Pilot Spotlight - Joe Munoz

April 19, 2023

Tell us a little about yourself - what made you want to get into the aviation industry?

I'm originally from Santa Barbara, California, and currently living in Las Vegas. I've always had an interest in helicopters since I was a little kid - I took my first helicopter flight when I was 8 years old. There used to be helicopter rides on Fisherman’s Wharf over Alcatraz for 25 dollars in a Jet Ranger, so my dad paid for my brother and I to go. This was approximately 1981. I'm old!

I went to UCSB after high school but really didn’t have a liking for any of the major courses of study. I ended up selecting a school in Sacramento California, and finished all my courses in a year. After graduating, that same school hired me as an instructor and I worked there for a few years, and built my instructor time to 1,500 hours. I then applied to a few different companies, and accepted a position at TEMSCO. There I built my time in the AS-350 in Juneau and eventually Skagway Alaska.

Once the season ended, the Chief Pilot asked any of us if we wanted to work in the Gulf of Mexico at a company where he knew the owner. Since I wanted to keep flying as much as possible and didn’t want any downtime in my career to gain experience, I quickly showed interest. That company turned out to be Tex-Air Helicopters out of Houston, who were eventually bought by ERA.

A year after working in the offshore oil industry, a previous coworker from TEMSCO said he was working at a place called Maverick Helicopters in Las Vegas and they needed another pilot! So, off to Vegas I went to fly Grand Canyon tours and charter work. I flew the line as a tour pilot for 7 years, then was offered the position of Chief Pilot. I was Chief Pilot for 12 years then eventually took over as the Director of Flight Operations in 2015.

Photo by Joe Munoz

What ratings have you currently got?

I have my Commercial, Instrument, and CFI. I am also currently in the Check Airmen for Maverick.

What’s your favourite aircraft to fly?

Of all the aircraft I’ve flown, the EC130 T2 is my favourite. It has excellent visibility, lots of power, comfortable seating if you’re a tall pilot, and a great climate control system which is a must in the Las Vegas heat!

How do you keep calm under pressure?

I think that just comes with experience. So even if the flight is skillfully challenging, mentally telling yourself ok you’ve seen this before, you know what to do and how to handle it. But with new types of work that we have never done before, the thing to remember is every mission has its challenges, but there is a solution to those challenges if you break it down step by step.

Joe Munoz with Albert Pujols (MLB All Star)

How do you give your passengers peace of mind?

Giving passengers peace of mind is done in a few ways. 

How does the helicopter look? We keep them waxed and shiny and have a full time detail crew.

  • Appearance of the pilot is crucial because you will be judged by your passengers almost immediately by how you look. Talking to my passengers in a calm voice with some banter always helps.
  • When it comes to flying, smoothly is the key. Most passengers we fly haven’t been in a helicopter before, so it doesn’t take much to get them excited. Smooth, slow, controlled manoeuvres are how you impress someone and help them to feel calm and relaxed.

What advice would you give to someone who is wanting to become a pilot?

If you want to become a pilot and you want to be successful there’s a few tips to really help you.

  1. If it is your passion, then go head first and completely dedicate yourself at flight school. Eat, think, drink helicopters. Learn and score as high as you can on all your tests. Flights schools usually hire from within, and they’re only going to pick the best students.
  2. Spend the time being a cfi, and don’t try to skip this part of the learning process. When we hire new pilots, CFI’s with actual teaching experience usually perform the best. This is where you hone your skills and it's an important part of development.

Keep up with the latest aviation insights

Subscribe for industry news, delivered direct to your inbox ⤸