Read More: Firsts
September 03, 2019

In 1938, German medical student Hanna Reitsch became the first woman in the world to fly a helicopter, earning her status as Whirly Girl #1. She demonstrated the first functional helicopter design that could be flown precisely.

Igor Sikorsky took flight in 1939 in the first practical helicopter, which utilized a single main rotor and tail rotor, the most common helicopter design we see today.

In 1945, the Bell 47 first flew. I took my flight training in a Bell 47, and this iconic model—my all-time favorite—was the first aircraft I flew solo.

A handful of operators and Art Fornoff, a representative from Bell Helicopter, met in 1948 at the offices of AF Helicopters in Burbank, California, to form a helicopter association for the collective benefit of all operators in the new industry. This first meeting of helicopter operators was the birth of HAI.

On July 1 of this year, I became the first female chair of HAI from outside of the United States. (I’m not the first female chair to lead the association; Elynor Rudnick accomplished that milestone in 1955.) But just as in our industry, we are now seeing more and more women becoming active and taking leadership roles in our association. Helicopter pilot Stacy Sheard is the vice chair, meaning that half of the Executive Committee leading HAI this year is female.

This won’t make any difference in the way the HAI conducts itself, but it does represent another milestone in helicopter aviation, another way our industry is becoming more diverse and utilizing talent, best practices, and good ideas wherever they are found. This is what HAI represents, and this is what I am proud to be a part of.

Our industry is not done making firsts. The times, they are still a-changing. Today we are learning to work alongside the new emerging drone industry and trying to keep pace with the rapidly advancing technology that seems to be daily added to our machines.

On top of this is the change in community attitudes. Helicopters are no longer viewed as amazing devices that do good things for our communities. That torch seems to be passing to the drone industry. Instead, we are increasingly seen as noisy, dangerous things associated with disasters and destruction.

As we look to the future, HAI will continue its efforts to embrace helicopter operators and associations in other countries so that we are truly international. The problems of drone integration and concerns about noise and safety are not isolated to one country. Let’s work together to find collective solutions for these global issues.

Public attitudes have turned against us, so we have to look at ways to turn that around. Let’s get our communities back on board with our operations, so that when someone looks up and sees a helicopter, they again say, “Wow, I want to do that for a living.” Our industry needs to encourage more pilots and maintenance technicians into this addictive career.

We accomplish amazing things in our flying machines, and this needs to be championed. The world needs more people dominated by passion, enthusiasm, and the desire to be better, and I’ve got a very good idea of where they can be found—in helicopters.

Fly safe, 

Jan

Read More: Pay it Forward
February 28, 2019

Support our industry and recruit the next generation.

I don’t know about you, but I love my job. Do I love everything about it? Absolutely not. Is there anything else in this world that I would rather be doing? Absolutely not. As I tell people every day, “Flying a helicopter sure beats working for a living.”

Our industry is currently suffering from a shortfall of qualified pilots and maintenance technicians. Low oil prices and the resulting downturn in the offshore sector somewhat masked this scarcity, but that will change in the future.

Unfortunately, our industry is competing for these folks with the airlines and, for a variety of reasons, the airlines are winning. For one, that industry is heavily vertically integrated—compare the 17 major air carriers in the United States with the thousands of helicopter operators. Large companies have more resources to address recruitment, including rotorcraft transition programs and beefed-up salary and benefit packages. They can also spread the cost of their workforce over 50 to 500 paying customers per flight, compared with zero to maybe 24 for our industry.

One way we can compete with the airlines’ big pockets is by advocating for our industry with the younger generation. And when I say “we,” I mean each one of us. This means promoting helicopter aviation in your local community, whenever you can, at events like school career days or in scouting programs. If every person in our industry took the time to mentor at least one individual and encourage him or her to enter helicopter aviation, we could make an impact.

Become a regular at your local airport and flight and maintenance schools. Talk about your passion for the helicopter industry and explain the opportunities we present. Offer to help with rotorcraft curriculum or with job searches for graduates. Just expressing an interest in these students will go a long way to encouraging people to consider our industry.

I’m closer to retirement than many, so I won’t see the worst of the shortage. But I am active in outreach because I am grateful to the pioneers who built this industry that has provided for me and my family for the past 50 years. Risking everything, they invested in the future of helicopters and thus provided opportunities for me and thousands of others. I feel an obligation to repay some of the blood, sweat, and tears that has been poured into this industry.

Another way to strengthen our industry is to support Helicopter Foundation International (HFI). The foundation annually offers up to 22 scholarships for aspiring pilots and maintenance technicians and sponsors several events at HAI HELI-EXPO® each year, such as the Military to Civilian Transition Workshop and the Helicopter Industry Career and Mentoring Fair. In addition to an Equipment Donation Program that will expand rotorcraft education at A&P schools, the foundation is also working to increase the number of high schools and postsecondary schools that offer helicopter-specific courses or instruction.

You can participate in the foundation’s several fundraising events at HAI HELI-EXPO 2019, such as its Online Silent Auction (rotor.org/auction) or its Scholarship Golf Tournament (rotor.org/golf). You can also support HFI throughout the year by visiting rotor.org/donate.

I would say, “Pay it forward,” but for me and many others, our efforts on behalf of the industry are more about how we can pay it back. We stand on the shoulders of giants; let’s give the next generation a hand up. 

Cheers,
Jim Wisecup
 

Read More: How Problems Get Solved
November 13, 2018

In 1914, Woodrow Wilson, the 28th president of the United States, said to the National Press Club, “I not only use all the brains I have, but all I can borrow.” In our industry, we should all take this sentiment to heart. Whether you need to borrow some brains or you are willing to share your experience and perspectives to help others, step forward and get involved.

At one point in my career, I was fortunate enough to be in on the ground floor of the introduction of night-vision goggles into US civil aviation. Some of the bright and dedicated individuals who worked to make this happen were Dutch Fridd of Rocky Mountain Helicopters, supported by Russ Spray, our CEO, and Karl Poulsen, VP of Aviation Services; Grant Pearsol, Lynn Higgins, and Lew Olson of the FAA’s Salt Lake City Flight Standards District Office; and Mike Atwood of Aviation Specialties Unlimited. My thanks to them and all the individuals who measurably advanced the level of safety in the helicopter air ambulance sector.

Progress in aviation can sometimes be slow. It takes years to get an aircraft certified or a rule changed. Some issues we have in our industry, like the shortage of pilots and mechanics, didn’t arrive in one day—and it will take more than one day to solve them. Still, when I see what people around the industry are achieving, I am encouraged about our future.

On September 7, 2018, I had the privilege of attending a safety symposium hosted by the Rotary Wing Society of India (RWSI). It was a great event, with representation from all branches of the Indian military and from virtually every civil operator, manufacturer, and industry stakeholder from neighboring countries.

The RWSI is an all-volunteer group headed by Air Vice Marshal K. Sridharan that was formed 20 years ago to promote the safe and efficient use of helicopters in India and surrounding areas. The scope of their work is amazing as they tackle every topic related to the improvement of Indian helicopter operations.

On September 29, HAI cohosted a regional safety conference with the Professional Helicopter Pilots Association (PHPA) in Van Nuys, California. The PHPA is another all-volunteer group of aviation professionals dedicated to the safe and efficient operation of helicopters, this time in Southern California. I have had the pleasure of working with Morrie Zager, PHPA president, and some PHPA members on the issue of helicopter noise in the Los Angeles Basin. The L.A. Area Helicopter Operators Association (LAAHOA), headed by Chuck Street, is another volunteer industry group that is active in Southern California.

PHPA and LAAHOA have been instrumental in finding solutions for noise-sensitive areas around the L.A. Basin, working with representatives from the FAA’s Western-Pacific Regional Office, Robinson Helicopter, local homeowners, and individual pilots. Without their efforts, helicopter operations in the region could become very limited or go away altogether.

Time and again in my career, I’ve seen how individuals can work together for the benefit of all. It’s a reminder that our united efforts can make a difference.

I would encourage all in our industry, regardless of your position, to become involved with groups like these. To paraphrase Wilson: get out there and borrow those brains.

There is so much talent out there, and as aviation professionals, we all have a license to learn. So many are willing to share their knowledge and abilities to improve our industry. Join them!

Cheers,

Jim

Read More: Threats … and Opportunities
August 07, 2018

As this is my first column as chairman of HAI, let me introduce myself. My name is James Wisecup. Most people call me Jim.

I began flying helicopters in 1969 in the US Army. After a fairly brief active-duty army career, I spent a few years in the National Guard and Army Reserve in my home state of Texas. After my army service, I flew for offshore operations in the Gulf of Mexico, the North Sea, the North Atlantic, the South China Sea, and offshore California before shifting to the helicopter air ambulance (HAA) sector.

I was a line pilot, check airman, and then chief pilot for Rocky Mountain Helicopters, which was the largest HAA operator at the time. I am currently an assistant chief pilot for Air Methods Corporation, one of the largest air medical companies in the world.

Safety and training are my passions. Safety, because both our operating costs and public acceptance of our industry depend on our ability to improve our safety record. Training, because that is how I think we will reduce accidents, most of which are caused by human factors.

The most important thing we can do to improve our industry is to pass along to the next generation of pilots and maintenance technicians what we have learned over the years. You may call this storytelling. Some people call it training.

After all, none of us will live long enough to make all of the mistakes ourselves. If we don’t learn from the mistakes of others, we will die trying. Be your brother’s keeper, as his actions can affect your profession.

I am proud to have spent my career in aviation. There are so many jobs that are done by helicopters — more than the average person realizes. However, things are changing.

Drones, or unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), seem to be the latest technology threatening our industry. But are they really a threat?

Yes, they will increasingly take over surveillance, inspection, and reconnaissance missions. But that makes sense. These often mundane missions can, in many cases, be done more safely, economically, and efficiently with UAS.

We tend to get rigid about how we have “always” done things. Instead of telling those drone-flying kids to get off of our lawns, however, let’s remember two things: First, there are still missions that can only be done by helicopters — our industry may change but it’s not going away. Second, we know that drones are here to stay — newer, cheaper technology tends to stick around — so let’s figure out how to integrate their operations into the airspace that we all share.

Another external threat to our industry is the noise issue. Many well-meaning, well-organized groups throughout the United States have banded together to voice dissatisfaction with the noise being generated by helicopters overflying their homes and recreational areas. Although the noise from helicopters may not in fact be the loudest noise in these neighborhoods, it does seem to generate the most concern.

It is imperative that we listen to these groups to understand what the true issues are and, if possible, find a way to mitigate them. We can still do our job — but we may have to do it while flying higher or taking a route that doesn’t impact our neighbors as much.

Yes, there will be times when we won’t have a perfect solution to a noise complaint. But if we do all that we can to minimize the noise impact of our operations, it will go a long way to improve our relations with our neighbors. We need to both model and teach these behaviors to new pilots as well as the more experienced ones.

Another issue is the pilot and maintenance technician shortage. There are many factors affecting the personnel scarcity. Training is expensive, the military is not producing as many qualified people as in the past, and the competition for talent from the fixed-wing world is greater than ever.

We need to actively get into our local communities and reach out to younger individuals to educate them about the opportunities available in the helicopter world. Without pilots and maintenance technicians to fly and operate our machines, the rotors won’t keep turning. Please consider working with Helicopter Foundation International (HFI) for outreach opportunities and assistance.

Obviously, the safe operation of helicopters is a main focus at HAI, but I firmly believe that we can operate safely and still be responsible stewards of the helicopter world as well.

I am excited to be working with professionals such as you in the vertical-lift community, and I hope I can contribute to advancing our industry into the future. Let’s take advantage of our opportunities to ensure that the helicopter remains a vital part of the global aviation scene.

Cheers,

Jim

Read More: Giving Thanks
August 06, 2018

Through my work on the HAI Board of Directors and several FAA working groups, I have recently gotten to know colleagues from different areas of the helicopter industry — people whom I’m not usually exposed to in my work in public safety aviation. I’ve been impressed with the passion they show for their respective areas of concern within the industry.

As a line pilot for a public safety agency, I never gave much thought to the engineering genius that goes into the modern helicopter. Through the FAA working groups, I’ve met some of the brilliant engineers who design these amazing aircraft. I’m constantly in awe of their analytic ability and the ease with which they solve complex problems.

I don’t have an engineering or manufacturing background; I’m a street cop who grew up working in retail. My dad was a CPA with no mechanical aptitude, a trait that was apparently inherited by me. So maybe I’m just easily impressed, but I don’t think so.

The passion these engineers have demonstrated for designing the safest aircraft and systems possible provides me with a new comfort level as a pilot. So, to all you helicopter engineers running your mathematical formulas to keep us aviators safe, a sincere thank-you.

An equally sincere thank-you goes to the mechanics who maintain the finished product on a daily basis. Your expertise has allowed me to pursue my passion for helicopters — and to go home safely every night for more than 30 years.

Another benefit of participating in these working groups is validation that I work in the part of the helicopter industry in which my passion truly lies. I love to help others by using helicopters to catch bad guys. More specifically, I want to pilot the helicopter while we catch the bad guys.

When I’m not flying, my passion is developing and conducting training events for those involved in public safety aviation so they can complete each mission safely and successfully. Like all of us, I feel I have the best helicopter job in the world. I’m not cut out to be a designer, engineer, maintainer, or even a crew member in any field other than public safety aviation.
This is my final message as chairman, so I’d like to share some parting thoughts. If I had to sum up the last 30 years, in one word, it would be “thankful.”

I’m thankful for the airborne law enforcement pioneers who made a career in public safety aviation possible. Mohammad Ali is credited with saying, “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.” To have a job where I can serve others — while fulfilling my dream of being a helicopter pilot —  is a privilege and an honor.

I’m thankful for the Houston Police Department, which has supported my years of association work and my chairmanship of the HAI Board of Directors. I’m also thankful for the members and staff of the Airborne Public Safety Association and its Board of Directors, who have supported and encouraged my participation on the HAI board. My colleagues in public safety have been with me every step of the way.

I’m thankful for the opportunities that HAI has provided me to make a difference and give back to this amazing industry we are all lucky enough to be a part of. My sincerest thanks to my fellow HAI board members, both past and present, for your guidance and support, and to the HAI staff, who work so hard to promote this industry.

HAI offers us a place to come together as a community, whether that’s to promote safety, discuss technical developments, or just tell a great story or two. And in coming together, we learn a bit about each other.

Most importantly, I’m thankful for my wife and family, whose patience, support, and sacrifice have allowed me to follow my dreams.

Finally, I want to thank all my fellow rotorheads. We work in a unique industry, one that is full of amazing people with a vast array of skills. While I love helicopters, they are, after all, just machines. The positive contributions helicopters provide to society are the result of your efforts.

Give More; Expect Less,

Dan