Salute to Excellence Awards

View current and previous award nominees

DeWitte Binkley

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.

Andreas Hermansky

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.

Chris Sharpe

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.”

Thomas “TJ” Hall

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.

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.

Marty Wright

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.

Oliver Johnson

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.

Frank Colucci

During the course of his 35-year career, Frank Colucci has authored more than 1,000 feature articles, including stories and leadership profiles for nearly every issue of Vertiflite. He has written in depth about rotorcraft design and testing, civil and military operations, manufacturing and materials, avionics integration, flight simulation, and other rotorcraft industry topics.

Colucci has contributed articles on rotorcraft and aviation technology to numerous industry publications, including AvionicsRotor & WingHelicopter World, and Defence Helicopter, as well as the Sikorsky Archives newsletter. He also wrote for Wings, Airpower, and AIR International magazines, creating seminal works on numerous vertical flight development programs. Colucci authored an early design history of the AH-64 Apache and served as an editor for AHS’s forthcoming book on 75 years of AHS International history. He also contributed significant amounts of material for the society’s website.

Colucci’s nominations included praise for his style of writing. “His articles stand the test of time,” wrote one nominator. “They are noteworthy for their accuracy, excellent writing, and clarity of thought that allow the reader to see the subject through intelligent eyes.” Another nominator praised his ability to explain complex, technical material to a wide range of readers —— from college students to the world’s leading technical experts.

Trinidad and Tobago Air Guard

The Trinidad and Tobago Air Guard has provided an invaluable service far past its shores for the benefit of those in other Caribbean nations. Operating both helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, the Trinidad and Tobago Air Guard has accomplished tremendous achievements since its founding in 2005. The Air Guard is looked upon by Caribbean Community nations with admiration and support for the humanitarian services it provides in response to natural disasters, medical emergencies, and security threats.

The Trinidad and Tobago Air Guard operates two Metro Merlin C-26B fixed-wing and four AW139 helicopters, and has expanded its capabilities and its achievements in the decade since it was formed out of the Coast Guard Air Wing. The unit has rescued lost hikers, airlifted victims of shark attacks and injured sailors, fought and extinguished threatening bush fires, helped vessels in distress, evacuated stranded individuals from otherwise inaccessible land, and conducted medical evacuations from vessels at sea.

The Air Guard is regularly deployed to perform complex missions both at home and in the wider Caribbean region. It has provided support to St. Lucia, St. Vincent, and Dominica during floods and natural disasters and on a regular basis transports critically ill and injured patients from the island of Tobago to the hospital in Trinidad. The Air Guard’s mission scope exceeds that of larger countries and those.

John W. Williams

John W. Williams’s career as a certificated flight instructor (CFI) spanned more than 35 years, all with Bell Helicopter. Following military service that ended in the 1970s, Williams first joined Bell as a production test pilot. He also worked in the Experimental Flight Test Department before becoming a CFI at the Bell Flight Academy, where he trained countless pilots in 19 countries.

As an instructor, he was known for stressing safety both in the helicopter and on the ground. He later became pilot training safety manager for Bell and was a Part 141 night-vision goggle instructor. Of Williams’s 12,500 flight hours, more than 4,000 hours were earned during flight training. Williams received multiple nominations and letters of recommendation for this award, including one from the namesake of the award, W.A. “Dub” Blessing.

Williams has also led an extraordinary career away from the training department. He participated as a U.S. Precision Helicopter Team pilot (Bell Crew) in the World Helicopter Championships in the U.S.S.R. in 1978, and again in 1981 in Poland, where the team won the gold medal for the first time. He currently holds five international helicopter speed records, including the Around the World (westbound) record with Ron Bower. He is a lifetime member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots and was president of the Helicopter Club of America.

Charles “Chuck” Hagen

In the field of helicopter engine repair services, Charles “Chuck” Hagen is known and respected for his expertise, troubleshooting skills, and commitment to excellence and safety for his customers. He is known to drop everything to focus on a specific maintenance issue, leveraging his own experience with a significant professional network of trusted peers. Chuck has even been known to drive six hours to help a U.S.-based customer or fly for 15 hours to support the requirements of an international client. As a result, he is the recipient of numerous letters of gratitude from customers, and his nomination package included eight letters of support from helicopter professionals who recognize and appreciate his abilities and service to customers.

 Chuck’s career in helicopter maintenance began when he received his A&P license in 1992, followed by six years of service in the U.S. Army, working as a 68B10 turbine engine mechanic, where he worked in both depot level and line maintenance units servicing all U.S. Army turbine-powered aircraft.

He joined Aeromaritime America, Inc., part of the ITP Group, in 1996 as a technician/test cell operator, gradually working his way into higher levels of responsibility. He has served as production manager and worked in the company’s Quality Department as a representative for Return to Service.

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