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A veteran pilot recently reached 21,000 flight hours in helicopters, recorded over an accident-free career that has spanned more than 52 years of flight over almost every continent.
Richard Alzetta, 72, has flown with Calgary, Alberta-based Mountain View Helicopters for the past 20 years, where he has specialized in mountain flying instruction, utilizing his extensive experience having worked in the Pyrenees and Alps in Europe, Denali area in Alaska, and in Papua in Indonesia.
“The most challenging work to me has always been flying in the mountains, because of the weather, the wind, and the altitude,” Alzetta told Vertical. “And that’s what I enjoy the most actually, because of the challenge.”
It was in his native France that Alzetta was bitten by the aviation bug, when he took his first flight at the age of just 11.
He gained his fixed-wing licence in 1962 aged 17, and then joined a French military pilot program that saw him transition to helicopters. During his six years in the military, he flew Aérospatiale Alouette IIs and IIIs in an anti-tank armed configuration, a Vertol H-21, and a Sikorsky H-19 Chickasaw. He was also a member of the military helicopter formation demonstration team in the Paris air show in 1968.
His career then took him to the U.S., where he flew agricultural spray work and mineral exploration support across the Western U.S. and Alaska, and then Asia, where he spent 25 years based in Indonesia.
Alzetta’s work in the archipelago largely involved flying seismic crews and mining camps throughout the jungle areas of Borneo, Java and Irian Jaya (now known as Papua). There, he flew Bell 47G-4s, 205A-1s and 206Bs, and Sikorsky S-58Ts.
He eventually became managing director of the company, controlling all aspects of operations from New Zealand, through Asia and the Middle East, to Sudan in North Africa.
Among his more notable flights during this time was a period during 1979/80 when he flew an instrument flight rules Sikorsky S-58T on a contract with the United Nations Refugee Agency to support refugees — mostly Vietnamese boat people — who were under attack from pirates as they crossed the South China Sea. It was during one of these flights that one of his engines exploded.
“I found a little island in the China Sea and I landed on the little beach that was barely bigger than the helicopter,” Alzetta said. “Me, my copilot, and the United Nations guys with us, were actually rescued by a Vietnamese refugee boat, which took us to a United Nations camp on an island that was not that far away.”