Joe Pike, a long-time helicopter pilot and Bell 47 aficionado, died November 7, 2009 when his vintage Piasecki HUP-1Retriever crashed in the California desert near Victorville. Pike and two other men were on their way to the annual Veteran’s Day Celebration at Flabob Airport near Riverside. The exact cause of the crash is unknown, but Pike did transmit a mayday call to the Victorville air traffic control tower before the helicopter hit a power line just south of the Adelanto airport where Pike has a hangar. Pike served two years with the US Navy, including shipboard duty off the coast of Vietnam. He was a Machinist’s Mate and went on to become a master machinist, a skill that served him well as he rebuilt the Piasecki from a rusted-out hull and a salvaged engine. The restoration was a labor of love, and Pike’s two sons, Mark and Joe, both A&P mechanics, were commandeered into service on the project which took the better part of three years. Pike even enlisted his brother, Doug, when it came time to paint the craft in authentic Navy colors and markings. Pike’s Piasecki was flown to numerous air shows after its maiden flight in 2002, including the Piasecki Tribute at that year’s Vertical Challenge in San Carlos, CA. Pike, who would have celebrated his 62nd birthday in January, had a colorful aviation career while still keeping his feet on the ground. He used the GI Bill to take helicopter flight lessons, and went on to become a CFI. He owned and operated Golden State Helicopters for many years and guided countless students to their helicopter certificates – always in a Bell 47. Pike considered the 47 to be the most reliable piston-engine helicopter and the best rotorcraft for instruction. Because the Bell 47 requires the pilot to be completely aware of all aspects of flight, Pike often said “If you can learn to fly a Bell 47, you can learn to fly anything.”
Pike worked as an A&P mechanic and machinist for many years at General Electric in Ontario, California, mostly on evening or night shifts in order to be able to continue training new students. He held type ratings in both piston and turbine rotorcraft, and flew everything from emergency airlift missions in a Bell 212 for Mercy Air to firefighting water drops in Sikorsky S-61 flying crane for Carson Helicopters. Pike held true to the most traditional of values – duty, honor, country, family and friends. He was selfless with his knowledge and shameless of his passion – helicopters. And he always found the time to get someone else excited about helicopters – especially youngsters. Most EAA Young Eagles events would find him there with one of his three Bell 47’s to give some kid their first helicopter ride – and a chance to actually put a hand on the stick. Pike’s Adelanto hangar is a working museum – an extension of Classic Rotors, a non-profit organization dedicated the preservation of historic helicopters and vintage rotorcraft. Pike’s sons will continue his legacy, including working to restore the aircraft presently in the hangar. Both men learned to fly in their dad’s Bell 47, and they’ve no intention of letting that heritage die. In Mark Pike’s words “we are going to continue what he passed down to us.” There’s little doubt there’s a Bell 47 in the future of Pike’s three grandchildren – and Joe will be there watching over them. Joe Pike was a fine man and a good friend to the Bell 47. May God bless his family at this time of sorrow. Special thanks to Ray and Bettye Hunt for the article. Sincerely, President Joey Rhodes and the B47HA Board.