Safety & Training
By Leanne Schmidt
Dec. 7, 2007 – Some of us dream of becoming a helicopter pilot, some of us fly helicopters recreationally, some of us make a career of it for a few years, but very few of us manage to spend 50 years of our lives under a rotor.
By Leanne Schmidt
Dec. 7, 2007 – Some of us dream of becoming a helicopter pilot, some of us fly
helicopters recreationally, some of us make a career of it for a few
years, but very few of us manage to spend 50 years of our lives under a
rotor. John Schultz is one of those select few pilots and has just
celebrated his 50th year as a commercial helicopter pilot.
first started flying with his fixed-wing licence when he was 18, then
did his conversion to helicopter in 1954 at Toronto Island Airport with
Paul Ostrander, who was about the third person in Canada to have a
commercial helicopter licence, and Bob Gillies, another industry
veteran. Schultz found that his passion lay in helicopters and now says
it has been over 15 years since he has flown fixed-wing and he has no
current plans to go back to it.
When Schultz trained for his
conversion it took only 25 hours at $75 an hour and it was done on a
Bell 47D. The world’s first commercial helicopter licence was issued
just eight years earlier and the idea of a turbine engine in a
helicopter was still a figment of someone’s imagination. Schultz is
among the pioneers of the aviation industry, and he celebrated his 70th
birthday last summer.
His record of achievements ranges from
vice-president of Viking Helicopters for 10 years to his present
position having 18,000 hours experience and flying for Air Ambulance.
of Schultz’s career was spent in Canada, but he has served abroad.
While working with Viking Helicopters he flew in Africa, the Caribbean
and the Arctic. In the Bahamas he flew the first helicopter ever to be
used for tourism – it was a Bell 47G2 and it gave the vacation industry
a real boost. The Bell 47G2, Schultz noted, was one of the first
machines to have the old-style wooden blades replaced by the much
sturdier and efficient metal blades.
Schultz said his worst
assignments were at the beginning of his career, before there were
limits on how many hours and days a pilot could work without a break.
He figures that his longest stint was flying 260 hours in 28 days
without down time – and that is 260 actual flying hours logged, not
including duty time! Schultz said: “The introduction of duty times has
improved the quality of life for pilots” and has “likely saved more
than one marriage” since their introduction around 10 years ago.
has sacrificed one marriage to aviation along the way – which seems
inevitable when the first time he was out on a job he spent one and a
half years out of two years away from home. His second marriage is
reaping the benefits of all the restrictions on hours worked, which
have allowed him to spend much more time at home with his family.
addition to the dutytime changes, Schultz has witnessed the entire
history of helicopter flight training in Canada. When he trained in the
1950s there was no actual flight test – just being taught and handling
the machine was enough to get a licence. Schultz held a flight
instructor licence for most of his career and said that “the training
has changed drastically; it’s much more controlled now and regulated.”
has not only witnessed changes over the years, but has been
instrumental in creating some of the tools used today. Early in his
career he helped with the engineering and introduction of waterbuckets
on helicopters. He also had a hand in designing and developing the
belly pod on MD 500 helicopters and still owns half the rights to those
The May 1964 issue of Life magazine displays a photo of
John Schultz. He was on a job near Timmins working a mining contract
when a reporter and photographer were doing a story in the area. The
photo shows a Bell 47 flying low over trees with a man dangling by his
hands from the skid gear. And it wasn’t Schultz flying the helicopter;
he was the one hanging from the skid gear! The photographer paid him
$100 (a lot of money back then) to dangle from the helicopter as it
flew along treetops. There were no protective lines, no net; only one
brave man with strong arms. Seeing Schultz tell this story and proudly
show the picture would almost make you believe he would do it again
today if the offer presented itself, though he does say: “It was just a
silly stunt, good money for it at the time.”
Being a grandfather
of four with another grandchild imminent, one claim to fame that will
likely go far with the kids was flying for Disney while filming “The
Incredible Journey.” Schultz has a long list of interesting assignments
and prestigious passengers. While working as chief pilot for Dominion
Helicopters for many years, Schultz did rides at Expo 67 in Montreal,
where he flew some of the very first JetRangers newly arrived in
Canada. The tours he did at Expo displayed the cuttingedge technology
of helicopters to the public. Schultz spent summers flying to mines in
the north and then passed the cold months as a flight instructor over
the quiet winters. He blew snow off circus tents at amusement parks and
in the late 1950s was even called to chase a bank robber fleeing a
Many years of flying are unlikely to pass without
some sort of mishap, malfunction or emergency, and Schultz’s flying was
no exception. His incident was the stuff from which movies are made.
1968, while working at Dominion Helicopters, he was flying near
Marathon in northern Ontario when his Sikorsky S-55’s tail suddenly
fell off. Luckily, trees broke the helicopter’s fall and he managed to
crawl out of the machine once it had bumped and tumbled its way to the
ground. He pulled the engineer out and moved away from the wreckage
just as the fuel exploded. Hearing him tell this story is amazing. The
irony is that Schultz had just resigned from Dominion and was doing
this flight as a favour for another guy! This was his last flight
flying for them, and almost his last flying for anyone! He was very
fortunate to walk away with minimal bodily harm.
fondly of one of his jobs in particular when he introduced the MD 500
to the Canadian market. He was the sales division manager at McDonnell
Douglas for two years and flew coast to coast in Canada demonstrating
the machine’s abilities to potential customers. He says the
introduction of the turbine engine was one of the most important
changes over his career. A huge fan of the MD 500, he flew it on the
airshow circuit for many years for the amusement of aviation
The anniversary of Schultz’s achievements was
marked recently by a party held in his honour. Over 150 people
congregated to pay tribute to him.
Schultz’s career began at
what is now the Toronto City Centre Airport and seems to have come full
circle. For the past 10 years he has been flying for Air Ambulance just
a stone’s throw away from where he took his first flight. There are no
current plans to retire, but he says that day likely isn’t in the too
distant future, maybe a couple more years. What is he going to do
during retirement? “I’ll likely go and see how many of the guys I’ve
known are still around and visit them all,” Schultz responded.
of us who fly can only hope to have as fruitful and lengthy a career as
Schultz. Is there a secret to holding onto a medical certificate that
long? No, not really, he says. He certainly doesn’t come across as a
health nut and he doesn’t claim to do anything in particular to stay
healthy – perhaps it’s doing things in moderation and good genetics?
Whatever it is, he should keep doing it because it seems to be working
out really well for him.
Schultz and his wife are living
comfortably in Newmarket, Ontario just north of Toronto. He finds
flying for Air Ambulance fulfilling and still challenging at times
depending on weather and location of the emergencies. He has been
settled in this flying seat for several years and it will likely be the
last leg of his flying journey, though his story certainly won’t stop
There is a den in Schultz’s house where his entire career
can be seen in photos, plaques, awards and mementos. It’s almost as
though you are standing inside a 50-year calendar. Going through his
photo albums is awe-inspiring when you see all the machines he has
flown and the people he has met. He can tell a story for every single
one of them but sadly, an ongoing theme in the stories tends to be that
of companies that no longer exist and friends who have passed away.
“It’s almost like an obituary,” Schultz reflected as he flipped the
pages. He has played and continues to play a huge role in the lives of
so many pilots and proves a valuable asset to the industry and to young
pilots who can learn a thing or two and maybe hope to pursue as
successful a career as his.