Charles Schmitt, former director of operations at French operator Héli-Union and a highly respected pilot in the helicopter industry, died in November at age 78. Schmitt had logged a total 11,800 flight hours. ICAO and other international organizations had used him as an expert. Among other distinctions, he had been awarded France’s Légion d’honneur order, Médaille militaire (Military medal) and Médaille de l’aéronautique (Medal of aeronautics). He was the only non-medic to have received the Médaille des Samu (EMS medal) from the French association of EMS helicopter users (AFHSH). The association now considers itself “orphan.” Since having retired from Héli-Union, about 20 years ago, Schmitt was a volunteer with the AFHSH, guiding the association through the maze of aviation regulations.
Schmitt was born in France in 1932. He became a helicopter pilot almost by accident, having joined the French Navy. There, he was first rated as a fixed-wing pilot. Then, the Navy arranged a draw for some to become helicopter pilots. His first helicopter ratings were on the Bell 47D and the Piasecki HUP-2, in 1954. In total, during his pilot life, he was type rated on at least 18 rotorcraft. His civil career started in 1957, when Schmitt became an instructor. Then, Héli-Union hired him as a chief pilot in 1962. In 1981, he was one of the founders of the French helicopter group (GFH), the country’s helicopter operator lobbying association. He specialized in regulatory issues. Schmitt was praised for his piloting skills and his total trust for other crew members.