On January 30, minister of Economic and Labour Affairs Elvis Tjin A Sjoe officially gave the start sign for Blue Skies, an Adventure Tours and Events company, to pilot George Tielen and his team. There was champagne, Top Gun music and a surprise appearance of the blue helicopter.
For Tielen the opening is like a great comeback—to the sky, his passion.
He was only five when he visited his first airport, Reina Beatrix on his home island of Aruba. He watched a DC3 taking off and from that moment knew: this is what I’m going to do.
Soon after college, Tielen was drafted as a sergeant and sent to Suriname. After quitting the Army he spent bonus money earned by serving in the tropics on flying lessons in a light aircraft from Rotterdam Airport. After just one summer he got his wings and aimed for his qualification as a commercial pilot. The 200 necessary hours were soon reached by flying sightseeing trips.
Tielen went to the US and by the age of twenty-five could call himself a commercial pilot. Obtaining a job was the next challenge. Royal Dutch Airlines at that time required 2000 flight hours and KLM had plenty of candidates. Tielen had the opportunity to do military flight training with the Navy, chose to be a helicopter pilot, and in 1981, started to fly in a Westland Lynx, still in use in the Dutch and UK Navy.
“Flying in a helicopter is something special” Tielen believes. “It’s like balancing on a one-wheeler in the circus. The pilot has to stabilize the machine. That’s very sensitive; it requires a delicate touch!” In five years he reached the status of instructor, became a world champion, and enjoyed his daily work saving sailors from ships on the extremely rough North Sea in Europe. Being a Lynx pilot in the Navy sometimes means going abroad on the frigates. “That was real life!” he says.
When his Navy contract ended, Tielen returned to his beloved islands in the southern Caribbean and started his own helicopter business on Curacao, Pelican Air. “I wanted to bring my expertise to the islands, lending a hand in the battle against drugs. Staying alive I had to do tourist tours and photo flights, but the military action was still in my blood and I tried to get hold of police tasks. I succeeded after a thrilling chase after bank robbers, who stole a million dollars from a local bank. From that time on everybody on the island knew Pelican Air and I was feared by many criminals.”
In 1993, Tielen lost his first helicopter, a “Killer” Hiller, in a ditch at sea halfway between Curacao and Santo Domingo. Thanks to his military training, he and his co-pilot survived. After a year he was airborne again in a Bell 206 BIII Jetranger, obtaining a contract for police work at last…back to basics, catching criminals in go-fasts, saving sailors from sinking ships and doing medical evacuations. Until—that helicopter also crashed due to a strong kite string. The pilot, not Tielen that day, survived without a scratch but Tielen lost his helicopter, and his work in the sky.
Today, after almost six years doing side jobs, he’s back in his Blues Skies Heli, again a Bell Jetranger, happy but not standing alone in the business this time. The company has a financial expert as the main shareholder, backed up by three Dutch companies and the aviation company Aerotecnica from Venezuela, which also takes care of the maintenance.
The new company offers a wide range of services like photo/film productions, ship-shore transport and sling load operations, but also medevacs. In emergencies, Blue Skies’ policy is to put economic considerations aside and cancel scheduled flights that might prevent them from executing a Search & Rescue mission.
“We believe that operating a helicopter automatically implies the responsibility to give humanitarian flights the highest priority” says Tielen. “Saving the four Bonairean sailors who miserably stranded at the eastern shore after the Fuik Day party was the first SAR action. We like the people from the islands to know that they can rely on us if needed.”
Although the four men had to spend the night in the open before the helicopter was able to find them, the accident ended without severe effects and the boat was towed from the rocks and able to return to Bonaire. “All is well that ends well and safety comes first,” said Tielen afterward. Website: www.blueskieshelicopters.com
Els Kroon is a Dutch former teacher who now lives and works as an award-winning free-lance photojournalist on Curaçao.