My name is Judd Rolfes, I’m a Guidance Aviation graduate, and I have been a tour pilot at Sundance Helicopters for a year and a half now.
I was civilian-trained, and Guidance Aviation hired me on as a flight instructor [after I graduatd]. I taught there for about 22 months, before I moved on to tours up in Las Vegas with Sundance Helicopters.
Sundance Helicopters has been around since 1985, and The majority of our operations are from Vegas out to the Grand Canyon. We also do different chartered works for TV commercials or movies. We also do utility work on the side as well, so it’s a wide variety of operations.
What I like most about being a tour pilot is interacting with the customers. A lot of them have never been in a helicopter before, so it’s something they’ll remember for the rest of their lives. And, it’s always a highlight of their trip—flying in a helicopter up to the Grand Canyon. It’s something that they’re not going to forget.
There are several stepping stones to get into tour operations. The route I took was being a flight instructor at Guidance Aviation; that’s the best way to gain experience to achieve your dream of flying commercially.
I started flight instruction with 200 hours, and I stayed there all the way up to 1200 hours, when I left to join Sundance Helicopters as a tour pilot.
When it came to financing my flight training, I had to go to my parents for loans. They knew that my ultimate dream was to fly helicopters; that’s what I had talked about since I was about six or seven years old.
All the helicopter toys… they saw that my dream was narrowed in, and they wanted to make sure that I was able to pursue that, which I am very grateful for.
My parents definitely got a return on their investment. They’re very happy to see me happy and achieving my goal of becoming a helicopter pilot.
The only thing my mom is upset with is that she has not yet been able to do a helicopter tour from Vegas out to the Grand Canyon. I hope that one of these days I’ll be able to get my parents out here and enable them to do that.
As I came in to tour operations, I realized that I was really glad for having chosen Guidance Aviation as a flight school, both for training and for instructing.
Guidance Aviation sets you up for an excellent career path: They really focus on off-airport operations, and everyday here at Sundance Helicopters we fly out to the Grand Canyon. There’s no airport at the bottom for us to land—it’s off-airport operations.
If you’re the guy sitting on the couch, dreaming about being a helicopter pilot, then one piece of advice I have for you is: Go do an introductory flight. See if it’s right for you. That’s what I did in the beginning.
There’s a flight instructor right next to you and you’re actually on the controls flying it, getting the feel of it and if you like it.
I did that when I started out, and I was hooked. I haven’t looked back since.