Salute to Excellence

Celebrating the highest standards of professionalism in helicopter aviation

Excellence in Communications Award

Sponsored by Lightspeed Aviation
Oliver Johnson, Editor-in-Chief, Vertical Magazine

As editor-in-chief of Vertical, Oliver Johnson works tirelessly behind the scenes to pull every issue together — no small feat, considering that the average print issue size is around 150 pages. He guides the editorial contributors through every stage of the writing process, ensuring that their stories are both factually accurate and compelling to read. Most of Vertical’s contributors are industry experts who do not have a background in journalism, so Johnson works overtime to ensure that their expertise and passion reliably shine through in clear, well-crafted prose.

Johnson also contributes outstanding features and breaking news stories for the magazine and Vertical’s website, striving to write in a way that is not only informative and engaging but clear and concise for any reader to comprehend whether or not they are familiar with industry concepts. He stays on top of industry trends by writing in-depth stories on the latest innovations. For a story that appeared in print and online in 2018, Johnson carefully reviewed a 175-page crash report to find the buried lead, which resulted in a significant news story that reached over 9,000 readers online.

W.A. “Dub” Blessing Flight Instructor of the Year Award

Sponsored by H. Ross Perot, Jr., & the Perot Family
Marty Wright, Chief Flight Instructor, Bell Training Academy

As chief flight instructor for the Bell Training Academy, Marty Wright is responsible for maintaining the highest standards of instruction and training on Bell products in the industry. He is directly responsible for the training, standardization, and mentoring of the 34 academy instructors. He also serves as the chief flight instructor for the Bell Training Academy FAA 141 training school and EASA approved training organization and as the training center evaluator for the FAA-approved 142 Bell Helicopter Training Center. Wright is instrumental in the development and approval of FAA, EASA, and ANAC certification for Bell’s 142 training center.

Wright joined Bell Helicopter as a V-22 pilot ground instructor after retiring from the US Marines Corps following 22 years of service. During his military and civilian career, he has amassed more than 7,800 hours of flight instruction provided in six different Bell model aircraft and the Sikorsky CH-53.

During his years with the Bell Training Academy, Wright has been described as a gifted leader, helicopter pilot, and flight instructor, who can articulate subtle and complex helicopter aerodynamics and relate them to his students in an easy fashion. Nominators also indicated that this outstanding instructor has the innate ability to transfer knowledge to his students in a way that is lasting and meaningful — Wright goes beyond the “how to” step in flight training.

In addition to his duties at Bell, Wright also provides guidance for the entire helicopter pilot community, contributing several published articles on autorotations and serving as supporting instructor for the FAA “Autorotations: Reality Exposed” presentation given at HAI HELI-EXPO and rotorcraft safety symposiums from 2015–17. He also assisted in the filming of the Discovery Channel’s “Belly of the Beast” helicopters series in 2010; coordinated Bell Helicopter’s support of Hurricane Katrina relief efforts in August and September of 2005; and received a Certificate of Achievement from the US Park Police for assistance with an F-16 crash that occurred during a Bell 412 training flight for Park Police pilots.

Excellence in Helicopter Maintenance Award

Sponsored by Rolls-Royce
Thomas “TJ” Hall, Base Lead Mechanic, Air Methods Corporation

TJ Hall started his career as a young enlisted helicopter mechanic and crew chief in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War, and March 2019 will usher in his 50th year in helicopter maintenance.

After spending 12 years in the Marines and with multiple overseas deployments, Hall entered the civilian world of helicopter maintenance, obtaining his airframe and powerplant (A&P) license and going to work for Burnside-Ott as a contractor at Naval Air Station Whiting Field in Florida. From there, Hall was hired by ERA Helicopters to work in Louisiana in the petroleum sector until he transitioned to the helicopter air ambulance sector with Air Methods in 1992. Nearly 30 years later, Hall remains working with Air Methods to this present day.

Over his career, Hall served as Air Methods’ lead mechanic at three different bases. He entered the management side of the business serving as the program aviation manager (a job normally held by a pilot) for MedCenter Air in Charlotte, North Carolina, and was then promoted to the Southeastern Regional Area Maintenance Manager.

After nearly a decade in maintenance management, Hall decided to go back to “the line” and worked as a traveling relief mechanic before coming back to Charlotte, North Carolina, his current home. He is once again working as a base lead mechanic.

Hall’s insight both as a mechanic and a leader have had a tremendously positive effect on Air Methods’ maintenace program. He is always willing to pitch in, and he most recently volunteered to be the deployed mechanic for the FEMA recovery operations after Hurricane Florence.

Safety Award

Sponsored by BLR Aerospace
Chris Sharpe, HeliSOS Project Manager, Helicópteros de Guatemala

A native of the United Kingdom, Chris Sharpe spent 18 years in the British Royal Navy before beginning his civilian aviation career in 2010. He has considerable expertise as a combat flight paramedic and search-and-rescue crewman, with more than 15,000 flight hours and approximately 6,000 rescues to his name.

In early 2015, Sharpe began working as chief aircrewman, search-and-rescue specialist, and flight paramedic for helicopter operator Helicópteros de Guatemala and SOS Servicios Médicos, a provider of medical and emergency transport services and medical training. The two companies joined together to create the HeliSOS project, a licensed and accredited helicopter air ambulance and rescue service. Under Sharpe’s management, HeliSOS is the first helicopter fully licensed as an advanced cardiac life-support air ambulance in Guatemala.

Sharpe has given his time — and often, his own money — to train and educate others. He developed and offered aircrew survival courses for the anti-narcotics and anti-terrorist units of the Guatemalan Air Force. He initiated the first community visit of a helicopter air ambulance to the Colegio Maya, a pre-K through 12 school in Guatemala City, acquainting future generations with the helicopter industry.

Sharpe also opened Black Wolf Helicopter Special Operations, which offers training and operational support to government and military helicopter special ops units, as well as charter and adventure flights. All Black Wolf profits go to support HeliSOS’s initiatives to provide first-class air ambulance and rescue services to all, regardless of their ability to pay.

Sharpe’s nomination reads, “Chris does not teach with an air of superiority but with a spirit of collaboration and sharing.… His commitment to raising industry standards for safety, training, and patient care is above and beyond an employer mandate. It demonstrates a personal passion worthy of recognition.”

Pilot of the Year Award

Sponsored by Appareo
Andreas Hermansky, Contract Pilot, TEMSCO Helicopters

On August 4, 2018, a deHavilland Beaver flightseeing tour of the Alaska Range crashed with five people on board in Denali National Park, 14 miles southwest of the summit of Denali at an elevation of 11,000 feet. A call from the pilot of the downed airplane after the crash indicated some survivors had serious injuries. Andreas Hermansky mobilized the park’s helicopter to fly mountaineering rangers to the accident site but was unable to reach the victims because of persistent cloud cover obscuring the wreckage.

Ongoing rain, snow, cloud cover, and wind in the Alaska Range over succeeding days hampered National Park Service (NPS) rescue efforts. In subsequent days, Hermansky flew several reconnaissance flights to the area.

On August 6, he was able to perform a short-haul mission with Chris Erickson, an NPS ranger, tethered to a rope below the helicopter to access the site. Over the scene for just five minutes because of deteriorating weather conditions, the ranger determined there were no longer any crash survivors. The aircraft was badly damaged and sitting in treacherous terrain. Safe recovery of the deceased would be difficult.

Weather conditions improved on August 10, allowing for a comprehensive evaluation of the wreckage during which Hermansky piloted a short-haul operation of unprecedented duration and difficulty. The entire mission lasted 51 minutes on scene. The ranger, Tucker Chenoweth, never disconnected from the 200-foot line because of the unstable terrain and weather.

Hermansky held a precise hover above the ranger and the crash site for approximately 40 minutes, repositioning the ranger multiple times to locate the deceased and to assess the feasibility of recovering remains and removing the aircraft from the primary flight-seeing route in the Alaska Range. The nominator noted that the series of short-haul flights highlights Hermansky’s exceptional flying ability and his ability to work in concert with the ranger team to accomplish critical missions.

Hermansky was born in Austria and immigrated to the United States in 2000 following more than a decade of law enforcement work. After flight training, he worked as a flight instructor in California before he was hired by TEMSCO to fly tours in Alaska. In 2010, he began working with the Denali National Park and Preserve mountaineering staff as the pilot for the park’s exclusive-use contracted AStar B3e helicopter, with the primary mission of providing emergency medical and search-and-rescue (SAR) services in the austere, high-altitude environment of the Alaska Range.

Hermansky’s work with the Denali program includes regularly flying short-haul and STEP rescue missions up to 20,000 feet. He has amassed over 2,600 of his 8,000 flight hours within Denali National Park and has completed nearly 300 SAR missions in Denali and national parks across Alaska. Hermansky has helped save many lives by bringing visitors in jeopardy to the definitive care they need. He has initiated numerous modifications to the aircraft to facilitate flying at high elevation and in a range of environmental conditions. Throughout his tenure at Denali, he has engaged deeply with rangers to develop consistent, safe practices for operating in this high-risk environment.

Lifetime Achievement Award

Sponsored by Bell
DeWitte Binkley, General Manager, Sureflight, LLC

Pilots, mechanics, safety professionals … these are often the people we think about when it comes to the helicopter industry. But the truth is, most people in our industry work behind the scenes. DeWitte Binkley is one such person.

Binkley began his aviation career as an aircraft painter in 1977 at Atlantic Aviation in Wilmington, Delaware. From there, he became an independent contractor running the Agusta Westland helicopter paint facility in Philadelphia, eventually becoming a full-time employee. While at Agusta, he worked with maintenance manager Mario Ceriani to design and mock-up the first Agusta A109 wide-body test aircraft. Binkley actually hand-carved the first A109 mock-up.

Binkley then moved on to Keystone Helicopter, where for 23 years he managed the paint shop. When Keystone was acquired by Sikorsky Global, he continued in that role, building relationships with aviation customers worldwide.

In 2008, Binkley was approached by Robert Watkins, founder of Rampmaster, to consult on opening a new aviation paint shop called SureFlight. In 2009, the new venture opened, with just 3,600 square feet of hangar space and Binkley as the general manager and first employee. Under his leadership, SureFlight has expanded to more than 34,000 square feet. It now handles avionics and interiors as well as painting, and is a certified FAA repair station.

Part of the reason for SureFlight’s success is the team that Binkley has assembled. His goal is that customers will be delighted with the investment they are making in their aircraft, and he knows that can’t be accomplished without the right people.

Although Binkley has high expectations for quality and detail, he never asks more of the employees he works with than he asks of himself. He treats everyone with respect, as valuable members of the team. That respect comes back to him in the form of some of the most talented, dedicated, and hardest-working people in aviation.

Despite often working 60 or more hours a week, Binkley always seems to find time for charitable work. He has donated time and materials for painting and restoration of equipment for the Chester County Sheriff’s Department, including squad cars, a SWAT Hummer, and an emergency response trailer. Binkley also assisted Peter Wright, Sr., in developing the American Helicopter Museum in West Chester, Pennsylvania, donating time and materials to renovate aircraft for displays.