HFI Interviews - Helicopter Association International


HFI Interviews - Helicopter Association International


by Frank Jensen

Editor's Note: This article is based on interviews between Walter N. Attebery, past president (CEO) of

HAI, and Frank L. Jensen, Jr., a director of the Helicopter Foundation International (HFI).

HFI: Walt, let's start with your initial

flying experience, which I

understand was with the Civilian

Pilot Training (CPT) program just as

WWII was getting started. Where

and when did you take your training,

and in what type aircraft?

Attebery: In August 1941 I was

accepted into the CPT offered by

Oregon State College, OSC, (now

Oregon State University) in

Portland, Oregon. The Piper J3 Cub

with its 50 hp Franklin engine was

my entry into aviation, and with just

enough thrills I got my Private

License September 20, 1941, just 2

½ months before Pearl Harbor. The

US had great foresight in

implementing CPT.

HFI: And along came WWII! How

soon after Pearl Harbor did you join

the military?

Attebery: In my sophomore year at

OSC's School of Engineering, soon

after Pearl Harbor, I was turned

down by the Royal Canadian Air

Force, because they no longer

accepted Americans once the U.S.

entered the war. I then applied for

U.S. Naval Aviation. At that time,

prospective Navy pilots were

required to have two years of

college, so I enlisted March 2, 1942

with the proviso that I would not go

on active duty until I completed my

second year of college in June 1942.

On June 18, 1942 I reported to

NAS Sandpoint, WA as an Naval

Aviation Cadet. From Sand Point to

Pasco, WA to Pensacola, Florida

where on March 2, 1943 I received

my wings and a commission in the

USMCR. The next day, March 3,

1943, I married Pauline who has

been my inspiration for the past 65

years (since high school.)

I flew Brewster Buffaloes at Opa

Locka, FL and after carrier

qualification on Lake Michigan

reported to El Toro for fighter

indoctrination in F4F Wildcats and

F4U Corsairs. I joined VMF 224

and headed for the Pacific in August

1943. The squadron was sent to

American Samoa, to assemble our

new F4U1 Corsairs.

With our Corsairs we moved to

Funafuti in the Ellice Islands to

await availability of airfields on

Tarawa and Kwajalein. We flew in to

Roi-Namur in the Kwajalein Atoll

Feb 15, 1944 to base for actions

against the Japanese-held Marshall


The Corsair proved to be

outstanding as a gun platform and

as a dive bomber. After 22 missions

I was sent back to El Toro and then

to Santa Barbara where we were to

form a carrier group for the "big

push" that Harry Truman

Walter N. Attebery

fortuitously shortstopped. After

being released from active duty

December 15, 1945, I returned to

Oregon State College.

HFI: The F4U Corsair is certainly

one of the outstanding fighters of

WWII, and I'm certain that you

maintain a warm spot in your heart

for that aircraft! After your active

wartime military service as a U.S.

Marine Corps fighter pilot in the

Central Pacific, how did your civilian

flying career progress?

Attebery: Back in college I suggested

to the Dean that they needed a flight

school at Corvallis Airport, focusing

on veterans using the GI Bill. Smith-

Livingston Air Service was called in

to set up the flight training. Arlo

Livingston was the driving force,

along with his wife Nancy. My

instructor's and instrument ratings

were received under Arlo's tutelage.

I worked until college graduation as

one of their flight instructors.

About to graduate from OSC in

1947 I applied for and was accepted

by Pan Am, and passed their

physical. However, about that time

the airline slump hit, and Pan Am

and many other airlines were

furloughing pilots. The FBI was

looking for qualified applicants, so I

applied and was accepted. After

training the next 11 years were spent

with the FBI in Washington, D.C.,

Denver, CO, Detroit, MI, Butte, MT,

LA, and finally as Resident Agent in

Ventura, CA.

HFI: So you spent a decade as a

Special Agent for the FBI. That

would be excellent material for a

separate interview. Where & when

did you enter the helicopter


Attebery: When the FBI transferred

me to Ventura, CA in March 1953

we rented a house that was situated

between the homes of Joe Seward

and Roy Falconer, the founders and

operators of Rotor Aids, Inc. The

three of us became friends, having

common interests and all being

former Naval aviators. They were

operating Bell 47's on a contract in

Alaska, and their operations were

based at nearby Ventura Airport. I

watched their business as they

expanded exponentially to the Gulf

of Mexico and to a joint venture with

Carl Brady in Alaska.

I resigned from the FBI in April

40 Fall 2004

1958 to accept the position of Asst.

Chief Investigator for the LA

County DA. Then Joe Seward, in

October 1959, offered me the

position of VP with Era Helicopters,

Inc. The next five years were spent

between Ventura and Anchorage

working with Brady, Seward and

Falconer. With such mentors, I

quickly learned the business.

HFI: Walt, I know that you have

been actively involved in owning and

providing hands-on management for

civilian helicopter companies for

about forty years. Where and when

did you first purchase or start a

helicopter operating company?

Attebery: In October 1964 I started

Condor Helicopters & Aviation Inc.,

as a partnership. Condor was located

on the Oxnard, CA County Airport.

We started with a Bell 47G2, which

we rigged for ag spraying. With a

pickup truck, a pilot, (Mike Mason)

mechanics such as Ernie

Hutchinson, and loaders including

Dave Morua, we started. My wife

handled the telephone and I was the


From the ag business Condor

expanded into missile retrieval, fire

contracts and offshore support

including government contracts

such as USGS (now MMS) and

survey work.

HFI: During your helicopter career

thus far, you have been quite

innovative, including being a very

early provider of EMS services.

Please tell us about that experience.

Attebery: In April 1979 Condor,

operating as Airlift for Life,

contracted with hospitals in Fresno

CA to provide EMS support with a

Bell Long Ranger II equipped and

finished to the hospital specs, along

with a Piper Pressurized Navajo for

transportation of "preemies." We

were fortunate to have excellent

pilots such as Dennis and Wendy


HFI: Another of your helicopter

"firsts" was when you provided the

first turbine helicopter to engage in

Airborne Controlled Survey for the

Bureau of Land Management.

Please tell us a bit about that effort.

Attebery: Our research of the new

survey and resurvey requirements in

Alaska showed that these comprised

an immense market to serve the oil

industry and Native Land Claims.

Airborne control survey had

been made practical with USGS

inventing the "Hoversight" for use

on government contracts. The

Hoversight permits the pilot to

hover over a point to be surveyed

while measurements and angles

are shot.

Glenn W. Wheeler and I in 1966

purchased Arctic Air Service, Inc.,

an existing but bare Alaska

Corporation. Wheeler was a resident

of Alaska and a highly experienced

helicopter pilot who had worked for

Rotor Aids and Era. Among other

prospects we aimed for the survey


On April 6, 1967 Wheeler and I

took possession of F/H 1100 s/n 27

at the Fairchild Hiller factory in

Hagerstown MD and proceeded

toward Anchorage, arriving there

April 25, 1967.

Using our F/H 1100 mounted

with a modified Hoversight,

collimated beacon and a marker

dropper with paint globules, Arctic

started a BLM survey contract May

15, 1967. Our Chief of

Maintenance, Ernest Hutchinson,

designed the attachments and

modifications. Wheeler was the

hover pilot for the first turbine

powered helicopter used in this type

of operation. The F/H1100 Stability

Augmentation System, SAS, was

critical for the precise hovering that

the mission required.

Arctic had other contracts using

Jet Rangers, a Hughes 500 and a

standard S-58, but the FH1100's

were our main movers both onshore

and offshore in the Gulf of Alaska

for geophysical exploration and

surface geology. Having many of

the attachments, the modified

Hoversight and the only experienced

hover pilots, Arctic became a sole

source for BLM's Cadastral Survey

requirements for the next ten years.

Arctic provided airborne support to

survey the Alaska Pipeline from just

north of Fairbanks to its terminus

in Valdez.

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HFI: Please tell us a bit about other

aviation companies that you

founded and/or owned.

Attebery: Actually there are several;

I'll try to cover them briefly.

Because of the survey success we

started another company, Airborne

Controlled Surveys, Ltd., that could

conduct the entire survey using the

helicopter together with electronic

measuring equipment. Data

combined with angles from distant

theodolites were fed into a

computer to produce the necessary

read-outs. A second helicopter

would position personnel with

theodolites and Cubic responders

on remote points. Litton's

Autosurveyor came along later to

revolutionize airborne survey, and

that is another story.

Also, Hughes Helicopters

(Summa Corp) wanted to divest

themselves of a flight training

service center, Southland, at Long

Beach. In cooperation with Doug

Meadowcraft I put together the

purchase of Southland, in 1974.

With Meadowcraft as operator,

Southland had support contracts

with Huntington Beach Police

Department among others,

helicopter and fixed-wing charter

businesses and a proposed factory

completion center for Hughes

Helicopters. Hughes 500 & 300, Bell

Jet Rangers and a Cessna 421 were

listed as part of the hardware that

included substantial parts inventory

to support customers' helicopters.

The Southland premises covered 5.5

acres of the Long Beach

International Airport.

On March 4, 1974, Harbour

Helicopters and Marine Inc was

incorporated with co-owners

William C. Davidson and myself.

Harbour based an FH1100 and later

a Bell JetRanger on a beach-side

heliport in Huntington Beach for

the support of two offshore

platforms in State waters. This

operation continued until Feb. 1981.

Condor, which I started in Dec

1964, was sold to Evergreen in Feb.


During late 1984 Arctic

contracted to provide helicopter

42 Fall 2004

Captain Walter N. Attebery, USMCF,

in his F4U Corsair fighter. June

1944, Roi Namur, Kwaja Lein Atoll,

Central Pacific.

(left to right) Cully Weadock, Charles

H. Kaman, Walt Attebery at the HAA

Convention in San Diego, California


Walter Attebery (left) standing next to

Fred Bowen, Regional Sales

Representative for Fairchild, Van

Nuys, California. Ernest "Ernie"

Hutchenson on the rotor head. EMS

version of the FH 100, Condor

Helicopters & Aviation Inc. Oxnard,

California, 1968.

Glenn W. Wheeler walking around

FH100 N527NH in the Chugach

Mountains, Alaska, 1968. Wheeler

was awarded the HAI Robert E.

Trimble Memorial Award in 1966.

support for Union Oil of California

(UNOCAL)'s construction of

Platform Irene off the California

Coast, initially using a Sikorsky S-76

and a Bell 206B. in 1999 Arctic was

moved to the Santa Maria Airport

and occupied the GA Terminal.

Along the way Arctic had

purchased two S-76s. The successor

to UNOCAL in 1999 acquired

three additional platforms. Arctic

became the contractor for all 4 of

these platforms and also for three

additional platforms.

In Feb 2003 Arctic moved to the

newly-constructed 25,000 sq ft

building, with 15,000 hangar space,

on the Santa Maria Airport. The

2.5 acre lot provides ample ramp

space and two parking lots.

From Santa Maria, Arctic

operates two S-76's dedicated to

offshore contracts. From Santa

Barbara Arctic operates two AS 355

AEC Twinstars, one for a major oil

company having three platforms

and one for the Mineral

Management Service inspecting the

off-shore activity from Long Beach

CA to Morro Bay, CA.

Arctic's third base is located on

the Astoria Regional Airport in

Warrenton OR. Starting August

2003 Arctic provides service to the

Columbia River Bar Pilots using an

Agusta 109E Power, lifting pilots

onto oncoming ships. We either

deliver bar pilots to the ship's

helipad or winch them up & down

from the helicopter. This is an ongoing

24/7 VFR operation.

However, all pilots are IFR

qualified for the 109E single pilot

IFR capabilities. Arctic has 6 pilots,

4 hoist operators and two

mechanics assigned to Warrenton.

HFI: Walt: You have always been a

strong supporter of the industry's

trade associations, and particularly

HAI. I know that you were

president and CEO of HAI in 1964.

You also have been very supportive

of HFI. HAI selected you to receive

the Lawrence D. Bell Award just a

couple of years ago. Would you

have any words of advice for folks

just getting into the civilian

helicopter business, or any other

Missal launch, Vandenbery AFB, Lompoc, California 1997. Photographer: Bruce Fall

thoughts you would like to share

with the readers as we bring this

interview to a close?

Attebery: Frank, I am flattered to be

included in your respected

"ROTOR" interviews, and after 63

years as pilot and 45 years in the

helicopter industry I can recall the

talented associates and competitors

that made that journey one of great

pleasure and pride.

As a member of the national Air

Transportation Association, Marine

Corps Aviation Association, Navy

League, Aircraft Owners and Pilots

Association, Tail Hook Association,

American Helicopter Association

and an overlooked member of the

Caterpillar Club, I find these

organizations are all supportive.

However, they do not have the

influence and support offered by

the Helicopter Association

International; during my 45 years in

the industry, HAI has been there

for its members. Looking back to

1964 when we had John Pennewell

as Executive Secretary and possibly

one other assistant, where we saw

one another and the membership at

the annual convention we have

come a long way. The Helicopter

Foundation International from its

founding has supplemented efforts

of the HAI in the recognition and

promotion of the industry.

I would urge new entrants for a

commitment into the business. Get

a rating, get a machine and get after

opportunities that will exist

hereafter. I started a bit late but the

past 45 years have been a "hoot."

HFI: Many thanks for this most

interesting interview; your career

has certainly been most productive

and varied up to this point, and you

don't appear to be slowing down a

bit! More power to you!

Fall 2004


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