By Paul Cianciolo, FAA Safety Briefing Magazine
Born in the snowy hills of Vermont and growing up in New York and Massachusetts, Chad Gilbert spent his youth watching shows like “Whirlybirds” and “Sky King.” He loved anything with an aircraft, which led him to a meaningful career decision after high school. Chad decided to head down to the Army recruiting office and investigate the possibilities when he discovered he might be next up in the draft.
“They asked, do you want to be a helicopter pilot?” explains Chad. “Of course! And the rest is history.”
Chad spent nearly seven years as a rotary wing aviator serving in the Army as a helicopter pilot, flight instructor, and safety officer. While in the Army, he also studied at the University of Southern California’s Institute of Aerospace Safety and Management. However, after leaving the military, non-flying jobs weren’t satisfying enough. After some research, he landed a career flying as a line pilot, chief pilot, and training director that he would stick with for a decade. Chad later moved on to flying corporate for a pharmaceutical company and then an air ambulance.
“The FAA piqued my interest, so I obtained the required airplane ratings and was hired as an aviation safety inspector out of Albany in 1996,” he notes. “In March, I will have 34 years of government service under my belt.”
Now, Chad is one of three safety liaison team leads working with the FAA Safety Team program managers (FPMs) serving at one of the FAA’s 75 Flight Standards District Offices. The FPMs are responsible for conducting outreach to the general aviation community with in-person seminars, webinars, and meetings with flight and mechanic schools. They also moderate flight instructor forums and assist air traffic managers in conducting pilot/controller forums.
The three team leads are there to ensure a consistent safety message nationwide. With more than 13,500 rotary and fixed-wing flight hours to pull from, Chad is instrumental in providing a relevant and reliable safety program. He has also earned the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award for 50 years of exemplary aviation flight experience, distinguished professionalism, and steadfast commitment to aviation safety.
With all that experience comes great responsibility and much knowledge to share. Since the theme of this FAA Safety Briefing issue is winter flying, here’s some advice from Chad if you plan to fly on a cold, wet winter day.
“First, practice whenever you can, especially with a flight instructor experienced in winter weather operations,” he explains. “Make sure to discuss different scenarios and pick the instructor’s brain for the best solution to a given situation. Take a few lessons in real-time weather that you may encounter.”
Another tip he offers is to always file a flight plan even if you intend to remain flying under visual flight rules (VFR) and stay local. Chad stresses that it’s vital to communicate with controllers and keep them advised of any abnormal situations you encounter.
“If you need ATC assistance, ask for it immediately. It’s better to be safe than sorry.”
A complete weather briefing and contingency plans if the weather changes are critical in winter weather. You also need to be willing to execute that plan B if needed.
Chad recommends asking yourself: How well do you know your equipment? Is your aircraft certificated to fly into known ice? Could you encounter ice? Do you know how much a half-inch of ice weighs and how much it degrades the aircraft’s performance? When was the last time you used your navigational equipment to its utmost capabilities?
Lastly, Chad suggests being honest with yourself. “If you are concerned that you may not be up to the weather challenges that you may encounter, don’t fly that day.”