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    An Office in the Clouds

    The Coast Guard is the only military branch that does not have a reserve aviation program, but more than a few have found a way to stay in the service they love while also pursuing their love of flying.

    Jay Perdue, pilot
    blimp pilot, Goodyear
LT, Sector Miami prevention department

    Fun fact: in the history of flight, there's been more trained astronauts than blimp pilots. As one of less than a dozen Goodyear pilots nationwide, Jay Perdue has a rare skill.
    This self-proclaimed ‘perpetual student’ has always had an intense thirst for knowledge. That drive propelled him to become, among other things, a certified welder, an EMT, a scientist and a pilot.
    “Welding is nothing but manipulating the chemistry of the metallic elements... beautiful,” said Perdue, a jack-of-all-trades. "I made some tables, a bouquet of flowers for my wife that won't die, and became overall repair man in the neighborhood."
    Perdue grew up, like so many other Coast Guardsmen, in South Florida, and he’d wanted to be a pilot since he was 10. He remembered seeing the famed airship fly over his schoolyard playground and watching its graceful flight without realizing his classmates had returned to class without him. In college, he began pursuing the physics of flying while simultaneously working his way up to a masters in pharmaceutical chemistry.
    Even after taking a job as a scientist doing research and development for GlaxoSmithKline, Perdue continued to spend his early mornings in a news chopper and his nights teaching others
    to fly. He continued to add ratings to his license, learning how to fly seaplanes, commercial aircraft, and using instruments only.
    “It’s one of those things where I get bored quick,” said Perdue.
    It was around that time that he began to look for a way to give back to his country, and he chose to become a reserve Coast Guard officer in 2010. “I always thought that the Coast Guard’s mission was above all others,” said Perdue, “and the history of saving lives is exceptional.”
    Oddly enough, he didn’t choose the flight community or the SAR dogs—the scientist in him won out, and he entered the marine safety field.
    “There’s a science to prevention,” said Perdue. “[The idea of] stopping things from happening before there’s a response—that’s what got me excited.”
    Perdue works as a prevention officer at Coast Guard Sector Miami in the inspections branch. There, he trains Sector personnel in both handling pollution cases and conducting facilities inspections. During last year’s huge hurricane operation, Perdue put his job on hold for a few days. He became the Coast Guard liaison for the Palm Beach County emergency operations center while the state of Florida rode out Hurricane Irma.
    “I can fly almost anything,” said Perdue, “but it’s great to go [to Sector Miami] and do something completely different.”
    When a friend of his told him about a rare opportunity at Goodyear, Perdue threw himself into the training. After a year of training, he added a fourteenth rating to his pilot’s license: commercial LTA, or “lighter-than-air.” Today, he is one of the four pilots who fly the 246-foot Wingfoot One, based in Pompano Beach, Fla. The semi-rigid Zeppelin airship has the rare tail number N1A, a continued homage to the company’s existence since the early days of flight.
    “I’m a very special car tire salesman,” Perdue said, laughing. His nonchalance belies the difficulties of such a prestigious job. A blimp pilot can be in the seat for more than a dozen hours with no rest, and there’s no autopilot. He needs to be constantly aware of the strength of the wind on a light, bulky airship, the effects of the temperature on the helium and the weight of rainwater that soaks the external fabric.
    Perdue credits his success, in large part, to the support from his wife of more than 25 years; the two were high school sweethearts. He said, “She's been my cheerleader my whole life. Whatever I wanted to do, she said, ‘We’ll find a way to do it.’ She knows I need to satisfy my need to learn.”
    When he flies, his eyes rove the skyline as his brain calculates the science of flight, and satellite radio fills the tiny, 12-person cabin. The vew is gorgeous during the day, and it holds an altogether different and equal beauty at night.
    “You’re only a thousand feet above the country, going 30 miles an hour,” said Perdue. “You’ll never see it all.”
    That’s exciting for a guy who loves a challenge— trying to see it all. He’s flown over so many types of events, every type of sport from college basketball to Nascar, from the PGA to the NFL to the NBA.
    “The funny thing is that I’m not a big sports guy,” said Perdue. “I pray for overtime so I can fly more.”

    Goliath Demisie, pilot
    737NG pilot, American Airlines
    LT, National Command Center, CGHQ

    For an airplane-obsessed little boy, there wasn’t anything cooler than getting to sit in the cockpit of an airliner. While wearing the captain’s hat. Back in the mid-80s in Ethiopia, three-year-old Goliath Demisie was already thrilled to get an airplane ride on a 737-200, but afterward, when the two pilots asked him if he might want to fly too one day, the experience stuck with him.
    “I put the hat on, and I never wanted to leave,” said Demisie, who grew up with a penchant for seeking new challenges.
    He and his family migrated to America in the mid-90s, and after high school, Demisie spent the next few years working on his bachelors’ degree in aviation. While at Averett University, he met a fellow classmate and pilot, Eric Tucker, whose father was a retired Coast Guard chief warrant officer.
    Tucker and Demisie became friends, attained pilot’s licenses, and eventually established an aviation fraternity at the school. Neither forgot the stories of the 30-year bosun warrant, and eventually both pilots made their way to the Coast Guard: Demisie through officer candidate school, and Tucker, through a single trip to Coast Guard Station Boston. (Tucker fell in love with driving boats, and while he maintains his pilot’s license, he’s now a tactical coxswain and operations officer at Coast Guard Station San Francisco.)
    Demisie, who had always envisioned himself taking a commission in the Air Force flying C-130s, took a sharp career turn after hearing about the Coast Guard’s search and rescue mission from Tucker’s father. In 2008, he joined the Coast Guard under the Blue21 program, which guaranteed him a job as a Coast Guard pilot.
    The lifesaving mission seemed more important than anything else,” he said.
    While in OCS, Demisie’s plans shifted again, dramatically, and he gave up his seat at flight school.
    “Flying would have been awesome—specifically flying helicopters would have been awesome—but I decided that I wanted to give something else a try. I opted to go the prevention route,” he said. “It looked interesting, and it was something I’d never done. It was the best choice I could have made.”
    He spent a three-year tour at Coast Guard Sector New York working in vessel inspections, but eventually, he switched to the Reserve so he could return to his career as a pilot.
    Today, Demisie serves as a reserve watchstander at the National Command Center at Coast Guard Headquarters. His duties are indistinguishable from the active duty watchstanders, and he coordinates his 12-hour duty shifts with his airline schedule as a pilot.
    The commute to work is just part of the routine, and after making flights into Newark from Houston on drill weekends, Demisie has grown accustomed to the extra step. These days it’s just an extra flight from South Carolina to D.C. once a month to fulfill his obligation as a reservist.
    “It’s a little tough balancing both careers,” said Demisie, “but I wouldn’t do it any other way.”
    Demisie continues to seek challenges. Since joining the Coast Guard, he’s finished two masters degrees, become a speaker for the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals, and earned his rating as a flight instructor.
    He now flies a 737NG for American Airlines, the same kind of aircraft he sat in more than 30 years ago as a child.
    “I love the being exposed to new ideas and concepts; that’s the only way you can grow as a person,” said Demisie. “The variety of experiences makes you a much more valuable asset to the Coast Guard.”

    Bill Pearson, jet pilot
    Assistant chief pilot, Chubb Insurance Aviation
    MK1, Station Manasquan Inlet, N.J.

    Like a lot of other kids who grew up on the coast, Bill Pearson remembered seeing Coast Guard helicopters flying over his house where he grew up in New Jersey. He knew even back then that he was going to fly one day.
    Flight training was expensive though, and, without a lot of money, Pearson’s next option was the military. In 1991, Coast Guard recruiters landed him a job in aviation as an electrician (AE), but advancement was slow.
    When he took a job at Coast Guard Air Station Brooklyn, N.Y., Pearson began commuting home on the weekends to spend his own money on private flying lessons.
    “Coast Guard was where I started, but the story is all intertwined,” said Pearson.
    He eventually earned both his aircrew wings with the Coast Guard and his private pilot’s license in fixed wing aircraft. He kept going, adding additional ratings and working his way up to civilian flight instructor.
    He managed both career paths until 1998 when he left active duty to fly full time as a flight instructor for McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey. He felt a little out of his element when he reported to his first unit as a Coast Guard reservist less than an hour away at Station Manasquan Inlet, N.J. He wouldn’t stay long, though. After a new position took him too far outside reasonable commuting distance, he left the Coast Guard.
    Over the years, he encountered a lot of former Coast Guard pilots in the airline industry, and they encouraged him to go back despite a now 10-year break in service.
    Pearson found himself back in bootcamp at 39 years old, a plank owner of a brand-new program called the Direct Entry Petty Officer Training, or DEPOT. The first class had seven members.
    He laughed remembering how quick his machinery technician (MK) A-school instructors took note of him— not only was he the oldest student in the class, but he had aircrew wings and three rows of ribbons.
    After finishing boot camp for a second time, as well as completing a second A-school as a machinery technician
    (MK), he also found himself back at Station Manasquan Inlet for a second time. There, Pearson worked his way up to first class, and he became a section leader, as well as the first reservist qualified on the RBS II. He recently spent two weeks of active duty on TCTO maintenance doing interior work on the station’s RBS II, leading the junior petty officers through the evolution.
    “[Being a reservist is] hard, but it’s rewarding,” said Pearson, who acknowledged the difficulty in keeping up with currency hours while maintaining his civilian career. “The fun part is being out on the water,” he said, “especially in summertime, out on the water, with all the people.”
    For Pearson, though, nothing compares to flying. After serving for several years as the standardization and training officer for Citation Air, he joined Chubb Insurance, and in 2017, he became their assistant chief pilot.
    He still flies just as much as any of his pilots, and while he does spend a lot of time away from home flying executives all over the world on the G450, G550, and G650ER, he’s been able to visit Asia, Europe, Australia— places he never imagined he’d see in his life. He never takes it for granted that he can fly to any location in the world on the G6 with only one fuel stop.
    Getting to those places, though, is half the fun.
    “There’s a certain thrill you get when it’s a beautiful, sunny day, you’re on the runway, you’re cleared for take-off and you push the throttles up,” said Pearson. “I’ve got a great view out of my office.”

    Story was originally published on page 16 of the August 2018 issue of Reservist.



    Date Taken: 08.01.2018
    Date Posted: 12.31.2018 18:59
    Story ID: 314199
    Location: US

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