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Meet the pilot - Bob Keller

Volunteer Pilot Bob Keller

We recently asked longtime volunteer pilot Bob Keller (Boonville, NY) to tell us about why he flies and what he finds challenging about being a pilot. Hint: it has something to do with winter in New York state.

LightHawk: Why did you learn to fly?

Bob Keller: I had always wanted to fly since I was a child.  I remember flights on Northeast Airlines DC-3s, flying on a variety of seaplanes in Maine, Canada, and the Bahamas.  Back then pilots seemed larger than life, so I felt it was an impossible dream. 

In 1990 a friend earned his Private license.  I figured if he could do it, so could I.  I started lessons in early 1991 and just kept going.  By 1994 I had my CFI-I, and by 2000 I had added ASES, AMEL, and MEI.  I did all my training at SCH (Schenectady, NY) and started working for Richmor Aviation as a flight instructor in 1994.  I still work part time as the Assistant Chief Flight Instructor at Richmor.

Bob Keller. image by J Henry Fair

LH: Do you remember where you were when you got to 1,000 hours PIC, LightHawk’s minimum requirement?

Keller: I was flying a Piper Dakota (PA28-235) between SCH and UCA.

LH: How did you get involved with LightHawk?  

Keller: I joined the Environmental Air Force (EAF) in 1993. My first flight was for the Society For The Protection Of New Hampshire Forests in July 1993. Within a year the New England region of the EAF broke away to become Northern Wings under the leadership of Rudy Engholm. I was on the board of Northern Wings and regularly flew missions for Northern Wings until we merged with LightHawk in 2003. So I have been doing environmental flights for LightHawk and its predecessors here in the northeast for 22 years. Well over 1,000 flight hours for the environment by now.

VP Bob Keller (right) reviewing flight routes before a mission. image from Bob Keller.

LH: Tell me about one of your favorite flights for LightHawk.

Keller: There have been so many, it is really hard to pick a favorite. But a couple of years ago I flew to Wisconsin to do a week of flying for the International Crane Foundation. I flew two missions a day weather permitting. It was a great experience flying in interesting airspace with great partners. Most of the crane nests were in MOAs, and Restricted airspace, so close coordination with military controllers was important. Since regular observations of the nests were important, we often flew in less than ideal conditions. All this needed to be done while never compromising flight safety. It was a great opportunity to use all my skills while learning a lot about the cranes and their habitat.

LH: What does being able to fly mean to you?

Keller: Flying has become part of who I am. It is what I do. It brings me great enjoyment.

LH: Why do you sign up to fly missions for LightHawk conservation projects?

Keller: It gives me an opportunity to use my skills and my Cessna T-182T to help further positive outcomes for the environment.  It is especially rewarding to do flights in upstate New York, my "backyard".

Flying over his "backyard" in New York state. image from Bob Keller

LH: How do you think being a pilot and seeing the earth from that perspective changes your outlook on life/conservation?

Keller: It gives me a much greater appreciation for the interconnectivity of everything in the environment.  I have a greater appreciation for the need to conserve large landscapes.

LH: What is the most challenging aspect of aviation for you?

Keller: Staying current with the new technology in modern airplanes.  Getting the airplane out of the hanger in the winter can be a challenge too.

LH: What do you do to maintain your flying currency, to stay on top of your game?

Keller: Working as a flight instructor helps a great deal, as does regular recurrent training. Every flight is an opportunity to learn and keep skills sharp.

VP Bob Keller following a flight for Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests

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