Once a Pilot, Always a Pilot
Chopper 13 Pilot and Lawrence Central Grad Josh Reckley
Writer / Ray Compton
So what would you expect a third-generation pilot to name his two young daughters?
Would the youthful pilot and his wife go the biblical route, choosing names such as Jezebel and Elisheba? Or would the cloud navigator and his companion travel the soap opera path, selecting from a list of names that includes Bianca or Phoebe? Or, perhaps, the thoughtful aviator and his partner would journey down the list of sports names, picking Mia or Serena.
Well, if you selected doors one, two or three, you were mistaken and did not follow a big clue. We are discussing a man who lives in the blue skies almost as much as his feet touch the pavement. Josh and Dana Reckley named their 3-year-daughter Amelia (as in Earhart) and picked Piper for her 1-year-old sister. (Okay, Piper’s first name is technically Scarlett.)
You could say once a pilot, always a pilot.
“I was hooked (on flying) after a field trip to Indy Regional Airport (formerly Mt. Comfort Airport) in the fourth grade,” recalled Reckley who has been a helicopter pilot for WTHR-Channel 13 for two years. “I knew at a young age that I wanted to be a pilot. I thought flying was just the coolest.”
Mother Jan, a longtime educator in the Lawrence Township Public School system, remembers the day her 9-year-old son bounded home from the airport and radiated with exhilaration from the field trip to Mt. Comfort.
“He came home that day and knew what he wanted to do,” Jan said. “He knew he wanted to be a pilot. He told me he wished he knew a pilot.”
It was a short trip to uncover a pilot. His father, Mike, had his pilot license. And grandfathers J.J. Carr and Tucker Reckley were longtime pilots.
“My dad was the most influential in me starting to fly,” said the younger Reckley who attended Amy Beverland Elementary School, Belzer Middle School and Lawrence Central. “He got his pilot’s license before I was born but gave it up when my sister (Raven) was born. He was the first to take me up in a small airplane (Cessna 15). We attended several airshows with my grandpas. I guess it ran in the family.”
By his senior year at Lawrence Central, Reckley had attained his private pilot’s license. He went to the aviation school at Indiana State where the school allowed students to work at their selected pace while in flying training. By accelerating his class schedule, Reckley was able to work as a flight instructor during his sophomore year. The path provided a jump start in building flight time and experience.
However, there were occasional rocky flights when instructing students how to fly, particularly when teaching students on piloting a helicopter.
“I enjoyed instructing, but some of my most scary moments were instructing students in the helicopter,” Reckley said. “It seemed like the students were trying to kill you on a daily basis. Helicopters are much less forgiving than airplanes and less stable. You can let your students make mistakes in an airplane to help them learn, but helicopters require immediate reaction or intervention before a mistake builds into a dangerous situation.”
One frightening moment for the instructor happened when a green pilot rolled the throttle, creating a similar effect to failing the helicopter’s engine. “I took the controls and entered an auto-rotation (engine out gliding maneuver),” Reckley said. “That rolled the throttle back, but needless to say, his ride was over.”
And there have been other hairy moments while piloting airplanes for Reckley. Once while approaching Chicago O’Hare, lightning slapped Reckley’s plane. “The noise was so loud, it made me jump,” he said. “But the aircraft and passengers were fine.”
There was also the time when departing LaGuardia Airport in New York when the airplane’s landing gear would not retract.
“You wouldn’t think that would be a big issue,” said Reckley. “But after 20 minutes of troubleshooting and running checklists, it was time to land. We opted to go to the nearest, longest runway which was JFK Airport. We declared an emergency just in case we overran the runway. The landing was great, and everything worked. But we made a spectacle at the airport with all the emergency vehicles trailing the airplane.”
Undoubtedly, his mom’s heart dropped when she heard this story, just as it may have skipped a beat or two when her son was shadowing tornadoes in Kokomo on August 24.
“I was getting texts from friends wanting to know if he was up there,” said Jan.
He was…of course.
“Even though the picture looked dark, we were at a very safe distance from the cell,” Reckley said as he downplayed the situation. “In fact, we were in clear blue skies if the camera zoomed out. We always error on the side of caution, and I always leave myself an out.”
Reckley’s career has skyrocketed after graduating from Indiana State. His resume includes being a First Officer at Republic Airways; a helicopter pilot for Freedom Helicopters in Fishers; a tour pilot for Papillon Helicopters in Las Vegas; lead EMS pilot for IU Health Life Line; another tour in Las Vegas with Maverick Helicopters; and now his fulltime role at WTHR.
“He hated to leave home,” said Jan. “But he told us that this is what he had to do to get where he wanted to be.”
His experience in Las Vegas included flights over the Grand Canyon. “Someone asked once when was the Grand Canyon dug out,” Reckley noted.
He also had encounters with the unusual. “And on my last day, a kid vomited all over the back of the helicopter, completely missing the sick sack.”
A typical day at WTHR starts at 5 a.m. for traffic and accident reporting and can stretch if the fabled breaking news calls for aerial views. And there are Operation Football Nights when he teams up with sportscaster Dave Calabro to skip from game to game.
“It’s really fun,” said Reckley. “It’s great working for a station that utilizes the helicopter because the aerial perspective enhances the storytelling.”
While Reckley calls the helicopter “the ultimate ATV,” he loudly lauds the support he receives at home.
“It’s been a wild ride,” he said. ”We have moved across the country, chasing this dream, and I couldn’t have done it without the support of Dana. She’s been by my side from day one.”
Let’s also not forget passengers Amelia and Piper. And there is also a 7-year-old Beagle mix named Maverick – of “Top Gun” fame of course.