Hello, my name is Orin Bakal-Molnar and I have been working as an electrician since 1999. In 2012 at the age of thirty-four I decided that I wanted to pursue a childhood dream of becoming a professional pilot and this blog is going to follow my training and subsequent search for employment. In this introduction I will give you a bit of background and write about why I’ve decided to work toward a career in aviation.
I’ve always loved machines. As a toddler it was tractors, then big trucks and construction equipment; later in life came helicopters and airplanes. An older cousin of mine was interested in flying for the Navy and his influence was a big part of my initial thoughts about flying. He wanted to fly jets, but I always wanted to fly helicopters. At eleven years old I dreamt of joining the Coast Guard and flying rescue missions over the ocean.
My first experience in a helicopter was even earlier. I grew up in a rural part of Virginia and one day a pilot landed his R22 in the field in front of our house. When we went to talk to him he offered to take me for a ride and I’ll never forget the view looking down over my elementary school from the air. In 1990 when I was twleve years old my family and I moved to Miami, Florida and one day while driving down Biscayne Boulevard with my parents we saw a very small sightseeing operation. The idea that I could work there in exchange for flying lessons came up and we stopped to see. The owner was a retired military pilot who owned two Bell 47 helicopters and while his business was too small to support employees he was willing to let me work for him doing various chores.
For two years I spent eight hours every Sunday working at his house or at the helipad; mowing, weeding, pressure washing, cleaning spark plugs, and doing whatever projects he could come up with. Each time that I accumulated 32 hours of work he would give me one hour of ground school and one hour of flight instruction. After a few months he lowered the number of hours I had to work to receive lessons. In this way I accumulated almost 21 hours of ground school and flight time. Flying the Bell was difficult and progress was achingly slow due to the long waits between lessons. His business declined and by fifteen I was being pulled in other directions. We parted ways but I would never forget my experiences flying with Don.
Life moved on and I drifted away from my aspiration to become a pilot. By the end of high school I didn’t even want to continue my education at a university much less commit to the Coast Guard. With my father’s encouragement I fell back to my old interest, machines. I enrolled in a vocational school and spent a year learning about diesel trucks. With my new, and hardly, developed skills I left Florida in search of work. After settling in Denver, Colorado I spent two years as a mechanic before deciding it was not the right career for me. Next step? Electrician.
I had just turned twenty-one when I started my electrical apprenticeship and I had no idea the road it would take me down. During the first few years I worked full time at various sights around Denver and the mountains. The final year of my apprenticeship I was faced with my first lay-off and thankfully I was well prepared. With little debt and a nice chunk of savings I spent the following six months skiing, climbing, and hiking as much as I could. Time away from work was not so bad! This started a cyclical work pattern for me, six or so months working and six or so months off. I had plenty of time to save money and plenty of time to enjoy it.
In 2009, ten years after starting my apprenticeship, I was re-introduced to a possibility I had long forgotten about. Some friends of mine had spent a season working in Antarctica for the United States Antarctic Program and with their help I applied and was accepted for an austral summer contract position as an electrician at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. For those that are interested I have written about my experiences in the program here.
The work in Antarctica allowed me to continue working seasonally and more importantly it introduced me to a new community of people who worked in unconventional ways. While I truly enjoyed work as an electrician I had known for some time that I wanted to try and move away from construction before I got too old. I wasn’t sure if I would specialize in the electrical field, or perhaps just go in an entirely new direction, but I was sure that I didn’t want to be laboring away at building sites in my fifties. And so I began to search for ideas in my travels, my hobbies, and most importantly in my community in Antarctica. I looked for inspiration.
Aviation is an important part of work in Antarctica. The United States Antarctic Program is supported by the US Air Force with flights from Christchurch, New Zealand by C-17 and the Air National Guard with on-continent missions by LC-130 Hercules. In addition to this there are two civilian contractors, Kenn Borek Air and PHI Helicopters, who provide small aircraft and helicopter support. During 2011 my interaction with this facet of the program rekindled my interest in flying and I began to think about helicopters and a flying career once again. I even went so far as to look at helicopter schools and tried searching the Internet for career possibilities. This initial search was discouraging. I could not believe the cost of helicopter programs and Internet forums were filled with negative thoughts about employment.
The next year while working at a deep field camp called WAIS Divide I found myself interacting with the pilots and exploring the idea of flying from a new perspective. Kenn Borek and the British Antarctic Survey were both operating DHC-6 Twin Otters out of WAIS in support of another deep field camp, Pine Island Glacier. I had the opportunity to ride along with the BAS pilot on a trip to PIG and during the flight he let me take the controls of the Twin Otter. I was suddenly pulled back into the world of flying.