Relocating to the United States to Fulfill a Dream of Working in Aviation

From Korea to the United States: This is the story of Hwan Kyu Chung’s Journey into Aviation

By Lorelei Norby

Published December 14, 2021

Moving from one country to another can be a transformative experience, and that’s precisely what Hwan Kyu Chung, Erickson’s Managing Director, Asia Pacific Region, embraced when he embarked on a 6,000-mile journey from South Korea to the United States.

At 14 years old, Hwan Kyu Chung set his sights on a career in Aviation, and by 24 he arrived in the United States to study Aviation. From there, he further developed his passion at Utah State, where he earned a degree in Aviation Technology and a minor in Business Management.  He met Erickson Hangar Manager Buddy Gibson at a Utah State internship fair, who recruited him for a mechanic internship at Erickson. It was 2005, and Erickson had just sold for the 2nd S-64 Air-Crane® helicopter to the Korea Forest Service (KFS), known as “K-2”. Chung had dreamed of starting a career with a commercial airline, but that all changed when he laid eyes on the S-64 Air-Crane® helicopter for the first time. He was in awe of the tremendous and unique aircraft, which sits approximately 70’3” long and 25’ 5” high. You could even say it was love at first sight. Chung remembers his first time climbing up the Air-Crane® to do some simple touch-up work and falling in love with its’ beauty and size.

Field Repair, Heavy Maintenance and Heli-Logging Operations

By 2009-2010, Chung continued his adventure at Erickson when he transferred from the hangar to the field. He completed tours in Italy and Greece (supporting two of Erickson’s key customers). Following his work on the modification and heavy maintenance of “Camille” (N159AC) in Greece, Erickson’s Director of Maintenance hired Chung to help maintain an S-64 Air-Crane® that was performing Heli-Logging operations in Malaysia. Chung recalls being astounded by the Air-Crane® helicopter once again when he watched the incredibly skilled pilots moving logs weighing 6.5 tons with such precision and grace. The S-64 Air-Crane® helicopter was the perfect platform for the job, given there are few other aircraft and crews who could achieve moving 25-30 logs an hour, 10 hours a day. Chung enjoyed his role in keeping this awesome machine flying.

Bleeding Orange

When Chung attended crew training at Erickson’s manufacturing headquarters in Central Point, Oregon, maintainers would gather for a three-day conference. The “Bleeding Orange” award was given out during the conference to acknowledge mechanics’ dedication to the mission. By devoting their time, expertise, and tenacity, this award emphasized that they would get the job done no matter what. With Chung’s perseverance and contributions to so many aspects of the company, all of his team members would agree that Chung fully embodies the spirit of bleeding orange.

Hwan posing by K6

Korea Forest Service Liaison to Managing Director

While in Malaysia, an opportunity arose for Chung to transition into a new role as liaison with Erickson’s customer, the Korea Forest Service (KFS) located in Korea. Soon after, Chung was the full-time technical advisor and rep for KFS. With hard work and passion, Chung was promoted to Regional Sales Manager, which developed into his current role, Managing Director of Asia- Pacific region, leading the sale, delivery, and support of four additional S-64 Air-Crane® helicopters to KFS.

Hwan, pictured third from the right, at K6 ceremony in Korea

“Send the Orange Helicopter”

Chung describes that KFS is proud to purchase, own, and operate S-64 Air-Crane® helicopters. In the last year, 2021, KFS also celebrated its 50th anniversary, where the Executive Director heralded the S-64 as the best aerial firefighting aircraft in the world.

Testimony from a KFS pilot illustrates why the Korea Forest Service chose the S-64 Air Crane® helicopter as their preferred platform for aerial firefighting. “In the summer, it requires a lot of water to penetrate the dense leaves and extinguish fires,” said the KFS pilot. The pilot recounted to Chung that pilots spent eight hours dropping water with the other smaller helicopter in the KFS fleet, a KA-32, attempting to put out a fire. When they brought in the S-64 Air-Crane® helicopter, with one drop of water from the massive water tank, they extinguished the fire. An S-64 tank can hold up to 2,500 gallons of water from fresh and saltwater sources.

Today, when there are severe fires in Korea, senators or members of Congress will travel to the site of the fire. People on the ground who are affected by the threat of the fire, will often urge officials and say, “Please send the orange helicopter”. They don’t necessarily know the make and model of the Erickson S-64 Air-Crane® helicopter, but they know that the orange helicopter is the one that puts out the fires, saving lives, communities, and properties.

To learn more about how Erickson has supported the Korea Forest Service (KFS) for more than 20 years, read Fully Integrated Firefighting Support for the Korea Forest Service