Guy Benjamin Students Get Up Close to a Helicopter

While helicopters occasionally fly over Coral Bay and its environs, one landing on the field adjacent to Guy Benjamin School on Friday may be a first. Pilot Shawn James, who pilots his own helicopter, visited the school Thursday for Career Day, and Friday’s Caribbean Buzz helicopter visit added to that experience.

“They see them up in the air but they never get close,” the school’s guidance counselor, Claudette Cross, said.

All of the school’s 50-plus students turned out for their chance to ask questions of Caribbean Buzz pilot Jerry Becker, to peer into the Robinson R440 helicopter’s interior and to marvel at the sight of one on the field.

“They’re cool,” said Je’kon Magras, 10, as he waited for the blades to stop turning and the okay from Becker so he could get closer.

Kahlaijah Powell, 11, saw the possibilities. “It’s a way to travel without having to drive a car,” she said.

The students peppered Becker with questions that ranged from what happens when you hit a bird – “it dies” – to what happens should the engine quit.

“It glides down and you can safely land if you have a place to land,” Becker told them.

He also pointed out that, should the helicopter go down, the first priority is passenger safety.

Becker explained how the helicopter goes up and down, and let them stick their heads into the cockpit to see for themselves what was inside.

Becker also told them they would need to be good at math if they wanted to be a helicopter pilot.

Learning what skills are needed for specific jobs is one of the aims of Career Day, Cross said. She said having students be career-ready was part of the Common Core focus now being used in the territory’s schools.

Teacher Jane Roskin saw it as an opportunity for her students to get exposure they haven’t had before.

Cross said that in addition to a pilot, this year’s Career Day included visits from people working for the Fire Service, Emergency Medical Service, the V.I. Water and Power Authority, WTJX and the U.S. Geological Survey.

According to Cross, the students know all about being boat captains because that’s a common occupation on St. John, but a presentation by Caroline Rogers, a biologist with the Geological Survey, introduced them to career possibilities in the waters that surround St. John and the rest of the territory.

Becker’s visit was the result of the helicopter pilot grapevine. James told the folks at Caribbean Buzz about his talk Thursday, and since Becker already had a job flying from his base at Cyril E. King Airport on St. Thomas to drop some passengers off in St. John, the visit to Coral Bay was only a couple of minutes out of the way.

While the visit was aimed at educating the students, several cars joined a herd of sheep along the side of the road next to the field to see what the fuss was about.

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