Peter Kolesnik for many years has been a reference for pilots in central and eastern Switzerland. He joined Linth Helikopter in 1974 and made a considerable contribution to the growth of this company. Among the most experienced and trained pilots in Switzerland, he dedicated his life to aviation. Impressive is the number of flying hours he logged at the controls of helicopters and airplanes, totaling more than 20,000 by the end of his 40 years career, unfortunately interrupted by an incurable disease on July 30, 2017.
Peter Kolesnik was born on June 27, 1950, in Günsberg/SO, a small village in the Lebern district of the Canton of Solothurn. His surname has distant roots: Peter Kolesnik's father emigrated from Ukraine to Switzerland after the Second World War. Peter from childhood was fascinated by technology, nature and feats of legendary glacier pilot Hermann Geiger.
As a boy, during a hike in the mountains, he witnessed the latter's intervention by helicopter to help an injured companion. It might have been that experience that motivated him to become a helicopter pilot.
After compulsory schooling, he enlisted as an electronics apprentice on Swissair's airplanes in Kloten, a company for which he worked for a period of six years.
In 1968, thanks to a loan of 30,000 CHF received from his parents and despite his young age, he started his helicopter training at the flight school of Heliswiss in Belp/BE. Among his instructors was Jean Seydoux, who was among the first commercial helicopter pilots in Switzerland. Peter carried out the basic training at the controls of the Bell 47G2.
Upon completion of the training FOCA granted him the professional helicopter pilot's license No. 190.
In order to gain some flight experience he moved first to France and then to Alaska where he made the first supply flights to camps and building sites scattered in the bush. While staying in Alaska he began training as an airplane pilot.
He then went to the United States and later obtained a helicopter pilot instructor's license.
With a share capital of CHF 50,000, Linth Helikopter AG was officially founded in Mollis/GL on November 1, 1972, initially chaired by entrepreneur Hans Coppetti. The very first shareholders were the medical doctor Peter Rutschmann, a member of Swiss Air Rescue Guard (SARG), and Coppetti. Both were in possession of an airplane and helicopter pilot's license. Rutschmann, who was Kolesnik's trusted doctor, informed him of Linth Helikopter’s plans (the company's name was changed on June 29, 1982 to Heli-Linth AG).
In 1974 Hans Coppetti proposed Peter Kolesnik to join the young company and offered him a job as a factotum. At first, he had to deal with administration, organization of flights, technical controls on helicopters and base management. As he jokingly put it, in the early days he was the company's one-man-show.
The first aircraft operated by the company was Hughes 269C HB-XDU, which was Rutschmann’s personal helicopter. The three-seater (one of the first of this series to be registered in Switzerland) could carry a slung load of about 150-200 kg or two passengers.
HB-XDU was mainly used for transportation of people and food, to supply pasture personnel, to descend cheese produced on the Alps or to airlift building materials for construction or maintenance of mountain huts.
In addition to Rutschmann and Coppetti, Peter Kolesnik also began his activity as a commercial helicopter pilot. That period was undoubtedly a very demanding experience for him mainly due to the rather limited performance of the Hughes 269C, especially in the mountains.
In 1974 a second Hughes 269C (HB-XEH) was purchased by Linth Helikopter for about CHF 180,000.
The work increase later prompted the young company to acquire helicopters with superior performance. These were initially chartered from other operators such as Fuchs Helikopter or Air Grischa.
A Swiss Air Rescue Service (SARG - REGA) rescue base was established in Mollis, and Peter Kolesnik took part in more than a thousand air rescue missions, using initially an Agusta-Bell 206B Jet Ranger II (HB-XEZ) and later more powerful helicopters such as the SA 319B Alouette 3 or the AS 350 Ecureuil/Astar.
Between 1980 and 2006 as a pilot he was part of REGA's pool of experts to evaluate new models of helicopters.
In 1977 Heli-Linth placed the order for an AS 350B Ecureuil/Astar. The new helicopter registered HB-XGW entered into service on May 1, 1979 and was affectionately nicknamed "D'Fridolin" in homage to the Irish monk Saint Fridolin who is depicted in the Canton's coat of arms.
As a commercial (and chief) pilot Peter Kolesnik gained considerable flight experience managing all kinds of transportations mainly using helicopters of the AS 350 Ecureuil/Astar series.
Commercial airplane pilot
Eager to fly higher and faster alongside the activity with helicopters, training as a commercial pilot on multi-engine airplanes followed. Instrument flight was the successive step. He then successfully completed the school for airline pilots (SLS Schweizerische Luftverkehrsschule) at Zurich-Kloten Airport.
Over the years he obtained the qualification to land on the glaciers with airplanes and later a license as an instructor to carry out this particular activity.
His enormous passion for flying in the second half of the 1990s led him to work as a freelance pilot on behalf of various companies including Rabbit Air, Swiss-Jet and Swiss Global Aviation at the controls of aircraft such as Hawker 800-125 or Falcon 2000, Falcon 900EX models.
Beginning in 2002, he piloted Falcon 50, Gulfstream IV/V and and Learjet 40/45ircraft as a PIC on behalf of wealthy customers.
Linth Air Service, Inc.
Along with his wife Gret on the bucolic airport of Mollis in 2000 he founded Linth Air Service and built a spacious hangar for airplanes and helicopters. In addition to hangar space, the company offers handling, maintenance and overhaul services for aircraft and helicopters; this activity was acquired by RUAG since April 1, 2010.
In order to provide his company with a long-term perspective, Peter Kolesnik worked hard to find the right successor. On January 1, 2013 Linth Air Service was sold to Marenco Holding AG chaired by Martin Stucki. The latter, a well known name in the Swiss rotary-wing industry, nowadays manages the company along with Gret Kolesnik.
In addition to his passion for aviation, Peter Kolesnik cultivated other interests. In his youth he raced motorcycles while in later years he preferred to drive sports cars. Among his various other hobbies were cooking, wine tasting, music, diving, skiing and even paragliding.
In a resume dating back to 2008 (so well before suspending his job as a pilot due to medical reasons) he indicated that he had logged a total of 18,600 flight hours under his belt, divided as follows: 11,400 hours on helicopters and 7,200 as an airplane pilot. At the end of his long career, as evidenced by his many flight log books, he exceeded 20,000 hrs!
The list of aircraft flown and the number and type of licenses issued is amazing. The list of helicopters registered on his licences includes: Agusta A109, AS 350/355, Bell 204/205, Bell 206, Bell 206LT, Bell 222/230/430, Bell 47, Hughes 269/369, MD 520N/600N, MD900/902, Robinson 22, SA 315/316/3160/319, SA318/SE313, Sikorsky S-76, EC 120B.
As for the aircraft he was licenced to fly: Cessna C500/550/560, Cessna C501/551, Dassault Falcon 2000, British Aerospace HS125, Gulfstream IV/V, Learjet 40/45, Piper PA 31/42. To these must be added single-engine aircraft. As already mentioned, he had many licenses that enabled him, as well as, of course, piloting the indicated aircraft, as a flight instructor and examiner.
People will remember him, not only because he was a pioneer, but also because he brought his aviation knowledge and skills to the highest levels. After an enviable career in the aviation industry, "Koli", as he was nicknamed, stood out his last 'flight' on July 30, 2017 victim of an incurable disease.
The author want to express his gratitude to Gret Kolesnik for her precious collaboration and availability in the preparation of this article.