Helicopter Academy / Boatpix

What do YOU think?

Despite the fact that my contact page clearly says I do not give career advice, I got the following e-mail message today:

I have read some of your posts and would love to hear your opinion. I am working on my helicopter commercial license and I came across helicopter academy. They offer low hourly rates and train you to work hand and hand with boatpix.com They guarantee to get you to 300 hours and guarantee you a CFI job and aerial photographer. The contract does not actually state they will gurantee hire you after your training. They give you their “word” As a fellow aviator I know people tend to make things up just so you pay for the flight as they sit back and build their own time. Do you know of this flight school? Is it the real deal? I would appreiciate your thoughts on the matter. Thanks for your time.

What do I think? I think that a promise from a flight school — or any other organization interested in getting you to sign on the dotted line — is as good as the paper it’s written on.

17 thoughts on “Helicopter Academy / Boatpix

  1. Boatpix has a lousy reputation in the sailing community. Go look at http://forums.sailinganarchy.com/ (just be aware that this is a site prone to salty language and colorful characters) and search for boatpix. The thread is titled “BoatPricks Again… Do These Guys Even Have A Clue?” pretty much sums it up. I have seen them flying a R-22 in the Seattle area in a manner that lead me to call the local FAA office.

    • The Instructor and his student decided to take the helicopter away from the FAR Part 141 airfield where many eyes are watching and practice something that is like teaching yourself low g pushovers. They were teaching themselves what is technically called a WINGOVER (or an agricultural turn or a hammerhead turn) and they were too stupid to start the illegal maneuver downwind which after the 180 degree turn would leave them with a 4 mph headwind, airspeed, power and options. So, without any formal training, they initiated into the wind and after the 180 degree turn they were in a downwind situation. We have pontoon helicopters for over water flights but they took the skid ship without a camera. It wasn’t boat photo. We found months later that the Instructor had a criminal record but the parole officer said he was convicted after the accident and we couldn’t have known. Hence, poor judgment if you become a felon and wreck a helicopter, too. Last I saw a FB picture of the Instrutor flying an Agusta 109 twin and the student now flies a Bell 407 overseas and told me he goes to 429 school soon. Whenever an accident happens the lies begin. Always call the operator if you know him or her because they are on the “go” team and are first to get the calls and texts and can tell you what really happened. “Momma bird never knows what baby bird is going to do when he leaves the nest” is a summary of what a check airmen once told me after he went to get his video camera to photograph someone practicing this maneuver. He didn’t get it powered up in time before they wrecked it.

  2. @Maria Langer

    Boatpix has an excellent reputation in the boating community. A very well loved organization that is respected since 1981 for excellence in photography. We are also the world’s largest in aerial boat photography and huge fleet of helicopters might give you a glimpse into this happiness and dominance. Every mainstream boating forum will start with a question about BOATPIX and after a week or so there will be many positive posts from actual customers that frequently list how much money they have spent and how they would happily do it again. The two largest boat companies (by volume) are Sea Ray and Hatteras and if you look at those forums it always ends up as a lovefest with the caveat that the pictures are expensive and the sailboaters likely won’t use this service. To reference renegade forums from anarchist sailing websites is silly and the information is wrong and contradictory.

    As to your decision to “call the local FAA office” in Seattle and being a fellow aviator I don’t understand your line of thinking, Ross. Our company with me as the photographer started taking pictures of boats in Seattle in 1990 using Classic Helicopters at the annual Swiftsure Race in the Straight of Juan de Fuca after a customer requested that we go there. I have never received a complaint from a FSDO in Seattle in those following 21 years up to and including today. I know that my helicopter at Boeing field is owned by our company and is paid for as I bought that one in June of 2010 with a check to a private owner of it in Antioch, CA. I’m sure we use the same mechanic for maintenance at Boeing Field that others do.

    Ross, I don’t understand your anger and frustration and the reason to vent on a forum such as this. Perhaps you would have been happier had you gone to the flight training provider we use which is http://www.HelicopterAcademy.com and then you would be feeling the love of a sustainable operation rather than a flight school pyramid? For a first helicopter job a cpl or cfi will statistically be doing either photo flying or instruction. HelicopterAcademy.com specializes in both. Because of the immense BOATPIX contract all of our students are guaranteed a job in writing (see the dropdown box “jobs”). If you go to the mom and pop flight school where pop teaches you to fly he certainly can’t train you and give you his job, right? But we do a lot of photo flying and this creates a lot of opportunity. As President of BOATPIX.com, Inc. and Manger of HelicopterAcademy.com, LLC I’m not aware of ever shortchanging any pilot and have given jobs to all those I have guaranteed them to since 1986 when we started flying. If anyone, anyone disputes this then please call me at 561-346-2816 to explain. I’ve have given my cellphone on forums since 2001 and I have yet to have a call from someone saying I’ve misled them. If you see that you can’t possibly get hired at your flight school then switch NOW to ours with our dual rate of $200/hour.

  3. @Tom McDermott
    Tom, since you’ve decided to use my blog as an unpaid advertisement for your company, I’ll go the next step and advise anyone who wants to sign with your organization to talk to the FAA and past students about Helicopter Academy and BoatPix. Your organization certainly does NOT have the “excellent reputation” you claim and I resent you making such a claim on my blog as if no one will challenge you. I’ve heard many people voicing concerns about the ethics of having pilots pay Helicopter Academy for flight time while flying BoatPix missions. Seems BoatPix has a good deal for itself: get pilots to pay while they fly AND make money on the photos shot. Do the student pilots understand that THEY’RE paying YOU for that job?

    I know at least one of your students who was struggling to build time in the Seattle area while paying you folks to fly boating events. He’d been at it for over a year when we chatted and there didn’t seem to be any end in sight for him.

    And what about Robinson’s Safety Notice (SN-34) regarding low-time pilots on photo missions? Robinson recommends 500 hours PIC with 100 hours in type. There have been numerous accidents with low-time pilots flying photo missions in R22s — including one that recently occurred off the coast of Miami. I think you might know more about that one than I do. Do you really think ignoring Robinson’s safety notices so blatantly is a good idea? Is it really wise to lead low-time pilots into thinking they have the skill set required for such flying?

    My advice to people reading this: Make sure you get everything in writing when you sign up with any school. This includes paying for flight time on which the school is earning revenue from other sources (for photo flights or ag work) and hidden costs like aircraft fuel. Also consider the kind of safety record the school has and how seriously they take guidelines such as helicopter manufacturer safety notices. Remember this: there is no magic bullet. If you hear of a deal that’s just too good to be true, it probably is.

    Remember Silver State?

  4. Anyone is welcome to contact the FAA or any of our current or former students. I’m not aware of any problem with the FAA or any current or former students. I always state my name which is Tom McDermott and my phone number is 561-346-2816. The fellow Ross that says “I have seen them flying a R-22 in the Seattle area in a manner that lead me to call the local FAA office” I think “Ross” should list his name, phone number, position in the helicopter industry and document that he actually called the “local FAA office” or he shouldn’t attack my company with this circular reasoning. I think you should remove that post if he can’t document what he is saying? Don’t you think that is true Maria?

  5. My previous post is our guarantee that you will be give a first job. You told students to “make sure you get everything in writing.” If you think this is advertising then perhaps you should remove the thread from the beginning as I was simply responding to previous posts with accurate information. When Silver State Helicopters had it first helicopter I chartered it from North Las Vegas for a photo flight. I watched them grow and the fall which was totally predictable. They had a different business model.

  6. @Tom McDermott
    First, your original comment is a one-sided report of the reputation of a business you own. It contains multiple promises, contacts information, and other data that would normally be found in an advertisement. It IS, as far as I’m concerned, an advertisement. If you keep pressing me, I will indeed remove it.

    Second, Ross (who does not put his name in quotes) is not required to publicly submit any personal contact information to comment in this forum or any other. If he says he saw one of your helicopters operating in such a way that he called the FAA, isn’t that enough? I don’t think he needs to document it in a casual public forum like this. I’ve called the FAA about unsafe helicopter operators at least twice and reported doing so in helicopter forums without providing documentation to prove it. Safety-minded pilots do these things when they witness unsafe actions.

    Third, if you’re going to go on the defensive here, why not address my comments regarding Robinson Safety Notice 34, the ethics of making pilots pay to fly revenue-generating photo flights (considered to be “double-dipping” by many), and the recent accident off the coast of Miami where the pilot in command attempted to “recover” from low rotor RPM by performing an autorotation from 100 feet into the ocean in a helicopter without floats? (Based on my knowledge of how you operate, I have my own ideas about who was flying and who was holding the camera.) To a pilot concerned about safe and ethical operations, these are far more important issues than whether you promise jobs in writing or not.

  7. Maria,

    There are other companies out there (the LA traffic guy who let’s people pay to go along on traffic reporting flights to gain some 206 time comes to mind). I don’t see an ETHICAL problem with this, it lets the operator either charge a lower rate for his service, or make a little extra money at his operation.

    My caution to a student dropping tens of thousands of dollars on this kind of flying is that:

    a) you probably aren’t learning much past the first 10 hours
    b) most employers aren’t going to be very impressed with hundreds of hours of that sort of flying.
    c) that’s a lot of money that you could spend getting something useful like an instrument rating.

    There probably are cases where someone needs to build hours and this may be a way to do it at a lower cost than through a school, but at least if you are going to do this in order to get a job, get your instrument, commercial, and even CFI first before you drop money on time building.

    Paul Cantrell

    BTW Tom, I think I bumped into your son at the 2006 RHC safety class?

  8. @Paul Cantrell
    Hell, I offer time building flights whenever I have a long ferry flight. But I’m not getting paid by someone else to do the same flying. And I’m certainly not making money on those flights. I’m barely covering costs.

    I think double-dipping is ethically wrong. Period. That’s my opinion. It’s obvious that others don’t share it.

    It’s one thing if the client knows about the time-building flight situation and is getting a reduced rate. But it’s something else when the client is paying full price for an experienced pilot and the flight is being conducted by a low-time pilot who is also paying to fly.

    And how do you explain to a client/employer/NTSB Investigator, after a mishap (if you’re still alive), why there was someone else in the helicopter and why he had the controls?

    I think companies that operate like this are walking a slippery slope. And I don’t think that photo missions are appropriate time-building activities for 100- or 200-hour pilots — especially when the aircraft manufacturer clearly states 500 hours PIC is the minimum recommended time.

  9. I applauded RHC when they came out with that safety notice that references a less than 500 hour pilot performing photo work and I remember the accident and the school that caused that change. That school has had a 25 year history with me as I charted helicopters from them before I bought my first new Robinson R22 Mariner in May of 1990 and they are still in existence and probably don’t read this blog. That change refers to a low time pilot performing photo work and I gave a hearty “Amen” to that safety notice and still do. If a student comes to us with a ppl and 50 hours and he is put into a program where most of the next 250 hours he is involved in low level photo flying and IF I feel comfortable with him performing that work for my company I can sign a waiver to reduce our 1000 hour minimum. If that 300 hour pilot has 200 hours performing low level photo is he not a better pilot than the 500 hour pilot that has never flow low level photo?

  10. Paul, I don’t have a son so if you met someone at the 2006 RHC Class you are mistaken. The first RHC class EVER did have a pilot of mine and his name was Karl Shulz. That was a very long time ago. I first flew in Robinsons in January of 1986 and closed on another one today. Bought three this year. The negativity I hear on the internet is not borne on what I hear from my customers, mechanics or students. It is a happy and safe place that we run. We do keep a helicopter in Southern California and it was based at the Torrance Airport in 2006 but it is now at John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana where there are more boats and where I was at last weekend.

  11. This thread is a bit out of my scope of interest but given the original post by Ms. Langer, I am curious to know what I should be looking for in a training program that will provide me with adequate credentials for the job market. I am particularly interested in medical transport and heli-skiing.

    The cost is not incidental: $22K for…

    Commercial Certification Helicopter (Robinson R22)
    20 Hours Dual Flight Instruction $5800
    30 Hours Ground Instruction $1800
    *62.5 Hours PIC/Solo flights includes Night and Cross Country flights $14,375
    Books and Materials $100
    FAA Commercial Knowledge Exam $145
    Total $22,220

    In some job forums I note the utility of the night and cross country flights as well as non-airport landing. Is there any specific certification or additional skill you think might be useful? I recognize that doling out career advice is not the primary mission of your blog so any feedback is much appreciated.


    • You might want to begin by reading my series about becoming a helicopter pilot. The first article in the series can be found here: https://www.aneclecticmind.com/2011/01/17/so-you-want-to-be-a-helicopter-pilot-part-1-read-this-first/

      Also, please keep in mind that you will likely NOT be able to get a commercial helicopter pilot certificate for only $22K. Even if your flight school pushed you through the program and had an on-site examiner who passed 100% of the students, you will not have the skills or experience you need to get a job in a legitimate company, let alone one that does heli-skiing or medevac. Heli-skiing jobs will require at least 1000 hours experience, likely including some turbine time. Medevac usually requires an instrument rating and 200 or more hours of night flying time, in addition to 1000+ hours experience, likely including some turbine time.

      Any flight school that leads you to believe that all you need is what you listed here to get a job is a flight school that you should avoid — they are misleading you.

      Primary flight training, which is what you’re discussing with the $22K price tag, will not give you specialized skills. It’ll just teach you how to fly. And with the flight hours you listed, it won’t even give you enough experience to do it reasonably well. Hell, you can’t even get a commercial pilot certificate with 82.5 hours of flight time; FAR 61.129(c) specifically states that you need at least 150 hours for a commercial helicopter rating.

      My advice: read my series about becoming a helicopter pilot and talk to a few other flight schools about their programs. Then talk to some real pilots who have achieved some level of success. Don’t dive into this, lured by a low price tag. It’s more likely that you’ll spend $50K to $80K to get the training and ratings you need for an pre-entry level job — as a flight instructor. Then, after paying your dues there (and building time) you might have enough experience to step up into something that’ll eventually lead you to the type of flying you want to do.

      Good luck!

What do you think?