MY OUTLOOK: Johnny Baben, Helicopter Pilot

How long have you been piloting helicopters?

I started flying helicopters in Europe eight years ago. I moved to the United States from Ireland five years ago.

Johnny Baben in front of a helicopterHow did you get into flying?

I always wanted to be a pilot. I remember having a vivid dream where I flew an orange and white helicopter as a child. After college I became a software engineer but became disillusioned with the corporate drudgery. I stayed long enough to pay for my flight training. I’ve enjoyed the office with the best view ever since!

Do you only fly helicopters or do you fly any other aircraft as well?

I only fly helicopters. They are my life and my passion. Airplanes are fun but I prefer the versatility of helicopters, for example, the unique capability to land anywhere. We don’t need runways!

What’s your favorite part of flying tourists around the city?

Meeting people, hearing where they’re from, showing them the SkyDance Bridge over the freeway. Visitors and residents are always surprised what the city looks like from above. Favorite sightseeing spots include Lake Hefner, Chesapeake, Gaillardia and of course downtown. The view is spectacular!

Have you ever had any scary incidents?

Helicopters are very safe to fly, as long as it is done within the aircraft’s limitations and the pilot’s capabilities. A sudden and severe change in wind direction and speed during an approach to a small landing area requires nerves of steel and lightning reflexes. Regardless of how well prepared you are, things change and develop very fast up in the air. When things change fast, that’s when your training kicks in.

What’s something that most people don’t know about helicopters?

Flying forward is easy. Staying in one place or “hovering” is not. People tend to think the opposite is true.

Are helicopters difficult to fly?

Initially learning to fly a helicopter is challenging. Imagine rubbing your belly with one hand, patting your head with the other, tapping a rhythm with one foot and an entirely different beat with the other foot. It is true multi-tasking unlike anything else. It becomes easier as you develop a certain feel and sense, and eventually it becomes second nature. There is always a lot to learn and you will never stop learning!

What has been your favorite flying memory?

I’ve done truly amazing things with a helicopter in some breathtaking places. But I’d say it has to be when I looked around during a flight and realized all my passengers had fallen asleep.

Johnny Baben in the cockpit of a helicopterWhat brought you to Oklahoma?

Following my heart! The opportunity presented itself for me to do different types of work like power line inspections, pipeline work, surveying, photography and more. It’s varied and I get to fly around neighboring states as well. And of course the people! I work with phenomenal people and I ended up making great friends.

How does someone become a helicopter pilot?

The right answer really depends on your goals. Start by looking for a flight school in your area. The first step is to become a private pilot which allows you to fly with passengers. If your goal is to fly for fun or hobby then most people remain at this level of certification. If you decide to continue your training you become a commercial pilot which opens the door for compensation or teaching. Once you have gained significant experience you can do specialized work like agriculture, offshore, utility, tours and more.

Do you have any advice for someone interested in becoming a pilot?

If you have ever thought about flying helicopters, do it! Most flight schools offer an introductory lesson where you get to go up and actually fly the aircraft, with an instructor on board, of course. Find the best flight school. Find the best flight instructor. Take your time finding a setup that will work for YOU. Beware of flight schools that make promises and churn out high volumes of pilots. Do your research, look online, it is usually easy to find bad reviews. Demand the best. Always keep learning and follow your dream!

Interested in booking a helicopter tour around the city with Johnny? Visit interstatehelicopters.com.

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