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promoting and exploring the personel and equipment behind the missions of public safety aviation. 

Inside The Hangar Z Podcast

 

The Hangar Z Podcast - An interview with Jon Gray

Article written by Scott Dworkin May 2021

In August 2020, Jon Gray, a police helicopter pilot in Southern California created the Hangar Z Podcast. The first and only podcast dedicated to promoting and exploring the personnel and equipment behind the missions of public safety aviation.  With interviews focused on the people filling all the various roles within the aerial firefighting, search & rescue, EMS, and law enforcement sectors, Hangar Z interviews pilots, tactical flight officers, flight nurses & paramedics, aircraft maintenance technicians, and others from through the field of public safety aviation.  I recently was able to sit down with Jon to find out a bit more about who he is and why he started the podcast.

 

First off, Jon tell us a little bit about yourself.  Before you started the podcast what is your background….how did you came into law enforcement and aviation?

 

Sure, I am a Southern California law enforcement helicopter pilot, husband (I married my high school sweetheart) and father of two boys ages 10 & 11. My father served as a police officer for 32 years. He retired from the Anaheim Police Department as a sergeant. 

 

I have been in public safety since I was 18 years old. In July 1997 I started as a part time  firefighter for the Crest Forest Fire Department. CFFD was my local small-town fire department that served the mountain town of Crestline in Southern California. They sponsored me thru the EMT program and the Victor Valley Fire Academy. I was able to fill shifts behind firemen on vacation, or sick, and supplemented staffing on large fires or other major incidents.

 

In 1999 I was hired as a wild land firefighter for the US Forest Service on San Bernardino National Forest Engine Company 14 out of Lake Silverwood, California. I worked seasonally with US Forest Service for seven fire seasons. During that time, we responded as a first in engine to a fire named the “Old Fire” in the mountains above San Bernardino.  This fire started in a canyon named Old Waterman Canyon during an extreme Santa Ana Wind event. 70 MPH winds in the canyon created extreme fire behavior that almost trapped and burned us over during initial attempts to attack the fire. Over the course of the incident the extreme fire behavior ran us out of multiple locations, and eventually put us in a position where we had to provide structure protection to our own fire station that was almost lost to the fire. The fire burned over 91,000 acres consuming 975 structures and had surrounded the mountain communities of Crestline and Lake Arrowhead before weather came in put the fire down. Working for the USFS allowed me to pay for college, and I graduated from UC Santa Barbara in 2003.

 

I changed gears and was hired by the San Diego Police Department in January 2005 and laterally moved to the Ontario Police Department in July 2006. After working serval years on patrol, I was given the opportunity to work in the COPS unit, where I was assigned to graffiti investigations and had the opportunity to investigate gang and graffiti related crime. I was also selected as a hostage negotiator as a collateral duty.  In 2013 I was selected as a part time tactical flight officer in the Ontario Air Support Unit. As a part time TFO I filled in behind the full-time crew while learning the specifics of the job. In 2014 I was selected as a full-time tactical flight officer and in late 2017 I was selected as a pilot. This was a huge accomplishment for me as I had dreamed of being a pilot since I was a kid.  In January 2018 I began flight training at Helistream out of John Wayne airport in Orange County, California and after completing my commercial helicopter rating at Helistream in May 2018, I returned to Ontario PD to begin advanced training in our aircraft which was at that time the Airbus AS350 B2.

 

When did you launch the Hangar Z Podcast, and why did you decide to create a podcast?

During my flight training I suffered a neck injury I feared was career ending. I was able to have world class spinal surgeon Dr. Robert Watkins as my doctor who eventually preformed an artificial cervical disk replacement surgery. Throughout the ups and downs of recovery I began listening to the Team Never Quit Podcast. That podcast encouraged me to keep pushing during the lows. After a lengthy recovery process, I was cleared to go back to work as a pilot. During my long commutes to our hangar I continued listening to the Team Never Quit Podcast and expanded into listening to other aviation-based podcasts. During one of my commutes in July of 2020, I listened to the Pilots Lounge Podcast. They interviewed Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Rescue 5 pilot Scott Hebble as a guest.  I really enjoyed the topic of public safety aviation, so I looked around for a podcast specific to that. I was shocked when I couldn’t find one, so I decided to start one myself. After a month of figuring out how to record, edit and post a podcast I launched the first episode of The Hangar Z Podcast on August 13th, 2020. 

 

My first guest was Eric Weidner who was the former sergeant in charge of Ontario ASU and the one who first selected me to come to the Air Support Unit. He retired a few years ago and is now the Chief Operations Officer of CNC Technologies. We have maintained and close friendship and he continues to mentor me today. In November 2020, Jeff Ratkovich joined the Hangar Z podcast as a co-host. Jeff previously flew as a law enforcement pilot in Southern California. Jeff currently is an EMS pilot serving in Tennessee. 

 

What are ultimate goals you have for Hangar Z and what message are you trying to convey through the podcast?

My goal in starting The Hangar Z Podcast is to share the good work, experiences and stories of the good men and women in Public Safety aviation. We strive to honor past aviators and their contribution to the industry, promote the present by highlighting the personnel and equipment completing missions in public safety today and to encourage the next generation of operators. There are few resources available to those that aspire to get into public safety aviation so we seek to provide valuable information that will assist them in that endeavor. 

 

Seeking to promote the personnel and equipment behind the missions in public safety aviation we have selected guests to provide insight into public safety aviation from different perspectives. We have had pilots such as Riverside County Sheriff’s Department Chief Pilot Mike Calhoun, distinguished Flying Cross recipients Joseph Rosamond & John Fehrs, mechanics such as Aaron Boulias to air traffic tower controller Brian Gleason. On the equipment side we were able to speak to Bell Flights Para Public manager Terry Miyauchi. Our hope in providing different prospective is that we can make public safety aviation more tangible and accessible as a whole. We realize that completing the public safety aviation missions safely and fully isn’t possible without the teamwork and coordinated efforts of all involved.  With each having a unique role in public safety aviation, we know that everyone has an interesting and noteworthy story. Everyone has overcome adversity their career path. Those stories are what we seek to highlight and share through The Hangar Z podcast.