Rancho Santa Fe resident thrives in avocation as a news helicopter pilot


By Karen Billing

Rancho Santa Fe resident Ruben Campos is “living the dream” — being paid to fly a helicopter, his biggest passion. Campos was recently named the pilot for KFMB CBS Channel 8 Chopper 8, the only news helicopter in the city.

“To be up in the air, especially in a helicopter hovering, that’s the ultimate. In an airplane you take off and it can basically fly by itself. In a helicopter, you can’t take your hands off the controls,” Campos said.

He enjoys the extra challenge of piloting a helicopter and can’t help but gush when he talks about his amazing opportunity.

Flying the news helicopter is only a part-time job as Campos has worked full time for Qualcomm for 18 years as a staff engineer/manager.

Campos first started flying in 1998 in commercial and multi-engine airplanes. He always thought it would be cool to fly a helicopter and did some introductory flights at Civic Helicopters at Palomar Airport in Carlsbad.

“I was addicted,” Campos said.

He received his private pilot license and commercial pilot license at Civic and did his instrument ratings at Heliclass in Van Nuys.

In addition, Campos was also trained to fly the Bell Jet Ranger 206B3 at Bell Helicopter Training Academy in Fort Worth, Texas. That advanced training helped Campos to be competitive as a pilot as the Bell certificate carries a lot of weight in the field. The training also made him feel extremely confident at the control of a helicopter.

Campos’ first news helicopter gig was with Sky10, KGTV 10 News.

Due to the high expense of helicopters, all of the news stations recently got together and determined that they would all use one helicopter to provide live feeds for all stations. Campos was hoping that he and his “talent” reporter Phil Konstantin would be the crew selected to fly the one helicopter but the decision was made to go with Channel 8.

Campos lost his helicopter job for about a month and a half until the position opened up again.

April 9 was his first day back, reunited with Konstantin.

“It was really cool to get to fly together again,” Campos said.

With Chopper 8, Campos has to be awake by 3:30 a.m. to be up in the air by 5 a.m.

“To me it’s no big deal because I know I’m going to fly,” Campos said of the early call time. “When I’m up there, seeing the sunrise over the city, to me it’s all worth it. Literally, it’s heaven.”

Campos flies to get “beauty shots” for the news, at all different parts of the city, from Vista to the Mexican border. The chopper then does typical live traffic shots and will handle breaking news.

“You’ll never forget your first car pursuit,” Campos said.

His first car chase was exciting because he was able to get up in the air just as the chase was starting. They followed the car for about a half an hour with the entire sky to themselves as the other news chopper was not in service and the police helicopter was not up either.

The chase eventually ended in Mira Mesa and the police instructed them to stop following the car and Campos had to fly off to his next assignment — from a high-speed chase to shooting the high surf at La Jolla Shores.

Flying over such a scenic city is nice perk for a news chopper pilot, Campos said.

“I love flying downtown over Coronado Bridge. My dream would be to fly underneath the bridge but you can’t do that,” Campos said. “Flying over the beaches is nice and I especially love flying over the water because you can fly as low as you need to as long as you’re not a hazard to people or property.”

Campos wishes he had the time to do more flying on the Electronic News-Gathering (ENG) force and his ultimate goal would be joining his two jobs and flying for Qualcomm.

For now, he is living his dream of being able to be up in the air. While he loves flying, he gets a kick out of his children Miranda, Sebastian and Anthony (“my treasures,” he calls them) thinking he has the coolest job of all.

“For them to be proud of me, that is priceless,” Campos said.