Cotonou, Benin Republic, I started considering a course in Avionics. That is the interest I had in the aviation industry.
I was watching an Inspiration Channel on 5th March, 2011. Dr. Mike Murdock was ministering on Seed Sowing & Harvest, a TV program to raise funds for Inspiration Channel for its expansion to spread the gospel to all corners of the world.
He told a story of how he broke the back of poverty by sowing a US $1,000.00 (N165,000.00) seed and asked people to sow a $1,000 seed for uncommon favour and harvest. Dr. Mike Murdock said something miraculous will happen within 90 days of sowing the seed. He said one can sow the seed in installments but should be done within 90 days from that day. He said you can start with what you have. I wanted to sow but was not convinced if I should do it because of the amount of money involved.
The following day, 6th March, 2011, the same message was repeated when I turned on the channel. It was at that moment I decided to sow, but not to Inspiration Channel. I decided to sow it to either Action Chapel in Cotonou or some Pastors I knew or needy people around me. I decided to do it according to how I was led. I sowed what I had that Sunday (6th March, 2011) to the needy, and the remaining within the 90 days. Few days after that, something miraculous happened.
It was on Wednesday, 9th March, 2011, in my office – West African Power Pool (WAPP), an Economic Community for West African States (ECOWAS) Commission’s Agency on Power and Cross Border Interconnections, in Cotonou, Benin Republic, that I received the vision to become a Pilot. I got to work that day, set up my laptop and decided to go and say hello to one of my colleagues, Mr. Sanou Honore. On my way to his office, I heard a loud voice say “PILOT”. I knew it was a voice from above because I was the only one in the side of my office but I checked the offices to be doubly sure. There was no one else around, so I knew the voice was not an ordinary one. It was a voice from above; a divine voice. It was the first time I heard a voice from God and that voice changed the course of my career. I returned to my desk, went online and searched for Pilot training. That is how the Pilot dream started.
I met Mrs. Ethelbert Emeka, a good friend of mine in Cotonou in the evening of same day to share my encounter with her and asked her to book an appointment with her cousin, late Captain Ejiofor Omesili, an airline Pilot with 22 years of experience in the aviation industry, for me. I had met him once in her shop about a month before. She liked Aircraft Maintenance Engineering and asked me to consider it and discuss it with her cousin.
Meeting Captain Omesili
I met late Captain Omesili in the evening of 10th March, 2011. I presented the idea of being a Pilot and an Aircraft Maintenance Engineer to him. He explained what flying entails and Aircraft Maintenance Engineering: Avionics and Airframe & Powerplant (A&P) in details but didn’t recommend any. He didn’t want to influence my decision. He asked me to see him after making a decision.
I decided to become a Pilot on 11th March, 2011 after careful considerations. Besides, I heard “Pilot” and not an Aircraft Maintenance Engineer. I met late Captain Omesili in Hotel Marina, Cotonou on 12th March, 2011 after deciding to become a Pilot. He congratulated me on my decision.
Are you fit to fly?
Dreaming to become a Pilot is one thing, being fit medically is another. Late Captain Omesili asked me to go and do Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Class 1 Medical in Lagos, Nigeria to know if I am fit to fly. I did FAA Class 1 Medical in April 2011 and passed. I met late Captain Omesili after the medical in Hotel Marina, Cotonou.
Becoming a Helicopter Pilot
It was during my meeting with late Captain Omesili after my FAA Class 1 Medical that he suggested I become a Helicopter Pilot. He said “If you can afford it, I want you to be a Helicopter Pilot”. He added, “Helicopter Pilots are few and in high demand”. He was a dual rated Pilot. He flew for Aero Contractors, Nigeria as a Fixed Wing Pilot before the airline sent him for helicopter training in the USA. He told me he didn’t like the idea of becoming a Helicopter Pilot and told his Flight Instructor in USA that he doesn’t want to learn to fly helicopter but the instructor made him fall in love with helicopters during a discovery flight. His reason was that he saw helicopters as death traps.
Before this meeting, I was only looking at fixed wing (airplane) training and knew little about helicopters. It was during this meeting I knew helicopter training was more expensive than airplane and decided to become a Helicopter Pilot.
Fixed Wing or Rotary?
I looked at about two hundred (200) flying schools – fixed wing and rotary, before deciding on which school to attend. I wanted to go for fixed wing training and convert to helicopter later because of cost. It was my mentors, late Captain Omesili and Captain Lewis, AW139 Captain with Caverton Helicopters, Nigeria that advised me to go for helicopter training since it is helicopter I will be flying.
I joined Vertical Helicopter Forum and inquired about some helicopter schools in the USA.
While I Waited
I contacted the two flying schools on my short list – Bristow Academy, Titusville and Civic Helicopters, California to find out what I should do while I waited to raise enough money for the training. They send me a list of books and recommended ASA Prepware, so that I will be ready to take the FAA exams as soon as I arrived in the United States and concentrate on the flying part.
Most of the books were FAA books that is available free online. I downloaded and started reading them. I paid for ASA and Dauntless Prepwares and started going through them too.
I watched Air Crash investigations on Discovery Channels too. And most importantly, I had an artist make a portrait of me in Pilot’s uniform. I hung this in my room. I saw it first thing in the morning, any time I am in the room and before going to bed. I imagined myself as a Pilot.
While I waited, I did things that brought me closer to achieving my dream.
Meeting IHFS Rector
I knew about International Helicopter Flying School (IHFS), Enugu – Nigeria through Vertical Reference Helicopter Forum about one month to resumption of its first training session. A representative of the school advertised on the forum for Robinson 66 Turbine Helicopter Flight Instructors.
After several emails and telephone conversations, I met the then Rector of IHFS, Group Captain Ayo Jolasinmi in Enugu, Nigeria on 2nd August, 2012 and collected my admission letter the following day. He expressed concerns over how I will pay my training fees of US $97,700.00 (N16,132,050.00) since I was the only self-sponsored student in a Class of 30 students. Fourteen (14) students were sponsored by the Nigerian Air Force, ten (10) by the Nigerian Police Force and five (5) by the Yobe State government. I assured him, I will settle my fees. He saw how passionate and committed I was about flying and decided to give me an opportunity. I will always be grateful to him for giving me the opportunity, the understanding he showed and the assistance he rendered. May God bless him abundantly.
The Most Difficult Part of My Training
The most difficult part of my flight training wasn’t how to hover a helicopter or instrument training but paying my training fees. Learning to hover a helicopter and instrument training had their challenges but paying my fees was the most difficult.
There is nothing as bad as worrying about training fees while in flying school instead of spending time mastering flying procedures.
It was while I was in flying school, I heard that one cannot become a Pilot without having rich parents, uncles, Senators or a link in government, be it Federal or State. I am happy I didn’t have that information before I left for the training. Fortunately, God does not work with statistics. Paying for my pilot training was more difficult than I had planned.
Investing for Training
I invested US $24,000 (N 4,000,000.00) in a partnership deal to import a Scania Marcopolo Bus from Spain for a transportation business in Ghana with late Captain Ejiofor Omesili. Unfortunately, the bus arrived damaged. I also invested in 18 tri-cycles (Keke) for commercial transportation and also in micro lending business. I made these investments to enable me pay for my flight training with ease.
Unfortunately, things didn’t quite work out as planned. In life, things don’t always work out the way we would like. The returns from these businesses came in trickles and not regular. People sat down on my money. There is nothing as frustrating as having money problems and people that are owing you refusing to pay.
Seeking for Sponsorship
I left Abuja, Nigeria for Enugu, Nigeria on 21st August, 2012, after missing a flight on the 19th and a cancelled flight on the 20th due to bad weather in Enugu, with US $1,212.00 (N200,000.00). A week after arriving Enugu, I spent US $727 (N120,000.00) of that money paying one of my nieces school fees and accommodation. I was left with about US $485 (N80,000.00) for a US $97,700.00 (N16,132,050.00) programme, and a mountain – moving faith.
I wrote several letters to Akwa Ibom State government, Akwa Ibom State Scholarship Board, Airlines, Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF), Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), MTN Foundation, the Senator representing Uyo Constituency, the House of Assembly Member representing Ibiono Ibom / Itu Constituency and other Corporate Organizations. I wrote 48 letters, spent about US $273 (N45, 000.00) on DHL and EMS services to have the letters delivered, unfortunately, no help came.
I was faced with the possibility of being withdrawn from the programme. In spite all that, I refused to give up on the dream of becoming a Pilot. I am a strong believer that “God will never give you a Vision without making Provision”. He did make provision. My severance package from Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) came when I was about being thrown out of the programme. It came when I needed money so badly and I used it to pay part of my fees.
I kept believing God even when all hope was lost. Paying the remaining fees of US $45,454.00 (N7,500,000.00) was difficult. God did make a way. From an unexpected quarters, the US $45,454.00 (N7,500,000.00) fees was no longer an issue. A good friend of mine, who I will always be grateful to, gave me a loan to help clear the fees. May God bless you in everything you do. May He bless the works of your hands and your family.
In August 2012, I left Abuja, Nigeria for a ten (10) months Integrated Helicopter Pilot course with International Helicopter Flying School (IHFS), Nigerian Air Force Base, Enugu – Nigeria. The programme finished in 2 years because we were the pioneer students. A lot of things didn’t work out as planned. Late arrival of training aircrafts, delays in aircrafts registration, delays in Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority’s (NCAA) examinations, weather etc.
My most memorable moments in the school were the day my Flight Instructor / Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE) sent me Solo, that is to take-off, fly for some minutes within the airport circuit and land on my own and the day of graduation when I was privileged to receive my wings from and shake hands with the former Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Arc. Namadi Sambo.
Wasting Money on Pilot Training
A lot of people wondered why I spent such amount of money to get trained as a Pilot. One said “If I have US $97,700.00 (N16,132,050.00), I will buy a car, build a house, get married and enjoy my life with the remaining change rather than use it for a helicopter training”.
I have no regret spending that money on myself. Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States once said, “If a man empties his purse into his head, no man can take it away from him. An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.”
I was training three (3) people in school while looking for money for my training. One in a Federal University who graduated last year with BSc in Mass Communication, Second Class Upper, one in a Polytechnic who graduated this year with National Diploma (ND) in Business Administration, Lower Credit, the other in a nursery school.
Learning to fly was fun but it wasn’t easy especially, paying for flight trainings. I looked for help, none came until last minute. I considered selling the two (2) plots of land I managed to purchase in Uyo, Nigeria. Against all odds, I finished my training as a Helicopter Pilot because I persevered. I had reached a point of no return.
During my training, when all hope seemed lost, I questioned God why He had brought me that far and abandoned me. I reminded Him severally that if I fail to become a Pilot, He has failed in my life. God didn’t fail me. He is a faithful God. He made a way where there seemed to be no way. I never doubted at any point during the journey that I would become a Pilot. It was just a matter of time.
A good Pilot never stop learning. I learn every day. I try as much as I can to remain current. I fly instrument and approaches in flight simulator while I wait for that dream job.
Do you have a vision or dream you want to pursue so passionately but couldn’t because of lack of money? Never allow the lack of money to stop you from dreaming and achieving your dreams. Never ever give up, no matter how hopeless.