(CMR) Monday, 14 January, will mark the beginning of a new professional adventure for Tactical Flight Officer, Auxiliary Constable Darren McLean of the RCIPS Air Operations Unit. On this date he will begin a secondment to a helicopter pilot training program with National Helicopters in Trinidad and Tobago.
For Darren, a Caymanian raised in East End, this is a dream coming true. He cannot remember a time in his life when he didn’t know that he wanted to be a pilot.
“I don’t know where the idea came from as a child, I just always remember wanting to do it,” recalled Darren, “all I ever drew when I was a kid were pictures of airplanes.”
Darren can remember, though, when his interest shifted from fixed-wing planes to helicopters. He first flew in a helicopter when he was 18, and the flexibility that a rotorcraft injects into flying immediately captivated him. “With a helicopter you can maneuver, you can land anywhere and take off from anywhere,” Darren explained, “it offers so much more freedom for a pilot. I knew immediately that this was what I wanted to fly.”
Darren promptly began pursuing a commercial pilot’s license for rotorcraft, which he obtained in 2013. However, another development in the Cayman Islands had occurred by that time – namely, the launch of the RCIPS Air Operations Unit (AOU) in 2010 with the EC135 helicopter – which added another dimension to Darren’s career aspirations.
“The idea of being able to fly a helicopter and protect and serve my country while doing it was so electrifying that I immediately began learning everything I could about the requirements.”
In June 2017 Darren joined the RCIPS as an Auxiliary Constable, and underwent basic training for that role. In July 2017, he joined the RCIPS Air Operations Unit and began a ten week course to become a certified Tactical Flight Officer as one of the police helicopter crew. Since that time he has served as a full time operational crew member of the Unit, and has been involved in all aspects of police air operations, including pursuits, firearms incidents, search and rescue, medevacs and drugs interdiction operations, gaining valuable experience.
In March 2018 he was part of the RCIPS Air Operations Unit deployment to Turks and Caicos Islands to assist in security operations and a migrant humanitarian crisis.
“For me the most significant missions have been medevacs from the Sister Islands, because I am acutely aware during those missions that we are probably saving a life,” remarked Darren. “The experience of the last year and a half has been nothing short of incredible, and I have learned so much about working in a helicopter crew but also about being a police officer.”
In order to qualify and become a pilot with the RCIPS Air Operations Unit, Darren must complete approximately 2000 flight hours operating a dual turbine helicopter. For this reason the RCIPS, in coordination with the Cayman Islands Government, has arranged for his secondment to National Helicopters in Trinidad and Tobago, where he will initially be flying personnel to offshore oil rigs, and eventually moving to more focused flying. This is expected to take about three years until he accumulates the required hours and experience, which will qualify him to pilot the current police helicopter, the EC135, and the new model, H145, which is due to arrive on island by late 2019.
Steve Fitzgerald, the Unit Executive Officer of the RCIPS Air Operations Unit, said, “It has been quite some time coming, but our partnership with National Helicopters is now in place to allow for Darren to start the training. They can offer the training profiles that we cannot here in Cayman to allow Darren to become an experienced helicopter captain in a relatively short time. The Unit will be sorry to see him leave, he has become one of the team, but we look forward to welcoming him back with his wings as a pilot.”
Darren knows that the secondment will involve long days and a lot of hard work, but he is looking forward to it. He is especially grateful to Commissioner of Police Derek Byrne for his unwavering support in finding a way for Darren to develop professionally into the pilot role.
“This is a remarkable opportunity for Darren, who has shown exceptional aptitude and enthusiasm during the pre-selection process,” said Commissioner of Police, Derek Byrne. “I fully appreciate that being away from home for so long will not be easy, but I know from speaking to him that he is fully committed. Darren has a very bright future with the RCIPS Air Operations Unit and there is no reason he cannot aspire to become the next chief pilot with the RCIPS AOU in the coming years.
“None of this would have been possible without the full support of the Cayman Islands Government, in particular Deputy Governor Franz Manderson, Chief Officer Gloria McField-Nixon of the Civil Service, and Chief Officer Wesley Howell of the Ministry of Human Resources and Immigration, who provided unwavering support and encouragement for Darren to undergo this training,” added the Commissioner.
Darren advises fellow young Caymanians to persist in finding opportunities to fulfill their dreams here at home. “Often there can be an assumption that you need to look off island in order to find the big opportunities,” he said, “but there is a lot that is happening here too. I had no idea that becoming a police helicopter pilot could be possible for me back when I was 18 and the police did not even have a helicopter yet. But there will always be new developments and they bring new opportunities with them.”