Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Nice Story regarding a Filipino living in the USA with an Aviation perspective ..

When he saw the video online, state police Lt. Robert D. Smith thought someone had filmed a helicopter from the state police Air Wing, framed by blue sky, flying on a mission.

Then he saw an enormous house take shape in the background and realized the chopper was a working replica of the Eurocopter AS-355N Twinstar his unit flies.

“It looked like ours, kind of off in the distance,” Lt. Smith said.

The video caught the attention of state Trooper and Air Wing pilot Matthew Domnarski, who posted a link to it on his Facebook page. A few more clicks of the mouse led to Vicente K. Vigilancia, 37, of Holden, a pilot in his own right, albeit of a much smaller aircraft than the one Trooper Domnarski flies.

Mr. Vigilancia builds the small helicopters — sometimes spending as much as $1,000 — and often flies them at his home. He videotapes some of the flights and posts them on YouTube.

“People say the Internet pushes people apart. This is an example of how the Internet brought people with similar interests together,” Trooper Domnarski said.

Mr. Vigilancia recently had the chance to meet some of the pilots and show off his work to the very people who fly for the state police.

“I want to fly,” Mr. Vigilancia said of why he builds the small-scale helicopters. “I just want to fly. It is still a goal of mine.”

An immigrant from the Philippines, Mr. Vigilancia moved to Massachusetts five years ago. His wife is a nurse at the UMass Memorial Medical Center — University Campus in Worcester.

But his credentials in airport security, as a national police officer and as an aircraft mechanic, didn't transfer here and instead he took a job at The Boston Lawnmower Co. in Westboro.

Still, the desire to fly seemed to be in his blood, and in his free time he began building small-scale aircraft. He orders parts and assembles some sections while others come preassembled. He makes a maiden flight to adjust the blade pitch, transmitter and other elements before assembling and closing the fuselage.

“You have to do that before you close it,” he said. “Once you close it, you can never do that again.”

While the first flights are cautiously made, they aren't without problems.

“You get a lot of crash,” Mr. Vigilancia said, his accent punctuating his words.

Troopers from the Air Wing section who gathered to watch a demonstration of the helicopter at Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee recently were amazed as Mr. Vigilancia's small helicopter circled around near the much larger craft. They snapped pictures and shot video.

They gasped when he reached under the running helicopter to adjust the throttle as the blades spun close to his arm. A few laughed when the small chopper wouldn't start and Mr. Vigilancia needed to borrow a battery.

“It is just like ours,” they joked.

For the state police model, he studied pictures online and copied the French and electric-blue paint scheme of the chopper — an aircraft he had never seen in person.

He also built a replica of Life Flight, the medical helicopter that flies from the hospital where his wife works.

The Air Wing staff were gracious hosts, allowing Mr. Vigilancia a chance to see their helicopters up close and to compare his work with the real thing.

The small helicopter had similar lights but wasn't equipped with the forward-looking infrared imager the state police use. Still, in a slow motion video with nothing to compare the size to, it's hard to tell the difference.

As Mr. Vigilancia sat in the helicopter, his eyes were bright. He was surprised by the small space, the amount of instrumentation and the feel of the “joy stick” in his hand.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime dream come true,” he said of getting inside the chopper. “It is awesome.”

And it might not be once in a lifetime.

So driven by his desire to fly, the 37-year-old father of two has enlisted in the Army. He leaves in March to spend nine months training at Fort Benning, Ga., before heading to school to be an aircraft mechanic and, he hopes, to his dream.

“Someday, maybe there is an opening and I can apply and fly the helicopters,” he said. “Maybe I can.”

Mr. Vigilancia's YouTube videos of his model helicopters can be seen at www.youtube.com/user/vicvigilancia.

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