Helicopters Magazine

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The Silent Leaders

I attended a wake in early June as one of my flight instructors from Canadore College, Wayne Bolen, had passed away. He had been ill for some time, but these things are never expected.


July 18, 2014
By Fred Jones

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I attended a wake in early June as one of my flight instructors from Canadore College, Wayne Bolen, had passed away. He had been ill for some time, but these things are never expected.

Wayne instructed at the College for 15 years and worked for a wide variety of Canadian operators – often doing some training and testing. I also had the pleasure of working for him for two-and-half years at Huisson Aviation in Timmins, Ont.

I always admired him – and not just for his experience and skill as an instructor and a pilot. Like most other instructors and training pilots, Wayne in the course of his long career probably had a couple of hundred students – like me – trying to kill him every day, but his legacy in the helicopter industry is much more significant.

I admired Wayne, and other instructors like him, who can spend a career training and instructing in the industry, and he inspired a generation of helicopter pilots. As is often the case when someone passes away, there was a flurry of emails to alert friends and acquaintances to his death and to pass on the details of his wake.

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The pilots who “Replied to All” and who commented on the positive effect that Wayne had on their lives and careers were part of Wayne’s legacy in the industry, and a salute to instructors everywhere who devote their lives to passing on the skills and knowledge they have acquired.

What I read, and felt myself, was a genuine respect and affection for someone who had significantly changed my life and the lives of others, in a very positive way. Like many instructors, he seemed larger-than-life, and he was one of the industry’s many characters. To this day, when I make an error while flying, I can still hear him say in his trademark gravelly rasp, “I wouldn’t have likely done it that way, Fred,” which loosely translated, meant, “You sure screwed that up.”

Instructing is admittedly not the most glamorous career in our industry, or the highest paid, but it’s one that must provide some immense satisfaction when looking back. Most instructors, who are in it for the long haul, really love what they do. They relish the challenge and the fraternity of the helicopter community. It must be satisfying to watch your students grow and excel.

Like Wayne, they often love to party with other people in the business as well. We work with each other all day, and then socialize all night. Such is the life of a pilot in the Canadian helicopter industry – long periods of time away from home, and a relatively small community where you are always running into people you know with shared experiences and history. It all makes for a closely knit group where friendships often last a lifetime – and even competitors can be loyal friends.

The wake was a bittersweet experience, where I had a chance to reminisce with some old friends about Wayne. But I must confess, I found it hard to speak to his wife, Nancy. Oddly, between a year at Canadore, and two-and-a-half years at Huisson’s, we had never met. When I did meet her at the entrance to the wake, there were a hundred stories I wanted to tell her. I wanted to make her understand that Wayne had made a difference in my life, and in the lives of many other Canadian pilots. Sadly, I only had a few minutes with her, but I tried my best to tell her that Wayne was well-respected in the industry, and that he would be remembered fondly by his many friends, but particularly by the pilots and wannabe pilots like myself who had the pleasure of flying with him.

He helped introduce us to the helicopter community and its culture, in a way that we would never forget. Wayne brought the strength of his personality, and his personal work ethic and life experience, to leave an enduring and unique mark on an industry for which he had a passion. What more could any of us ask for?

As I finalized this issue’s column, I heard about Jeff Sullivan’s sudden passing. I saw Jeff last at Wayne’s wake where we reminisced about Wayne and Jeff’s father. Jeff was the driving force behind Helicopters Canada, and the son of the late Colin Sullivan – another one of my Canadore flight instructors and mentors, that I will remember fondly. Like Colin, and like Wayne, Jeff was a passionate flight instructor who dedicated most of his adult life to helping others find their way in our industry. They will all be remembered by many in the helicopter community who had the pleasure of knowing them – but particularly by those that flew with them.


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