Meet Helicopter Pilot Hylton Spencer

Posted on 3 May 2010, Report by Jens Frischmuth

Currently based at Durban's Virginia Airport, Hylton Spencer flies the helicopters operated by Legend Aviation, a Kwazulu-Natal based helicopter company, which has a fleet of about 15 helicopters at its disposal. Hylton can be found regularly at the airport, where he does contract work flying for Netstar.

Hylton first got hooked on flying in 1999, when he worked in the motorsports industry in the United Kingdom. There, he got his first taste of helicopters, when the owner of the business he worked for flew him around in his Hughes 500. Hylton says "it was an amazing feeling to take off from someone's back garden". The bug had bitten and Hylton knew that flying was what he wanted to do.

Hylton started his training in 2002 after he returned to South Africa in April that year. He signed up with Hover Dynamics to do his Private Pilots License and by July, he had achieved his Robinson R22 and R44 ratings.

The next two years were divided between stays in the UK and SA and in January 2005, Hylton obtained his Commercial Pilots License with Starlite Aviation in Durban. His first flying job involved flying tourists at the Botlierskop Private Game Reserve near Mossel Bay in the Cape. In July 2005, the opportunity arose to fly for 18 months in Durban with Starlite Aviation, when one of the other Netstar pilots dropped out.

In early 2006, Hylton was sent to the Kashmir Province in Pakistan with Starlite Aviation to fly as co-pilot on the Puma S330J for 5 weeks. Pakistan had experienced one of its worst earthquakes in October 2005 and the operation was part of the Red Cross relief effort. Starlite needed a co-pilot and after Hylton volunteered, he was put through ground school with an SAAF engineer and then, as Hylton says, he "literally turned up in Pakistan, which was quite a shock". Hylon describes flying the Puma "as the opposite of the R44. The Puma is heavy and cumbersome, especially at high altitude, but then it takes 18 passengers". He was a lot happier at the end of the 5 weeks and accumulated a total of 70 hours on the Puma.

In July 2006, Hylton moved from Starlite Aviation to NAC and from the beginning of 2007 until April 2008, he spent 15 months back in the UK working in the motorsports industry, where he again manufactured exhausts for racing cars.

In August 2008, Hylton got his first taste of turbine-engined helicopters, when he did his Bell 206B Jet Ranger conversion and in April 2009 during the SA elections, he flew an ex-Nigerian president, who was an observer during the elections, in the Jet Ranger.

In November 2008, Hylton took off 3 weeks to do contract work for a company based near Beira in Mozambique. His 30 flying hours there were spent flying the R44 Astro, "the first R44 out and more physical to fly than the newer ones". The work included remote flying, where he would sometimes spend up to 3 1/2 hours flying in the middle of nowhere with only one stop. In 2009, Hylton did more contract flying, when he flew exclusive guests at a private game farm near Ladysmith in Kwazulu Natal.

Hylton has accumulated over 1000 flying hours and has obtained his night and sling ratings. Most of his flying was done on the Robinson R44, of which over 160 hours were at night. He praises the R44 for "being very nimble and light on the controls, (it) does not feel heavy and is very agile; it is not tiring to fly as there are no forces through the controls". Hylton also praises "its good vision, it is like being in a goldfish bowl" and feels the R44 is good for his work as "it is simple (not complex) and has cheaper operating costs (than other helicopters), it cruises at a 100 knots easily or at a 115 if not at all-up weight and has an endurance of 3 hours, 4 hours if in orbit."

Hylton lives in Durban and besides being a helicopter pilot, he is an avid photographer and offers photographic tuition and camera sensor cleaning services.

More information about Hylton Spencer can be found on his website