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Pilot Story #1

Tom Andreas Østrem

Every week a new story of a successful pilot!

This week we have the honor to interview Tom Andreas Østrem from Norway! A professional pilot, photographer, motivator, father, enthusiast, avgeek and a passionate person for his job!

Tom tell us about how it all started, your dream as a child and how you made it up to here?

Having dreamt of flying since I was a little kid, it wasn’t until high school that I started to realize that I could achieve my childhood dream if I put my heart into it. I started a glider course when I was 16. However, shortly after I started I got a chance to attend a U.S. high school for a year, so that was put on hold. Unfortunately, when I got back the flying club had issues with glider availability, therefore I was unable to complete that course before graduating high school. I did some paragliding after that to satisfy my addiction to flying, but the mandatory military service after high school meant I had to put my paraglider on the shelf for a while. After my mandatory duty in the Army, I reenlisted to save up some much-needed money for my license. I spent 4 years in the Army, most of the time as a main battle tank driver, and as much as I love flying I do miss driving the Leopard 2A4.

After the Army adventure, I started flight training at European Helicopter Center here in Norway. I had decided fairly early on that I wanted to fly helicopters. There was just something about the complexity and versatility they presented that felt enticing. That being said when I do have some spare time, which is increasingly rare with two kids in the house, I get my geek on with study-level flight simulations of everything from Dash-8s to Boeing 747s on my computer. So it is fair to say that I have a bad case of the avgeek bug. 

What type of helicopter do you fly and for which company?

28425094946_d734c61e52_zAfter getting the CPL(H) I got a job as loadmaster at Airlift AS. The company is a major onshore operator in Norway with 15 Airbus Helicopters AS350s and one AS332C Super Puma for heavy lifting and Search and Rescue. Airlift exclusively hires pilots from its pool of loadmasters/trainees for the AS350 fleet, meaning there are no external hires.

This enables us to mold our loadmasters to safe and responsible aviators. I did three years as a loadmaster before a trainee position opened up, and a year after that a pilot’s position opened up. It’s been four years since I made it as a pilot, and I love being able to do what I do and to be a part of a great team!

I’m rated on the AS350 series aircraft, and we fly most types of aerial work, from photo/filming to advanced external load operations. The majority of the flying is in the external load category and they are done using a longline, essentially a special rope and hook attached to the helicopter to lift loads from A to B.

It can be anything from flying provisions to a remote cabin or constructing tall cell phone towers piece by piece.

It is a craft that it takes a time to master, and even seasoned pilots are challenged by some of the missions we do.

Do you hold any other license?

Not at the moment, but if I get a rotation that enables me to be more at home I’ll want to see if I can become more active in the local aviation community. I wouldn’t mind getting a plank-rating for recreational flying.

Have you experienced any type of emergency that you want to share?

Luckily I have been spared from any major emergencies myself. That being said, with many of our operations being done below 500 feet, you do realize that there is not a lot of margin for error. Add to that the rather grim statistics of the sector we are working in, and one does contemplate all the minor judgments being made throughout a day. Minor shortcuts could have grave consequences if other holes of the infamous Swiss cheese align. Because of this, I have been a firm advocate of safe, conservative flying for a long time, and I try my best to instill those values in the next generation of pilots, both as Flight Safety Adviser in the company and also through my presence in social media.

Your plans for the future?

27840806854_c1a33dc478_zI love what I am doing now, and I do my best to appreciate how lucky I am to get to do what I do. That being said, and me being an avgeek and all, I definitely have ambitions to fly heavier machines in different roles. Since I am only involved with VFR operations now, the next natural step would be to get my instrument rating.

The offshore market has been hit pretty hard after the oil price took a nose dive and a lot of pilots have been laid off, so I’ll have to see how that develops before I do anything. Flying in the US or Canada is also a dream of mine, but there are several hurdles one has to overcome to get that chance.

Aside from actual flying, I’d like to further help inspire the next generation of aviators through my pictures on Instagram and to share safety advice on my homepage. It has been a busy year for me, and unfortunately, that has had a negative impact on the time allotted for updating my homepage. I hope I’ll be able to devote more time to that in the future. The most frequent question I am asked is how I got to where I am. It turned out to be very time consuming to write back to everyone since there is no short answer to that, and it often varies with nationality. I created Spinwingblog.com to gather information there in terms of how to become a helicopter pilot, and I do my best to answer any questions I get.

People that you want to thank or inspired you?

I’d like to thank the Mæland family. Father, Arne(retired), and son, Åge, both frequented the area near where my grandmother lives with everything from Astars to Bell 214 Big lifters when I was a kid. They are at least in part to blame for me getting this addiction by giving me a glimpse into that life.



They have both been sources of inspiration, and when it became time for me to apply for jobs, Åge pointed me in the right direction.

For that, I will be forever grateful. Now Åge’s son has gotten his CPL-H a third generation rotary aviator who is working his way up with us as a loadmaster.

Your message to upcoming pilots?

Be humble. It is human to err and we all make mistakes. Don’t be afraid to admit it when you do, learn from the mistakes you make by sharing (reports), and even more importantly, learn from those made by others. Being a part of a safety system I know how important it is with reports so that we can detect trends and put further barriers in place before incidents turn into accidents. Know your place in the industry. If you are a tour pilot your mission is to give your passengers a safe, pleasant ride in a nice environment, not take them for a joy ride because you “feel the need for speed” or just want to show off. I see a very positive trend in the industry here in Norway where these unnecessary risks are more often than not frowned upon, rather than applauded as they might have been in the past. Safe is the new cool, and that says a lot about the professionalism and also our expectations in the next generation of pilots.

Social media – Tom Andreas Østrem

For excellent photos, posts and an awesome blog,  follow him on:

Instagram  @thathelicopterguy

Website www.spinwingblog.com