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Helicopter Pilot Training Profiles: A Career Flying in the Gulf of Mexico

helicopter pilot school graduate Guidance Aviation
Jay Van Wagenen in front of his ERA helicopter Agusta 109E Power.

Jay Van Wagenen, Guidance Aviation Graduate, now flies an Agusta A109E Power for ERA Helicopters in the Gulf of Mexico. Jay recently touched base with us to catch us up on what he’s doing and we also asked him a few questions about his training and career.

“I have flown the B206L over the Grand Canyon and then the AS350B2 in the Gulf of Mexico. Recently, I just got checked out in the Agusta A109E Power. It’s a light twin that we (ERA Helicopters) operate single pilot for contracts here in the Gulf. The majority of our 109’s are contracted with the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.  I’ve been with ERA since November 2011 and before that, Papillon Airways at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon for the 2011 season.  I was an Instructor Pilot at Guidance from 2009 to 2011.  It was a great time to be around then.  In fact, I still remember graduating and getting my CFI-I on a Friday and having 3 students that following Monday!”

“I work out of Houma, Louisiana right now but it looks like I may be going elsewhere now that I got that 109.  I had been flying the AS350 for ATP oil production in 2012.”

Do you feel Guidance Aviation prepared you for the real world? If so, how ?

“A lot of pilots I deal with on a day to day basis were trained at…. (he mentioned 5 schools) that are well known. You get to see thehelicopter cockpit trends of the guys and their good and bad habits.. Lets just say If I had it to do all over again, I wouldn’t have changed a thing. The answer is this- YES. I was able to learn as a student and as a flight instructor. By that I mean that I was able to see that this industry is more than wiggling a stick – its politics, paperwork, and decision making ability.  ( i.e. Wx, Mx issues ect.)

What is one particular thing or skill set you learned at Guidance Aviation that helped you with what you do today at ERA?”

Flying a Robinson helicopter at Prescott’s elevation in the summer teaches you how to respect the aircraft and stay ahead of her. We never knew anything different- power management was something we all dealt with- every day (at Guidance). When I land on platforms 150 miles offshore it’s nothing new- it’s just like all the off airport operations at Guidance Aviation, but at sea level in an aircraft with a lot more power, I don’t have to worry if I can hover OGE or IGE…”

Video Interview with Guidance Aviation Graduate, Jay Van Wagenen:

GUIDANCE teaches you in a high altitude environment with high volume of air traffic, and you’re in the best helicopters iin the world- Robinsons. When you learn to fly in that  environment, everything else is easy.”
– Jay Van Wagenen, ERA Helicopter Pilot, Guidance Aviation Graduate

Guidance Aviation provides helicopter flight training utilizing the newest aircraft and best equipment available.  For more information, go to

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