“Almost every day during flight training or flying tours you’ll have an incredible Ah-Ha moment. You are in the air when it hits you; you can’t believe you get to fly helicopters for a living,” said Troy Barnum, former helicopter Flight Instructor for Upper Limit Aviation.
An aptitude test taken in high school is what ignited the spark of curiosity for Troy to look into the aviation industry. The test recommended he seek a career in fixing airplanes, but he saw himself flying them instead. “The test said my interest would put me as being an airplane mechanic. I said ‘I don’t know about turning wrenches, but I’ll go fly the darn things’ and from there that’s where it all started.”
Troy attended Boise State University in Boise Idaho and earned bachelors degree in Business Administration. After he was done with his degree, he decided to go to flight school where Tina Barnum, Troy’s wife helped to keep him motivated throughout his training.
“My wife was supportive of me following my dream and without her I don’t think I could have made it trough it. She helped quiz me when I was learning everything I needed to learn, but the biggest help was when she helped boost my confidence after a bad flight.”
After Troy had completed helicopter flight school, he began instructing new students that enrolled in the school.
“It was the biggest weight lifted off my chest, this was the career I wanted and to be offered a chance to be an Instructor after flight school was a huge relief.”
While Troy was the teacher, he was still able to learn a few things himself. “Your first student, when you start instructing, is always the scariest, it is because of the small amount of instructing time you have gone into it. Every little thing seems like a big deal and after you get more time as an instructor you realize it actually isn’t that big a deal.”
“The thing I love the most is teaching new students how to hover. I remember sitting in the seat and watching them struggle thinking ‘I was that guy just a few months ago’ and now I’m the guy that stabilizes the helicopter for them.”
For Troy, it was important to know he gave his students everything they needed to succeed. “I loved to see my students get it and succeed, for me it is more about teaching them how to fly rather than just building my own flight time. The first student I sent for his check ride actually failed it, and it just felt like I had failed the check ride. After a remediation flight, he went back and passed and was actually flying at commercial standards.”
Troy took his first job after Upper Limit Aviation, landing one of the available helicopter tour jobs in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. While Troy’s main job was doing tours over the beach, he was able to do a few unique flights that opened his eyes to just how diverse helicopters could be. “You get groups of people who get weird ideas and they throw a helicopter into it because they know people love helicopters. I was able to do an Easter egg drop for a bunch of school kids. I had never done it before so when I dropped them they all landed in one big pile; afterward I realized I should have scattered them. As I flew away, I looked back to see a bunch of kids running toward this big pile of eggs… it was great. The other flight that was different was a golf ball drop for a fundraiser, where I dropped about one or two hundred pounds of golf balls on the putting green. uUnfortunately I missed the hole by about 10 feet.”
After flying tours in Myrtle Beach, Troy made the move to come back to ULA as an instructor, but this time he had more than just the normal point-to-point flights under his belt. Troy had real helicopter industry experience to share with his students, which gave them a first-hand account of the industry, and opportunities such as helicopter tour jobs, outside of flight school.
“Helicopters are different from airplanes; you get to do random things like drop Easter eggs and golf balls, which makes flying helicopters a lot of fun.” While it was important to keep his students excited about their future in flying, he also tried to keep them focused on the hard work ahead.
“The biggest misconception about flying is that it is only filled with fun – that is only 50 percent of things. There is a lot of work to do as a pilot and when you go through flight school. You have to know how to react in emergencies and such, there is a lot of serious natured things when flying a helicopter that people need to be prepared to handle when they get into it.”
Troy has built enough flight time after instructing at Upper Limit Aviation to move on to helicopter tour jobs in the Grand Canyon. He is now flying for Papillon Airways, which is the world’s largest aerial sightseeing company. “I look forward to continuing my progression in learning new things. The Grand Canyon is one of the seven wonders of the world, and I get to fly in it every day. You never get tired of seeing all of these beautiful scenic locations. The variety of things you get to see when you fly is what makes flying so great.”