Salute to Excellence Awards

View current and previous award nominees

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.

Eric Bashta and Jerry Osterloh

On the night of Jan. 11, 2017, Eric Osterloh and Jerry Bashta responded to a call for assistance by a California Highway Patrol (CHP) officer who had stopped a suspected DUI/reckless driver. As the helicopter approached the scene, Tactical Flight Officer Osterloh observed the driver remove a rifle from the cab of his pickup truck and begin firing at the patrol officer and his vehicle.

Osterloh immediately broadcasted a call for assistance as the suspect emptied an entire magazine, returned to the truck to reload, and fired additional rounds into the driver’s door. He then returned to his vehicle and fled. The CHP officer radioed that he was uninjured, adding that the driver also had a woman and two children in the truck.

Bashta and Osterloh pursued the truck, keeping the helicopter’s spotlight trained upon it and broadcasting its location, speed, and direction over the radio. The suspect left the freeway and entered a suburban neighborhood, stopping in front of a residence. The driver then exited the vehicle and prepared an ambush for pursuing ground officers, firing at the arriving units. Using the FLIR camera, Osterloh directed SWAT officers toward the suspect’s location.

At that point, the suspect began firing at the helicopter orbiting 600 feet overhead, shooting 60 to 80 rounds at the deputies. The deputies held position, circling the suspect, and continued to broadcast his actions and location. The suspect entered the home, then came back outside repeatedly, seeking officers to shoot. Osterloh’s updates over the radio allowed officers on the ground to advance safely. After approximately 30 minutes, a SWAT deputy witnessed the suspect exit the building and engaged him, ending the threat.

Law enforcement officers believe the suspect intended this to be a murder/suicide. Due to the efforts of Bashta and Osterloh, no officers or members of the public were injured, and the suspect’s girlfriend and children were also uninjured.

Jonathan “JR” Roebuck

Jonathan “JR” Roebuck is being honored for his work in the creation of the Remote Access Project. Quickly locating and evacuating critically ill and injured patients in the remote areas of Maine is essential to survival. With an extensive Atlantic shoreline, hundreds of coastal islands, dense forests, mountains, and extreme temperatures, LifeFlight of Maine operates in one of the most complex aviation environments in the country.

In many cases, it previously took up to eight hours for a patient to reach a hospital. Roebuck oversaw the creation of more than 120 remote access landing zones (LZs), all on private land, that provide sites where helicopters can land to assist in rescue operations. In dire situations, minutes literally make a difference between life and death, and the Remote Access Project LZs provide helicopters with space to land in remote areas.

The importance of the LZs was proven during the rescue of an injured snowmobiler. The patient, a woman, had crashed her snowmobile into a 40-foot ravine and sustained critical injuries. Following the 911 call, responders dispatched a helicopter to the nearest Remote Access Project LZ, changing the destination during flight as more information became available. The LifeFlight of Maine helicopter landed just 50 yards from the patient, carrying medical personnel and vital emergency supplies. This would not have been possible if it were not for the strategically placed Remote Access Project LZ. The patient survived the horrific ordeal and has returned to work and snowmobiling.
 

Claude Vuichard

Claude Vuichard receives this award for his ongoing commitment to safe helicopter operations. He is best known for refining and promoting the Vuichard Recovery — a technique that trains helicopter pilots to recover from a condition known as “vortex ring state” with a minimal loss of altitude. In those conditions, the helicopter loses the ability to maintain lift and begins to descend. For more than 30 years, pilots have used the Vuichard Recovery to adjust their flight controls so that they exit the ring state by moving the aircraft to the side, thereby preserving as much altitude as possible.

The significance of the Vuichard Recovery technique within the helicopter industry is widespread. The International Helicopter Safety Team and U.S. Helicopter Safety Team have both published Airmanship Bulletins supporting its use, Robinson Helicopters has integrated the technique into its safety course, and helicopter operators around the world have adopted the procedure.

Vuichard took an early retirement from the Federal Office of Civil Aviation in Switzerland to conduct safety courses worldwide. Today, he continues to teach globally and to develop new techniques to improve helicopter flight safety, dedicating his retirement to reducing helicopter accidents and saving lives. He has also set up a nonprofit organization, the Vuichard Recovery Aviation Safety Foundation (www.vrasf.org), to further assist in spreading his message of helicopter safety.

Christchurch Helicopters

At two minutes past midnight on November 14, 2016, a devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake shook New Zealand’s South Island. Ruptures occurred on multiple fault lines in a complex sequence that lasted for about two minutes, causing massive landslides and destroying roads and rail links.

Crews from Christchurch Helicopters were among the first to arrive in Kaikoura, a seaside tourist community that was completely cut off from the rest of the country. Thousands of residents and tourists were stranded in an area with damaged infrastructure and no way of replenishing supplies. Within six hours, Christchurch Helicopters was transporting urban search and rescue personnel to Kaikoura and starting to rescue more than 130 stranded Chinese tourists.

Once the damage was assessed, New Zealand Civil Defense recognized that a coordinated aerial program was necessary to deliver vital supplies, continue evacuations, and support the recovery project. In addition to working on the project, Christchurch Helicopters worked with Civil Defense to coordinate the work of several helicopter companies. Among the work completed was transportation of roughly 1,300 workers, delivery of vital cancer medications, and flying a plumber to an isolated farmhouse where a young mother was stranded with her baby and no water or sewage.

The services provided by Christchurch Helicopters and the consortium of other operators was the largest air brigade in New Zealand history. While it tested the company to its limits, the team at Christchurch Helicopters stepped up to the challenge and maximized resource use to provide the greatest level of support. Coincidentally, just a few months after the earthquake, Christchurch Helicopter crews also saved lives and property in the Port Hills fires in Christchurch.

Maria Rodriguez

When the company Maria Rodriguez flew with for several years decided to move from the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) to the mainland United States, she chose to stay and open her own helicopter companies: Caribbean Buzz and Caribbean Buzz Management. As an owner/operator, Rodriguez and her husband manage a multi-aircraft operation that provides helicopter services throughout the Caribbean and yacht support operations around the globe, specializing in remote/adventure helicopter and seaplane support.

In late summer 2017, Maria’s home in the USVI was in the path of both major Caribbean hurricanes — Hurricane Irma first, followed by Hurricane Maria a few weeks later. With roads impassable after Hurricane Irma, Maria walked from the safe shelter to her home, which was battered and flooded but still standing. She hiked for an additional two hours to reach the airport. Her hangar was damaged, but the helicopters had survived unscathed. She rolled them onto the ramp and immediately began to fly support missions wherever she could. “Every evac flight started with tears,” says Maria, “but ended with smiles!"

As Hurricane Maria bore down upon her home again, Rodriguez moved her helicopters to a reinforced hangar in Puerto Rico. As quickly as possible after the storm passed, she returned to the USVI to again fly support missions.

In both instances, Maria documented the devastation to the islands with her camera, posting hundreds of photographs to social media. In turn, these images — often the only photos coming from the region and without compensation to Maria — were picked up by media outlets and reproduced throughout the world. Her images helped to convey the devastation sustained by her island home to millions around the world, resulting in forewarning to others in the hurricane’s path and waves of support for the devastated islands.

James Russell Spray

James Russell Spray’s career in aviation operations and management spans 53 years, including 42 years in executive administration. His career includes working as a helicopter pilot for Pacific Airmotive Corporation and as a helicopter flight instructor for Bell Helicopter Textron and Southern Airways, where he was responsible for the accident-free training of more than 500 pilots. He held the position of vice president of medical operations for Rocky Mountain Holdings, growing the Air Medical Services Division from seven helicopters and $3 million in revenue to more than $100 million in revenue per year with 90 aircraft. Spray later took over as chairman and CEO of Rocky Mountain.

More recently, Spray held the position of president and CEO of Safran Helicopter Engines USA, formerly Turbomeca USA, from 2003 until his retirement in late 2016. While he was with Safran, he concurrently held the positions of president and CEO of Microturbo, Inc., Turbomeca Canada, Ltd., and Sagem Avionics. During his tenure with Safran Helicopter Engines USA, the company doubled its number of employees, saw multiple facility expansions, was awarded two major military contracts, and developed or strengthened relationships with Airbus and Bell Helicopter.

Spray has also served as chairman of the Emergency Medical Services Committee for HAI (now Air Medical Services), was the co-sponsor of the American Society of Hospital Based Emergency Air Medical Systems (now called the Association of Air Medical Services), and has been an officer and member of numerous other boards and associations.

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