High Flyer

Meet Capt. Robert F. Holly. He’s 73 years old and works as a helicopter pilot on contract for the U.S. Navy. He’s currently stationed in the Middle East on a supply ship. From there, Capt. Holly launches his Puma SA330 helicopter to make deliveries to other military vessels. Quite often the ships are far out at sea and have no way to obtain supplies of food, fuel and spare parts in a safe harbour. International correspondent, Karin Holly, writes about her father, the high-flying Captain Bob.

Capt. Holly and his colleagues deliver everything ordered by the men and women living on board these ships at sea. Most appreciated are deliveries of mail and ice cream. The pilots pick up sling loads of the supplies to fly them to the vessels and have to contend with tremendous heat, sand storms and strong winds. His job also includes the occasional medical emergency airlift where an injured crew member is flown to a land-based hospital for help.

The work requires a lot of training and my Dad spends several hours each year in a flight simulator. Here he practices worst case-scenarios. He also had to train to become a fireman, as well as be submerged in a pool to practice freeing himself if an aircraft goes down. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration also demands regular written tests as well as a medical exam every six months. Robert Holly was born and raised in Connecticut. He started flying helicopters during the Vietnam War. After his tour there he was transferred to Germany where he met his wife. Dad then decided to continue his flying career in the private sector and took a job in Iran. Since then his adventurous career that has taken him around the globe and he has spent many years working in Chile, Borneo, Trinidad, Afghanistan and Nigeria.

Among one of his favorite assignments was flying geologists in Greenland where they were conducting mineral surveys. At the time, he and his crew lived on an ancient wooden boat which early explorers used. “I also flew geologists in Nigeria. They were doing survey work to design and plan the new capital city in the Federal Territory. The new capital is called Abuja, which is located in the geographical center of the country, uniting the different tribes that make up the area’s population,” he says.

Off and on Robert Holly spent nearly 30 years working in Nigeria. At 65, local laws forced him to retire. However, he wasn’t ready to hang up his flying suit. “When I started my career, many pilots had to retire at 55. But we all get medically evaluated every six months. As long as you’re healthy and still enjoy what you do, I don’t think you should be forced out of your job,” he says.

The U.S. Navy was searching for contractors and signed my Dad. With more than 22,000 hours in the air, high security clearance and experience in flying this type of Puma helicopter, he was a perfect fit. The work is hard. The hours are long and yet Dad calls it his perfect retirement job. “It’s great to be needed and challenged,” he says.

At the same time my Dad is aware that he is truly fortunate to be healthy enough to work at such a demanding job. He has a lot of support from his wife and family during the long months he’s out at sea. But a lot comes down to good genes as well. Dad feels that retirement is a very individual choice. “It really depends on your health. And by that I mean both your physical and mental health. Working longer isn’t for everyone. But it was the right thing for me,” he says.

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