How to Become an Aerial Firefighter

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A really cool article from Coulson Aviation!

Do you want to fly planes or helicopters for a living? Do you especially have a desire to fly aerial firefighting aircraft?

The world and Coulson Aviation need more highly trained pilots to pursue specialized missions. Our pilots manage everything from aerial firefighting (distributing water and/or retardant to suppress and/or contain wildfires) to transporting emergency personnel to heavy lift operations.

Here are the realities you need to consider as you choose to pursue this career.

3 Steps to Become an Aerial Firefighter

STEP 1: GETTING YOUR PILOT LICENSE/CERTIFICATE

  • Decide if you’d like to get or have a fixed wing or rotary pilot license.
  • Obtain a Commercial, or preferably an Airline Transport Pilot License through your accrediting transportation bureau

STEP 2: GETTING YOUR FLIGHT HOURS

Most pilots have diverse backgrounds including military, bush and airline flying. Multi-crew, tailwheel, cargo hauling, agricultural and low-level flying experience are great experiences to have. You will be required to demonstrate your ability to naturally fly the plane (stick & rudder as apposed to automation), as much of the flying is done by hand.

Coulson Aviation would prefer 2,500 flight hours experience along with the necessary licenses and designations before beginning our training program. Many of our rotary wing pilots require a minimum of 250 hours on the specific aircraft you’re applying for. However, we will look at overall aerial firefighting experience in addition to flight hours when hiring.

STEP 3: NEXT STEPS AFTER GETTING HIRED

Once hired by a company you may typically then obtain the following:

  • Obtain an Inter-agency qualification card
  • Obtain your instrument rating

What Other Roles Exist for Aerial Firefighting Companies?

At Coulson Aviation our team is rounded out with Crew Chiefs, Mechanics, Avionics Technicians and Aerospace Design Engineers, Quality Assurance, and Technical Records to name a few. There are many different routes you can take to work for an aerial firefighting company.

ARE YOU A “DETAILS PERSON”?

It is absolutely vital that aerial firefighters are detail oriented. Contrary to the typical movie depiction of pilots being gutsy mavericks who “live on the edge”, aerial firefighter pilots are safety conscious and ensure all procedures and policies are followed.

ARE YOU A TEAM PLAYER?

Attitude is by far one of the most important factors we look at when hiring an aerial firefighting pilot.

Most people think they are team players and will quickly state that they are, but for some individuals, when under fire (no pun intended) it becomes clear they’re not suited to work seamlessly as part of a team.

You need to be objective with this question. Look back on your life experiences and honestly ask yourself if you are by nature a true team player. Are you conscious of your ego and are you able to be objective with your thought processes?

Can you handle constructive criticism and be 110% honest at all times? Are you able to admit when you need help or don’t have all the answers?

I know this doesn’t sound like it has anything to do with becoming a professional aerial firefighting pilot, but please read on.

In the professional world of aviation firefighting it’s CRITICAL that all team members are working towards one common goal; the goal of carrying out SAFE aerial firefighting missions. The intent of every team member has to be flight safety, and the safety for the firefighters on the ground. You will be working with many different roles from dispatchers, to ground crew, to other aircraft.

For the sake of safety and productivity, all team members need to be working in sync with an eye on the prize; and the prize being another safe firefighting mission carried out as close to perfection as possible.

The only way the team can be work seamlessly is when all team members have a high level of respect for each other, and that comes from developing a high level of trust in each other.

ARE YOU WILLING TO LEARN?

This means you are committed to continuous improvement and learning. You aren’t afraid to ask questions and you have a desire to constantly strive for perfection in understanding our aircraft systems.

DO YOU HAVE MENTAL TOUGHNESS?

Our pilots work long hours and long days, sometimes miles away from their families. Aerial firefighters push themselves and the aircraft to safely achieve assigned missions. The job is far from easy, but you must have a passion for whatever mission is at hand.

CAN YOU EMBRACE REPETITION WITHOUT COMPLACENCY SEEPING IN?

A key factor in becoming a professional aerial firefighter is adhering to stringent routine. Safety is the NUMBER ONE priority for professional aerial firefighters, and the only way to accomplish the highest level of safety is to embrace day in and day out repetition, before the thrill of takeoff begins.

As a pilot (on any aircraft) you have to be especially diligent when it comes to the simple tasks, for example:

  • Becoming a passionate student of weather data and flight conditions
  • Carrying our pre-flight walkarounds mindfully and perfectly every time
  • Carrying our pre-flight cockpit checks mindfully and perfectly every time

The aviation world is a tight community and the aerial firefighting world is even tighter. If you enjoy working in a team environment and you’re just as good a listener as you are an action-taker, then you may have what it takes to join the illustrious family of aerial firefighting pilots.

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