George Jacobs, Assistant Chief Pilot
Northern California and Oregon
Your business card says Assistant Chief Pilot for Northern California and Oregon, but if you could make up your own title, what would it be?
I like to think that I’m a Pilot Advocate & Good Example.
As a manager in the flight department, I get to go to a lot of places. I supervise 11 bases. I’m a flight instructor, I do pilot evaluations, I performance manage and coach. I’m a catchall for a lot of things. I get to meet and fly with many of the pilots. That’s one of the areas I’m most proud of because I really get to know the pilots and what their mindset is, as well as their passion for the company.
How long have you been with REACH?
I’ve been with REACH since August 2009. I started out in Texas when the company opened Methodist AirCare 1 in San Antonio. I came on as a line pilot and was then chosen to be Lead Pilot. Two and a half years ago, I moved back to California to take the position I’m in now.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Growing up in Sacramento, there were two major Air Force bases. I can remember standing in my backyard and watching the planes fly into McClelland. I always wanted to be a pilot. I was a little bit afraid that it would not come true and always a little bit intimidated by the whole thing. I didn’t share that dream with a lot of people because I was afraid it wouldn’t work out.
Can you summarize the journey that brought you to REACH?
I went to college at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. My degree was in Environmental Biology, and one of my specialties was ornithology. I probably would have been a game warden or something like that. I still like to get out and hike and backpack. It’s part of why I love California.
I joined the Navy right out of college. Though I always wanted to be a pilot, going to college was my fallback plan. I was always like that. You know, you have dreams, but you don’t always believe they’ll come true. So I literally graduated from college one week and reported to the Navy the next. I was in for 20 years. I flew helicopters. At first, it was a little bit scarier than I expected. I remember my first flight. I was awed by it—I mean really, I thought it was the most awesome thing in the world. But I remember thinking, “How am I going to do this?” Getting in an airplane the first time, I felt so “behind”. I was afraid maybe I had gotten in over my head. But you just do what you’re taught and take it one day at a time. Crawl, walk, run.
What do you love more than anything else about your current position?
I’ve never been good at sitting at a desk, so I love that I get to get out, meet the pilots and the crews, do one-on-ones. It’s an easy job for me to want to go to. I like having a thorough understanding of our pilots, and I couldn’t do that if I were sitting behind a desk. It’s so important not to lose sight of the work our people on the front lines do.
What most inspires you about REACH as a company?
REACH hires really good people. It shows in the way we interview. We have a very high standard for pilots, but it’s more about personality and fit. We expect them to be good pilots before they even get here, but more importantly, we expect them to be team players, good managers and advocates for their crews.
Another thing that inspires me is that when I drop in on a base, the crews always come out to help while I’m there. They’re sincere, and they’re all very passionate about what they do.
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
REACH is growing and increasing market share, so the most challenging part of my job right now relates to our “growing pains”. They’re an expected, normal part of the process, but they definitely create challenges. If we as managers don’t manage our time properly, it’s easy to get pulled in too many directions at the same time.
We have a lot of new pilots to train, along with recruiting, staffing and base set up. That’s on top of the normal care and feeding of our established bases. We need to make sure we don’t ignore the bases that are well established and running smoothly. It anguishes me that I can’t visit them and attend to them as much as I would like.
Are you willing to share a piece of personal information that people might find surprising?
I tell people this and I think they look at me funny when I say it: “My happy place is in the mountains.” I like the solitude. I like just sitting on a rock overlooking a lake and having it to myself. I don’t know how many other people enjoy that, because sometimes you have to work hard to get there, but for me, every year I try to take a trip or two.
Who makes up your family or household?
There’s my wife, Linda. She’s a school teacher. We have a 29-year old son named Matthew who went to the University of Texas, and our son Brian—he’s 26—is in the Navy going through flight school in Pensacola. He loves it. I think REACH played a role in his decision to fly helicopters. We took him up in the Augusta and he thought it was the coolest thing in the world.
This is your free speech opportunity if you have anything else you’d like to share.
I can’t believe that it’s gone by so fast, my five and a half years here. It’s just a pleasure working for this company, and it’s primarily because of the people I work with. The people we hire are second to none. I appreciate everyone, starting with Sean Russell. In the past, I’ve worked for some people that I ended up not being very happy to work for, which makes me really appreciate what I have here at REACH.
A Tribute to Hank Hillsmann
By Vicky Spediacci
Hank was one of the pioneers of REACH’s success. He was our Director of Maintenance, starting with REACH in 1992 and serving more than 10 years with our organization. He was one of our earliest employees to help lay the groundwork for “doing what is right for the patient.”
He was a no frills, tool lovin’, noise makin’, pipe smokin’, meat eatin’, get ‘er done mechanic who kept our aircraft safe. When he said “she’s good to fly”, I would not hesitate to put my own family onboard. He set the foundation of expectations for all mechanics for our organization and that contribution helped make us the company we are today.
For those of you who did not get to meet Hank, let me share a few great memories…
Let’s start with his relationship…with tools.
He could hang with the most macho of guys on the shop floor; comparing sizes, making man-noises, pipe smoking, tool talking. But with his tool box, size didn’t matter. He had the smallest tool box in the hangar, but inside was every tool you could imagine. If he didn’t have the tool he needed, he made it. Nothing stood in the way of making a repair – “fit, form and function” was his aim.
Hank had a special relationship with his tools, which he shared with all who worked with him. One such example was clear during a visit by Andy Danovaro, a tech rep at that time with Agusta. While working on a particular aircraft issue, Andy asked if he could borrow some tools. Hank kindly obliged. Andy went to work on the problem, which happened to be underneath the helicopter. As he bent down onto his knees, he placed the tools on the ground, at which point Hank came over and said “Let me help you with something.” Andy thought Hank was going to give him a cushion but instead he laid down a rag so that Andy could rest his tools on the rag instead of the ground. Hank never thought that having tools touch the ground was very respectful. Care and feeding of your equipment was very important to him.
Hank always seemed happiest when working with his hands. He was someone who appreciated good tools and would often remark on how a particular wrench felt in his hand, how a ratchet would fit into tight quarters, or the fine balance of a German hammer which he had purchased while touring Europe. Over the years, he’d tell a story to go along with almost every tool he owned. Once he saw an old broken ratchet that one of our mechanics had inherited from his father. Hank took the time to disassemble and overhaul it back to perfect working condition. Dave Grieve still uses that tool to this day and he is pretty sure his appreciation of the simplest of mechanical devices is due to Hank.
Aviation Operations Specialist Linda Thomas shared her experience working with him. “With Hank at the helm of the maintenance department there was a degree of comradery and morale second to none. He always took the extra time to listen to employees’ frustrations, always informed them of what was going on up at the “head shed”, and always advocated on behalf of the people in his department. After talking with Hank you always came away feeling valued and an indispensable member of the team.”
Bill Seubert remembers his first month at REACH as an Aircraft Maintenance Technician. He was working to loosen a wire bundle under the instrument panel when he lost control of an electric screw driver and punched out a piece of the pilot’s chin bubble. Bill had broken the window, and with his heart in his throat, he told Hank what had happened. Without even assessing the damage Hank simply assigned Paulie Hentz to the task of replacing the window and went back to what he was doing. With a sinking feeling, Bill went back to work. He couldn’t believe what he had done. He was sure Hank would tell him not to return the following day. As he continued to beat himself up, he felt a gentle hand on his shoulder. Hank knew exactly what Bill was going through and felt a need to console him. With that kind simple gesture, he took all the anxiety away. No words were spoken. Bill was humbled by his compassion.
The care Hank felt for everyone in the hangar certainly extended to the entire REACH family. He felt a deep responsibility to the people who were flying in the aircraft, and worked to instill that sense into the hangar culture. He’d always go a few steps further than he had to, he’d take that inspection just a little bit deeper, and he’d always change that gasket, cotter pin, rivet or bolt that looked even a little bit questionable. He would claim selfishness as his motivation, “I don’t want to get up in the middle of a rainy night to change a seal on a helicopter in a field somewhere.” But we knew better. He wanted to make darn sure no crewmember found themselves with a broken helicopter in the middle of a field on a rainy night. And he wanted to make sure those helicopters and airplanes were able to move patients where they needed to go, and return the crew safely back home. That was his motivating passion. His commitment to the mission was unfailing and often made for many long days, late nights, and holidays away from home.
Hank – The Man
He was a mechanic’s mechanic, a good friend, and a great man who will be remembered and missed by all who worked with and were lucky enough to know him.