(CMR) A young Caymanian RCIPS employee is moving even closer to achieving a significant first for the service. Having spent the holiday season in Cayman with his friends and family, RCIPS Auxiliary Constable Darren McLean is heading back to Trinidad and Tobago in April to commence the final leg of his journey to becoming the first Caymanian pilot in the RCIPS Air Operations Unit (AOU).
AC McLean has been on secondment to a helicopter pilot training program with National Helicopters in Trinidad and Tobago since early 2019. During that time, he has received his First Officer Bars and commenced flying as a co-pilot servicing contracts to the very demanding oil and gas industry.
The young pilot said this is all part of a journey that began when he took his first flight in a helicopter many years ago. He had always known he wanted to be a pilot, but it was then he realized that flying helicopters would be his future.
AC McLean joined the RCIPS AOU in 2017 and was soon certified as a Tactical Flight Officer on the crew of the police helicopter. He had already obtained a commercial pilot's license for rotorcraft, but he would need further training to meet the requirements to fly for the RCIPS.
Over the past three years, he has had the opportunity to obtain this training through a unique arrangement between the RCIPS, Cayman Islands Government, and National Helicopters.
“Darren is working for National Helicopters as part of their training program, flying and learning on helicopters even larger and more complex than what the RCIPS currently operates,” Inspector Neil Mohammed, one of Darren's supervisors in the AOU, said.
“Darren has been conducting various types of flights under very strict parameters. As well as oil and gas industry flights, he has also been doing medevacs and casevacs (casualty evacuations), providing VIP support, and supporting law enforcement,” he added.
With this arrangement, AC McLean is able to consistently gain experience and hours, while National Helicopters adds another talented pilot to their ranks for an extended period.
“The team at National Helicopters is full of praise for Darren, who they say is one of their best trainee pilots,” added Inspector Mohammed. “They say he is a pleasure to work with and very capable and competent, just as he was when he was working with us in the AOU.”
The emergence of COVIV-19 in early 2020 meant that the company's flight operations were significantly scaled back; as a result, the number of hours AC McLean could fly during the period was also limited, a challenge that resulted in a delay from the original timeline.
The COVID-19 situation also meant an even longer period away from friends and family in the Cayman Islands, as travel was limited and the borders were closed.
“It's always hard being away from home and my family, but being on my own having to deal with COVID, all the lockdown restrictions, and knowing that I couldn't fly as much, was pretty difficult,” AC McLean said. “But I'm just thankful that even though I couldn't be with them, I still had their support the whole time, so I never felt like I was truly on my own.”
The situation prompted a review of AC McLean's training plan and the timeline for his completion. Commissioner of Police Derek Byrne reached out to the Civil Aviation Authority Cayman Islands (CAACI) for their expertise in helping determine the best option for the completion of Darren's training.
Based on recommendations from CAACI Flight Operations Inspector Captain Adrian “Rex” Miller, who has trained several young Caymanian pilots over the years, RCIPS believed National Helicopters remained the best option due to the intensity, quality, and scope of their training program. Even with the COVID-related delays, they also remained able to provide AC McLean with far more hours than he would be able to receive in Cayman.
“We've stayed in regular contact with Darren throughout his time in Trinidad and Tobago,” says Steve Fitzgerald, head of the Air Operations Unit. “We know that there have been ups and downs over the course of his journey. However, we always make sure to offer whatever mentorship we can as his training continues. We also get regular reports from National Helicopters and can see the continued progress he's making, so we know he's well on track to reaching his goal.”
That goal is for AC McLean to complete his training and return to working full-time with the AOU as Cayman's first Caymanian police helicopter pilot. But while he will be the first, Darren doesn't plan to be the only one. When he returns, he and the team will be developing the position of Trainee Pilot to create a path for the next aspiring Caymanian helicopter pilots who will partake in the program.
“We want to have a process in place so that others can follow in Darren's footsteps,” said Mr. Fitzgerald. “But they will have to prove themselves, work hard, and show they have the aptitude and the dedication.”
“I want to inspire someone else to see what I’m doing and want to do the same. They should know that even though it’s hard, it’s not impossible,” AC McLean said.
“To be successful as a pilot, you really need to be a leader and have the discipline to come to work and do what you're supposed to do,” said Captain Miller. “The thing I've learned as a trainer is that you can always tell who the leaders are. That's why I have no doubt that Darren will continue to be successful in his journey.”
“We wish Darren all the best when he returns to Trinidad and Tobago and know that he will continue to do the service and his country proud,” said Commissioner Byrne. “As I have previously said, Darren has a very bright future with the RCIPS Air Operations Unit.