Classroom to cockpit: Day in the life of a student helicopter pilot
January 16, 2014
(Editor's note: This is part of a continuing series looking at different jobs and the people who get them done at Fort Rucker. Readers who have ideas for jobs or people to be highlighted in the series can send an email to email@example.com for the staff to consider.)
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (January 16, 2014) -- Her alarm goes off at 3:30 a.m. and her loveable hound-lab mix, Rupert, is there to make sure she doesn't hit the snooze button.
Second Lt. Dorothy Marie Reid rubs the sleep from her eyes as she prepares for another day as a UH-60 Black Hawk student with D Company, 1st Battalion, 145th Aviation Regiment, 1st Aviation Brigade.
"I start my day by studying some of my simpler memorization facts like (emergency procedures). Once I am mentally capped, I will try to get a run in," she said.
After a quick shower and a yogurt cup, Reid heads to Ford Hall for morning (lecture) at 7 a.m. or the airfield at 5:30 a.m. and has class for five to seven straight hours.
"Most students skip lunch and they tend to some of their business, like checking email or running personal errands," she said, but Reid usually heads home to take Rupert out, give him some much needed attention and eat a lunch she prepared the night before.
"After lunch hour we switch. So, if you were out on the airfield in the morning, you go to class in the afternoon, and vice versa," she continued.
Afternoon instruction lasts another four to five hours, according to Reid, then students are released for the day.
"I know a lot of students have Families, and this is the only free time parents have to spend with their children and have dinner, but I spend my down time by taking Rupert for a run," she said.
Reid calls her husband around 6:30 each night while cooking dinner. She buries her head back into textbooks after her evening call and completes what people would consider homework.
"I will study until I realize I am not retaining the information, which is usually about two hours, and then it is definitely bedtime," she said.
Reid believes that other students would need a schedule similar to hers to stay on top of their responsibilities.
She is a self-proclaimed Army brat who doesn't claim any hometown, but she is a Family girl who is married to an infantryman currently stationed at Fort Benning, Ga., a luxury that she is taking full advantage of, even though her weekends are just as packed as her work weeks.
"Every Saturday, I will either drive to Fort Benning or he will drive here so we can try to spend some time together," she said. "The drive is hard for both of us, but I appreciate the time I do have with him because I do get the support I need that many students don't have."
The Reids never go a Saturday without making a big breakfast and doing something athletic together, such as going on a hike or playing racquetball before completing errands. Saturday night is either date night or study night, which Reid believes most students also indulge in.
"Sunday morning we always try to sleep in, and if I am in Georgia I will drive home and listen to my audio notes. Sunday night is studying and checking up on anything I have neglected during the week, like laundry," she said while laughing.
Although she knew her schedule would be incredibly busy, Reid said she never anticipated the complexity of the training.
Students first go through basic officer leadership course when they arrive at Fort Rucker, where they learn the basics of Aviation. Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape training follows, along with "primary," where students begin flying the TH-67, then "instruments," she said.
Students finish the initial entry rotary wing phase after refining their map making skills, Reid said.
The Army usually selects what airframe the students will be flying and they begin taking classes that focus on that airframe, as well as going to the airfield and working with the helicopter on the ground.
Eventually, after extensive testing and time in simulators, student pilots begin flying again. After completing night flying check-rides, many weeks later, students graduate.
Reid is currently in the third week of the academic portion of learning the basics of flying Black Hawks.
"This journey has really shown me what my weaknesses are, and how to tackle them to be a better person inside and outside of the military. But growing throughout has been eye-opening, and I am a better person and officer now than when I first got here," she said.
The exclusivity of flying, and wanting to be a part of the mission that brings troops to the fight as well as supporting the fight itself, is what attracted Reid to getting her boots off the ground.
Even though re-teaching herself how to learn and memorize is especially time consuming, Reid said it is still important to find a way to decompress at the end of each day or the weekend.
"I think that students really need to take at least a few hours in the weekend to do something for themselves so they can recharge," she said. "The effort and the energy has to be there on Monday because you're training, and no matter what is happening in your life you are expected to perform and match the bar that your instructors set."
Although Reid said she was sometimes frustrated with certain aspects of flight school, she wouldn't trade the "exceptional" opportunity for anything in the world.