Apache helicopter pilot follows dad's footsteps
July 18, 2012
By Dan O'Boyle
One's a colonel and the other's a first lieutenant. Both are proud of their Louisiana roots and service to the nation.
Col. Michael Cavalier retired Thursday following 28 years of service and
his last assignment as Joint Attack Munition Systems project manager.
His son, 1st Lt. Michael Jr., graduated from Flight School at Fort Rucker in June and is headed to Fort Bliss, Texas.
Both are Louisiana State University grads and AH-64 Apache helicopter pilots.
The colonel has amassed 2,200 flying hours, while his son marks 180.
"At first I wanted to be an astronaut, and then I wanted to be a jet fighter pilot," Michael Jr. said. "After talking seriously with my dad, I decided that I wanted to be an Army helicopter pilot because I can have a direct link to supporting Soldiers on the ground."
Dad's military interest grew out of Scouting and JROTC.
"I really enjoyed drill team, rifle team and orienteering team activities," Michael Sr. said. "I enjoyed it a whole lot more when I got an ROTC scholarship."
The colonel traces his aviation roots to 1984 after graduating from Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, La., with a degree in mechanical engineering and aeronautical science.
"We call Nicholls 'Harvard on the Bayou,'" he said. "We were a small school, but we always competed well in aviation competitions, coming out in the top three nationwide."
At that "Harvard campus," Michael Sr. was able to get flight certifications that made Flight School at Fort Rucker a lot easier.
Michael Jr., on the other hand, went through a newer curriculum with a combat focused format.
The first lieutenant had to go through Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape training, losing 30 pounds in the three-week process, and aircraft dunker training prior to starting flight school.
His next career step awaits him.
"When I get to my unit, I'll probably be flying in the front seat," he said. "When I get enough experience and get signed off, I'll qualify to be the pilot-in-command in the back seat. We will also be training with Unmanned Aircraft Systems and the Block III Apache once the unit is upgraded."
History showed the way.
"The helicopter that I trained in -- the TH-55 -- is hanging from the ceiling in the Fort Rucker museum," Michael Sr. said. "The TH-55 I flew didn't have an automatic governor, a digital fuel control, or a slip indicator, except for a piece of yarn attached to the wind screen. You had to manually adjust the throttle every time you moved the collective."
A former product director for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Tactical Concepts and product manager for the Longbow Apache, Michael Sr. started in the enlisted ranks at age 17.
A lot has transpired since 1980.
"When you take the latest variant of the Hellfire missile and put it on an Apache helicopter, you truly have a combat capability that is the tip of the spear," Michael Sr. said. "When the Hellfire and other tactical missiles are integrated on extended range air platforms and unmanned aircraft, those systems have a strategic capability with a definite impact on national security."
In terms of career highlights, he cited the fielding 180 Block II Apache helicopters.
"In 2004, we flew a C-5 Galaxy with seven aircraft into Balad," he said. "Additionally, in 2006 our team fielded the first Sky Warrior A's to Bagram as part of Task Force ODIN.
"Most recently, here in the JAMS PM, we have been able to establish a forward Hellfire test and repair facility in the Middle East, where we are able to turn the missiles around in fewer than 90 days, which significantly increases availability and readiness."
The JAMS Project Office has three Acquisition Category One projects: Joint-Air-To-Ground Missile, 2.75-inch rockets and Hellfire.