Instituted in 2003, the award is the most prestigious accolade the FAA can bestow on a pilot – it celebrates 50 years of accident-free, violation free flying by an individual, and acknowledges “exemplary service; professionalism; and devotion to aviation safety”.
A lifetime in the air has already seen Dan amass an impressive collection of military and civilian commendations, including the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Purple Heart for his service in the Vietnam War; and the 1999 Prince Phillip Helicopter Rescue Award for civil flying achievements.
Most notably, he is one of only two Australian-based flyers to receive the Helicopter Association International Pilot of the Year Award for his involvement in the 1998 Bass Strait Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race rescue.
But Dan is quick to make the distinction between his newest award and those he’s received before.
“All of those previous awards are kind of for doing ‘something stupid’ and getting away with it, whereas this one is actually for making sure I do things right!” said Dan.
Following his service as a helicopter pilot in the Vietnam War, Dan returned to his native United States, before moving across the world to Sydney with his Australian bride.
He completed a Bachelor of Law at Sydney University in 1977, and was admitted to the New South Wales Bar following completion of his studies.
He also began a career in aeromedical rescue in 1979, when he took on a role as pilot for the Surf Lifesaving Association “Wales Rescue Helicopter” in Sydney.
And while he admits being drawn to the role by the prospect of saving lives, Dan acknowledges the job appealed to him in other ways, too.
“Because there was such a massive let-down from the intensity of your day-to-day life in Vietnam when you returned home, a lot of people just couldn’t get along without the adrenaline,” said Dan.
“I honestly believe that I was addicted to my own adrenaline, and that’s probably, if I’m really, brutally honest with myself, why I got into the rescue business – because it gave me that little shot of adrenaline that I needed every so often.
“I was gradually able to withdraw from that need and to become a very conservative pilot.
“But why I got into piloting rescue helicopters – and why I stayed in the role – is really a personal evolution.”
For almost 15 years, Dan maintained two separate career paths, working as a solicitor and as a rescue pilot. In 1995, he committed wholly to his first love.
“It really reached the stage when I had to decide whether I was going to be a lawyer with a pilot’s licence; or a pilot with a law degree. And I decided to be a pilot with a law degree,” said Dan.
Dan currently has just over 11,500 hours in the air and it is this experience that he now brings to the Thales LifeFlight Simulation Centre, part of the LifeFlight Training Academy at Brisbane International Airport.
“The simulator was an idea that I put forward originally – and I think it was the next logical step when you look at the class of aircraft that we’re now operating,” said Dan.
“With the sim, you can set a real scenario, the way the aircraft will respond in the real environment, and then go and practice it so that when the time comes, you’re trained to do exactly the right thing.
“If you’re trained to do something artificially, I can guarantee you that’s what you will do in an extreme stress situation. Fortunately, we can achieve the best possible outcomes with our new set-up.”
While Dan continues to work at the LifeFlight Training Academy, he maintains that the cockpit of a helicopter is still where he belongs.
“Do I want to keep flying? Yeah, I love it! I’ve never enjoyed it any more than I do right now,” said Dan.
For simulator bookings and information, please visit: /page/what-we-do/lifeflight-training-services/Thales_CareFlight_Simulation_Centre/