Salute to Excellence Awards

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Dr. John Leerton

Since 1958, Dr. John Leverton has worked in the helicopter industry studying and promoting helicopters. Operators, manufacturers, pilots, helicopter owners, and various government and regulatory agencies have all been beneficiaries of his considerable knowledge and efforts in addressing helicopter and heliport issues.

Dr. Leverton has a bachelor’s degree in engineering, a master’s degree in acoustics, and a doctorate in helicopter aero-acoustics. He worked for Westland Helicopters Ltd in the United Kingdom until 1984 when he moved to the United States to work with Westland, Inc. In 1996, he retired and formed his own company.

His comprehensive understanding of the technical aspects of helicopter noise makes him very effective in addressing community noise issues. He has been an advisor/ consultant for many helicopter manufacturers, including Bell Helicopter, covering various aspects of noise measurement, environmental assessment issues, public acceptance of helicopters, and civil regulations.

He has published papers and given lectures on these subjects around the world and served as an advisor to the American Petroleum Institute and companies regarding development of guidelines for helidecks. Dr. Leverton also advised HAI on issues in helicopter noise and International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and FAA regulations.

Dr. Leverton also served as chair of numerous HAI committees, including Acoustics, Acoustics/ Environmental, Offshore, Heliport, and Fly Neighborly. He also served as director, vice president and advisor on infrastructure/ environmental development for American Helicopter Society International; International Coordinating Council of Aerospace Industries Associations representative to ICAO on Annex 16; and International Federation of Helicopter Associations representative to the ICAO Aerodrome Panel and Heliport Design working group.

Robert Fournier & Trent Vick

Robert Fournier was just three years old when he saw a Sikorsky Skycrane lift Toronto’s CN Tower antenna. From then on, he was set on an aviation career. After spending five years flying various charter assignments in northern Canada, he took a position with Helicopter Transport Services (HTS), based in Ontario.

Trent Vick’s interest in aviation was sparked by a 2008 presentation on medical careers that included a fly-in by a helicopter air ambulance. Vick joined the U.S. Air Force in 2009 to fund his helicopter flight training at Hillsboro Aero Academy. After completing his commercial rating, he was hired by HTS as a seasonal S-61 copilot. He is also a flight instructor at Hillsboro.

Fournier and Vick's tireless efforts and outstanding professionalism helped contain the fire and keep it from progressing to nearby homes.

Fournier and Vick were paired on a call-when-needed contract, fighting fires all over the northwest. In the summer of 2016, they received an emergency dispatch to the Copper King Fire in Montana. Steep terrain and 50-knot winds made the fire difficult to control. The two pilots worked several long days dipping water from a nearby river. Their tireless efforts and outstanding professionalism helped contain the fire and kept it from progressing to nearby homes.

During their many water runs, Fournier and Vick noticed a small boy transfixed by the sight of the aircraft that was helping his firefighter dad. After their last flight, Fournier and Vick set out to find their fan. Each of them had chosen an aviation career because of a chance encounter when they were young, and they wanted to offer the little boy the same opportunity. Commenting on the pilots’ visit, the boy’s grandfather said, “I had already been impressed with their fire suppression skills. I am now more impressed with their hearts.”

Bryan Smith

Bryan Smith has dedicated countless hours to developing and advocating safety solutions for pilots and operators worldwide. A pilot since 1992, he flies helicopters for the Seminole County (Fla.) Sheriff’s Office, where he serves as safety officer and instructor pilot. He has flown both fixed- and rotary-winged aircraft in law enforcement aviation for 11 years and has been a regular instructor at aviation events around the world for the last eight years.

Smith is also the Airborne Law Enforcement Association (ALEA) safety program manager and works on the U.S. Helicopter Safety Team (USHST), where he has chaired the Safety Management System (SMS) Working Group and served on the Flight Training Working Group. He works as an instructor in aviation safety and SMS, law enforcement tactics, flight training, accident response planning, and unit management and marketing strategies.

Since 2012, Smith has supported ALEA members’ safety management and program development efforts, safety outreach and education, and development of risk management tools and resources. He also acted as liaison with other aviation safety organizations.

Smith led a volunter team of industry experts to help cut worldwide accident rates and implement safety management systems.

As chair of the USHST SMS Working Group, Smith led a volunteer team of industry experts to help cut worldwide accident rates and implement SMS. He continues to be an active contributor to this team and has published numerous articles in industry trade publications, most notably the “Real World SMS” series in ROTOR magazine, as well as Law Officer, Vertical 911, and ALEA’s Air Beat Magazine. He also gives regular safety presentations and leads safety courses around the world.

Era Search and Rescue

Era pioneered the first U.S. commercial search-and-rescue (SAR) program in partnership with Priority 1 Air Rescue (P1AR). Era’s SAR program has responded to more than 1,050 emergency calls from more than 70 companies in the Gulf of Mexico.

Operating three SAR-equipped AW139 medium helicopters from Houma, Louisiana, and Galveston, Texas, Era was the first emergency flight services provider to configure the AW139 for full SAR mission capabilities. As the only SAR provider that is medically licensed in Texas and Louisiana, Era’s program provides 24-hour offshore advanced life support medical care on the U.S. Gulf of Mexico Outer Continental Shelf (OCS).

The SAR program is supported by four certified emergency medical dispatchers; 18 pilots qualified in instrument flight rules, night-vision goggles, air ambulance, and hoist rescues; and 36 P1AR medically qualified rescue specialists — making it the most comprehensive program serving the OCS. Era’s SAR program can support local, state, and federal crisis emergency response efforts for various emergency situations.

Era SAR is considered one of the world’s premier search and rescue operations, able to conduct emergency response in extreme environments. In 2015, Era participated in the U.S. Coast Guard’s Arctic Technology Evaluation on Alaska’s North Slope to identify the benefits of integrating manned and unmanned aerial systems in search and rescue missions.

Era Sar is considered one of the world's premier search and rescue operations, able to conduct emergency response in extreme environments.

The exercise showed the capabilities and expertise of participants in support of arctic SAR efforts and other such missions. Era AW139 SAR pilots worked with P1AR crews to establish interoperability among marine and aviation assets during recovery at the rescue scene.

Jack H. Schonely

Jack H. Schonely spent more than 33 years in law enforcement where he dedicated his career to promoting professionalism in, and the advancement of, helicopter use in airborne law enforcement in the United States and around the world. He is a nationally recognized expert on suspect tactics and perimeter containment.

Schonely began his law enforcement career as a deputy sheriff in Berks County, Pennsylvania, before moving to Los Angeles in 1983 and joining the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). He witnessed the changes in daily police work firsthand and did exhaustive research on suspect tactics, culminating in his book, Apprehending Fleeing Suspects: Suspect Tactics and Perimeter Containment. Schonely has also been published in many industry magazines.

Working as an LAPD patrol officer, Schonely was involved in perimeter containment on a daily basis. In 1992, he became a K-9 handler within the Metropolitan Division, where he spent the next five years searching for LA’s most dangerous criminals.

He worked as a tactical flight officer in LAPD’s Air Support Division, coordinating tactical operations from a helicopter that involved foot pursuits and perimeter containments. Schonely served as chief tactical flight officer and later a command pilot, where he served until his retirement in June 2016.

Schonely's programs set the standard for tactical flight officer training and perimeter containment operations.

Schonely has participated in more than 2,000 perimeter containments during his career, and he has seen many successes and failures. He has shared this experience with thousands of U.S. and Canadian law enforcement officers and as an instructor for the Airborne Law Enforcement Association and individual agencies. His programs set the standard for tactical flight officer training and perimeter containment operations.

Carl Jones

Carl Jones is described by colleagues as “a dedicated, hardworking individual who epitomizes the type of aviation maintenance engineer you want working on your helicopter.”

During one deployment on a critical contract with a tight schedule, the combining gearbox on a PT6 Twin- Pac failed. Changing this unit is not a small job, but Jones was able to source and arrange for delivery of a replacement, remove the old unit, and install the new one, leaving time to complete the contract. To make this happen, he worked evenings and weekends until the job was done. The National Research Council’s (NRC) fly-by-wire helicopters have unique research equipment attached to the flight controls, as well as auxiliary systems such as a nonstandard 3000-psi hydraulic system. Jones is able to maintain and repair these systems and keep the helicopters operating. Jones once devised a modification to fix a problem with the pedal axis of the force-feel system on a Bell 205 fly-by-wire research system.

“Rather than sitting back happy with the status quo, Carl takes pride in his aircraft and is always looking for ways to make incremental improvements to them,” a colleague says. “Jones is a regular attendee at trade shows like those held by HAI, where he is always on the lookout for new technology to increase our capabilities.”

Jones takes pride in his aircraft and is always looking for ways to make incremental improvements to them.

Examples of this ingenuity include a new step and door roller system for NRC’s Bell 412 and a cycle counter system for the Bell 205. The cycle counter system has already paid for itself through reduced maintenance costs.

Nick Mayhes

Nick Mayhew’s commitment to improving the safety and image of the professional flight instructor is demonstrated day in and day out. In addition to his own work as a flight instructor, he strives to instill the highest level of professionalism when mentoring other flight instructors. His dedication to detail and “doing the right thing” is a testament to his character and work ethic.

As chair of the U.S. Helicopter Safety Team (USHST) Training Working Group, Mayhew has been instrumental in leading major projects to completion. He is a strong advocate for improving pilot performance related to autorotations and emergency procedures training. Mayhew and his team have been tenacious in advising on several FAA and industry best practices for protecting pilots and instructors while performing these maneuvers.

Mayhew also helped to breathe life into the Helicopter Certificated Flight Instructor Special Emphasis Program, which is aimed at addressing safety concerns in the industry. He has collaborated with the FAA’s Orlando Flight Standards District Office, Bristow Academy, and other Floridabased flight schools in these efforts and continues to work tirelessly to promote the program nationally.

Mayhew strives to instill the highest level of professionalism when mentoring other flight instructors.

Mayhew also led efforts to set up the “Reel Safety” library of five-minute video clips on the International Helicopter Safety Team and USHST websites. The videos help pilots better understand subjects such as autorotations, risk management, preflight planning, inadvertent entry into instrument meteorological conditions, and emergency procedures training. He has sponsored the development of more than a dozen action-packed educational videos, with more to come in the future.

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.

For 53 years, spray has brought professionalism to the helicopter industry, ranging form flight instruction and medical operations to managemnet of some of the industry's biggest companies.

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.

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!"

Maria's images helped to convey the devastation, forewaring others in the hurricane's path and resulting in waves of support for the devastated islands.

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.

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.

Chuck is known to drop everyting to focus on a specific maintenace issue, leveraging his own experiene with a significant professional network of trusted peers.

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.