It’s no surprise why Tom Brooks loves his job.
The 62-year-old Smithers resident has had the rare opportunity to fly helicopters on a variety of jobs with Canadian Helicopters Limited for the past three decades.
Since the early 1980s, Brooks has been at the helm of countless jobs in the forestry, firefighting, mining, and wildlife sectors.
The senior pilot base manager has flown on specialty jobs involving drip torches for slash burning to prepare an area to be replanted and cone collecting where you use a power rig to cut the cones off trees to be used in reforestation projects.
He has also done mining exploration support and forest firefighting jobs where water buckets are used.
He has been involved with salmon fish counting for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, net capturing work of caribou, moose and dart-capturing of wolves.
Brooks has seen mines spring up and develop such as Huckleberry Mine, DuPont Baker Mine and the Kemess Mine in northcentral B.C.
He has even done location scouting for films such as The Grey with Liam Neeson and the Disney movie Eight Below.
According to Brooks, the diversity of the region allows pilots to experience a range of different jobs.
“I’ve gotten to know the northwest quarter of B.C. pretty darn well,” he said.
“You kind of take it for granted after a while, but it’s a pretty big area and to be able to fly around and go this way and that, without ever pulling out a map — that’s been a real blessing and it’s been fun.”
Brooks, who has logged roughly 26,500 hours of flying (the most of some roughly 230 pilots in the company), is celebrating 30 years with Canadian Helicopters.
Howard Robertson is the supervisory base engineer and has worked with Brooks for the past eight years.
“He knows the area really well, if he were to fly over something, he would know what’s this and that,” said Robertson. “He’s a good pilot and the customers love him.”
But when he was growing up, Brooks had no desire to fly helicopters.
“I didn’t have a burning desire to fly helicopters as a kid,” said Brooks.
He became interested as a teenager, when he did some support work at Agro Copters at the Springbank Airport just west of Calgary.
“I went out for a couple of flights with dual controls with an instructor and that’s what gets you hooked,” he said.
“Once you get at the controls, it makes you think ‘If I could do this for a living, I think that might be fun and enjoyable’.”
After that, Brooks went on to get his commercial helicopter license and worked for four years with the company before eventually moving to Smithers in 1980.
“My wife and I moved here in February 1980. We were young and had the world ahead of us. We came to Smithers on the five year-plan, but here we are 35 years later,” he said.
“We’ve become part of the community and put down roots and raised up a family.”
He added he plans on slowly winding down his involvement with the company, but admitted he won’t stop flying.
“I’m going to enjoy some plane flying for a few years before I hang em’ up,” he said.
Robertson added it will be sad when Brooks eventually does leave the company.
“It’ll be sad to see him go when he retires,” said Robertson. “He just wants to fly, he likes to fly.”