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A conversation with Jim Glasner

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, at 11:56 p.m.

As a young man, Jim Glasner had never even seen a helicopter when an Army recruiter asked him whether he would like to become a helicopter pilot.

“He had a picture of a helicopter over his desk,” Glasner said.

Glasner looked at that photo and said yes.

That was in 1969.

The decision led Glasner, 62, to a long career as an air medical helicopter pilot.

He’s also a flight instructor and trains other helicopter pilots. And he gives them the yearly check rides required by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Glasner was honored last month at the national Air Medical Transport Conference in Seattle for his lifelong achievements in the air medical industry.

In his 34 years as an air medical helicopter pilot, he’s flown more than 5,000 patients and trained more than 300 helicopter pilots.

He’s worked for EagleMed in Wichita for 12 years.

Glasner’s early years were spent in San Francisco, but he went to high school in Washington, D.C., after his father was transferred there with the Navy.

When he returned from flying helicopters in Vietnam, Glasner went to school in Kansas City to become an aircraft and power plant mechanic, and then moved to Wichita to work at Cessna Aircraft.

While at Cessna, he joined the Army National Guard and flew Sikorsky Skycrane helicopters.

In 1979, he joined Midwest Corporate Aviation as a full-time air medical pilot. He also did the maintenance on the aircraft.

In 1996, Midwest Corporate lost its helicopter contract with Wesley Medical Center, and Glasner joined Omni Flight, which was a national EMS helicopter provider at the time.

In 2000, Wesley canceled its air medical services contract and enlisted EagleMed as a stand-alone provider.

EagleMed provides services for all the hospitals in Wichita. It employs about 350 nationwide, including about 90 in Wichita.

Glasner and his wife of 30 years, Kay, have three children.

When not working, he likes to run to keep in shape.

How do you describe what EagleMed does?

It’s like a charter flight, but it’s a flying emergency room or ICU. Highly trained medical personnel on board can stabilize the patient and get them to a higher level of care.

You’ve been in this business since the industry was new.

When I started in this, there were probably only 15 programs in the United States. Now there’s hundreds. It was a brand-new industry. The things that we learned in the military were the things that we brought out here in the civilian world to try to provide the same services to critical patients.

What do you like best about your job?

Every flight is unique. One flight, I might be landing on a road. The next flight I might be landing on a building. The next flight I might be landing in someone’s backyard. In addition to that … thinking that you’re contributing or helping another human being is gratifying.

What’s the biggest challenge in your job?

Kansas weather. We have strict weather minimums, so we can’t accept the flight (in bad weather conditions). Reporting stations could be 100 miles apart. If you check the weather here and where you’re going, you don’t know what the weather is in between. Then it comes to the critical decision when you turn around … whether you have the patient on board or not. … The guidelines are strict.

What part of your job do you like least?

Sitting around waiting for a flight. There’s a lot of down time.

You train other helicopter pilots once they’re hired. They have to have certain experience and ratings to be hired. What do you train them to do?

Typically you get people not qualified in this particular aircraft we fly. They have to transition into the (Eurocopter) AStar. … Unless they have EMS experience, I give them EMS helicopter training.

What do they learn in the training?

Techniques to be used, like landing on elevated helipads or landing at an accident scene out in the middle of nowhere. We give them specialized training in that. And I try to give them some decision-making skills.

You transported victims in the Andover, Greensburg and Joplin tornadoes. You’ve flown accident and shooting victims and the critically ill. How do you handle the stress of the job?

I’ve been doing it for 34 years. It’s hard when you first start. You build up a tolerance and the immunity so no matter what’s going on right next to you, what you’re hearing, smelling or seeing, … you learn to focus. I met my wife in this business. She understands what’s going on. I can talk to her. But mostly, it’s the crew that you fly with. If you see something horrific or whatever, you usually talk about it afterward. I guess it’s kind of therapeutic. You go over the mission you just flew. You’re like a little family.

What’s been your most challenging flight?

Flying into the aftermath of the Andover tornado was probably the most challenging, because everything was destroyed. They wanted us to pick up people, but there was nowhere to set up landing zones because the debris was just everywhere. We had to decide on our own where was a safe place to land.

What’s the best advice you give the pilots you train?

Think. Use your head. Don’t make rash decisions. Think about what you’re doing and what you’re going to do. Always leave yourself an out.

When did you fall in love with aviation?

When I went to that recruiter and saw that poster. I never had flown before. I had no aspirations to become a pilot. I was just looking for a service to join because I knew I was going to get drafted. When I joined, I was afraid I wasn’t going to be able to do it. I had no idea if I was going to be able to fly or not. There were some people who didn’t make it through flight school. I didn’t think I was more qualified (than they were). The more you do something, the better you get at it.

What’s one thing few people know about you?

Chick flicks. I like sad movies – the mush romance. I go with my wife and daughter to see those movies. Some of them seem to mimic one part of your life at one point or another.

Reach Molly McMillin at 316-269-6708 or mmcmillin@wichitaeagle.com.

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