Read More: eVTOL 101
May 23, 2019

What you need to know about the "future of vertical flight."

The newest player in transportation technology is the electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft and its projected use for air taxis and urban air mobility (UAM).

At HAI HELI-EXPO 2019 in Atlanta, eVTOL appeared in everything from panel discussions and education sessions to prototypes on the show floor. One panel discussion, The Electric VTOL Revolution, hosted by the Vertical Flight Society, brought together leaders in eVTOL to discuss where the industry stands now and where it’s headed in the future.

Why eVTOL and UAM?

eVTOL describes any type of aircraft that takes off and lands vertically using electric or hybrid-electric propulsion. This covers everything from ultralights and personal air vehicles to future air-taxi models such as the Bell Nexus.

eVTOLs could be used in many missions that helicopters already do, from package delivery to disaster relief. But eVTOL designers and manufacturers point to the technology’s advantages over traditional aircraft: eVTOLs could be more cost-efficient to operate and could carry increased payloads, all while reducing noise.

UAM is only one future application for those vehicles. Like most new technologies, UAM is being developed to solve a problem: “If I live in a city with impossible automobile traffic that can’t support more ground transportation infrastructure, can I bring my daily commute to the sky to get around quickly and efficiently?”

Why Now?

“eVTOL has exciting potential that we think will revolutionize not only vertical flight, but society as a whole,” says Mike Hirschberg, executive director of the Vertical Flight Society. “We have been examining the potential for eVTOL for six years, and it’s not a matter of if it’s going to happen—it’s a matter of when.”

Hirschberg explains that the time to explore and embrace this technology is now. “We are currently experiencing huge advances in electric motors and batteries, as well as the modernization of design tools, computer simulation of fuselages, and all aspects of flight control that we didn’t have five to 10 years ago,” says Hirschberg. “There has even been discussion about moving to performance-based regulations and certification for aircraft, which would be a major game changer.”

“We think about the question of ‘why now?’ a lot at Bell,” says Scott Drennan, vice president of Bell’s innovation team. “We see this as market demand and technology coming together at the same time.”

Read More: New Products from HAI HELI-EXPO 2019
May 23, 2019

Small businesses bring innovative products to the industry.

While news from large companies dominated the daily headlines at HAI HELI‑EXPO 2019, the industry’s small-business ­innovators had their own stories to tell. From safety programs to inventive crew resource management solutions, new products and services supporting everyone from pilots and operators to OEMs made their debut on the show floor. Below is a sampling of the small-business creative spirit that keeps our industry growing.

New Services

HeliExperts International: Heliport Safety Certification

With no universal oversight regulations, heliports around the world vary considerably in level of safety. HeliExperts International (HEI) launched its Heliport Safety and Certification Program at HAI HELI‑EXPO 2019 to address critical industry needs for increased heliport risk mitigation. Using best practices from the FAA, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), and industry leaders, the program seeks to identify risks before they can cause an accident.

“Without standardized heliport regulations regarding heliport safety, the vast majority of heliports contain significant safety risks,” says HEI Managing Member Ray Syms, whose company has designed more than 850 heliports and audited more than 3,000. “The idea behind the program is to provide a solution for operators, insurance companies, and ­municipalities to determine if heliport risks are mitigated to the highest degree possible.” For more information, visit the company's website at www.heliexperts​​international.com.

Napoleon Engineering Services: Bearing Engineering

With OEM supply-chain headaches slowing deliveries, manufacturers are bringing more services in-house to meet customer deadlines. Napoleon Engineering Services offers a unique service: reverse engineering type-certified bearings in support of parts manufacturing approval authorization.

“Our mission is to remove barriers to supply chains due to the difficulty in obtaining bearings,” says Chris Napoleon, president and chief engineer at Napoleon Engineering Services. “We reduce lead times to 16–26 weeks, compared to OEM lead times that are typically 50–90 weeks.”

The company typically performs reverse engineering services in about six weeks, delivering a full technical packet for submission to the FAA. Napoleon Engineering also offers full bearing manufacturing capability with the ability to manufacture bearings with outside diameters between ¾ inch and 14 inches. For more information, visit  www.nes​bearings.com.

New Programs

Flightdocs: Cloud-Based Flight Operations Platform

Flightdocs unveiled its Flightdocs Operations tracking and communications platform. Flightdocs Operations integrates with the company’s popular Flightdocs HMX maintenance tracking platform, currently used by more than 200 operators for more than 1,000 helicopters, to create a complete end-to-end operations management solution for helicopter operators. The platform’s core functions include flight scheduling, service planning, crew and passenger management, customizable flight logs, and expense reporting, and includes a secure messenger communication tool.

“Flightdocs Operations is the modern, cloud-based, real-time mobile platform our customers have been requesting,” says Flightdocs President Greg Heine. According to Heine, 12 companies were already signed up for the program by the first day of HAI HELI‑EXPO 2019. For more information, visit www.flightdocs.com.

New Products

Eye in the Sky: Cockpit Data Recorder

In February 2015, the 18-year-old son of New Zealand helicopter legend Louisa “Choppy” Patterson was killed when the Robinson R44 he was riding in broke apart in midflight. In response to this tragedy, Patterson began developing Eye in the Sky, a durable and lightweight audio, video, and data in-flight recorder.

“The accident report said there was an in-flight break-up, but there was no determination of probable cause,” says Patterson, who is also CEO of Over the Top, a New Zealand–based air tour operator. “Had there been a product like Eye in the Sky onboard, there wouldn’t be as many questions [about the cause of the accident]. We could increase safety.”

The crash-resistant camera and data recorder captures HD video, high-resolution images, and data, including location (via GPS), airspeed, altitude, g-forces, pitch, roll, and yaw. The device’s SD card can hold 40 hours of data. The onboard battery continues to record after shutdown and immediate power loss. For more information, visit www.eyeinthesky.co.nz.

Aviation Specialties Unlimited: Night-Vision Goggles

Once known as a reseller of night-vision products, as well as service and repair, Aviation Specialties Unlimited, Inc. (ASU) is now an OEM. The company introduced its new white phosphor E3 Lightweight Night Vision Goggles in Atlanta. Paired with the Aeronox mount and battery pack, the full system shaves 200 grams off standard night-vision goggle weights.

“Weight is a big concern, and it always comes back to haunt pilots as neck and back issues,” says ASU Chief Executive Officer Mike Atwood. “We listened to what pilots wanted and developed a lighter, more versatile goggle system with the expanded capabilities they need for mission success.”

In addition to its light weight, the new goggle system is easily repairable, fits multiple helmet styles, and features a retractable breakaway lanyard. For more information, visit the company’s website at www.asu​-nvg.com.

Read More: HAI Salutes Excellence in Vertical Lift
May 23, 2019

Celebrating the best in vertical aviation.

Every day, on every continent, members of the vertical-lift community do amazing things with helicopters and other vertical-lift aircraft. They get jobs done that can’t be done any other way.

But for some, simply getting the job done is not enough. Whether in a single instance or throughout a career, these pilots, maintenance technicians, flight instructors, safety professionals, operators, and industry leaders from around the world excel—and set an example of excellence that inspires our industry.

For more than 50 years, HAI has encouraged and celebrated the highest standards of professionalism within the vertical-lift community through its Salute to Excellence Awards. The awards reflect outstanding achievements from across our industry.

At the 2019 Salute to Excellence Awards luncheon on March 6 during HAI HELI‑EXPO 2019 in Atlanta, the following honorees were recognized. HAI congratulates them and celebrates their contributions to our industry. Their passion for excellence is an inspiration to us all.

Nominations for the 2020 Salute to Excellence Awards, to be celebrated at HAI HELI‑EXPO 2020 in Anaheim, will be accepted beginning May 31, 2019. Visit rotor.org/salute for more information.

Read More: Robinson Rocks Customer Service
February 28, 2019

It’s official: The Robinson Helicopter Company knows a thing or two about customer service.

A company that produces only three models of helicopters, Robinson recently achieved a milestone by being recognized by Vertical magazines’s 2018 Helicopter and Engine Manufacturers Survey as having the highest customer service satisfaction ratings within the helicopter manufacturing industry.

Listening and responding to Robinson operators is one of the primary factors in the company’s high customer service marks. Its customer service team treats all owners and operators equally, regardless of whether they have one helicopter or a fleet.

“Sales is the just the beginning of a relationship,” offers Kurt Robinson, company president and chairman. “You put the trust in us to buy our helicopter, and so we will absolutely support it.” 
 

Read More: The Raider Rises
February 28, 2019

Is a bird in hand really worth two in the bush? Sikorsky Helicopters and its parent, Lockheed Martin, certainly are betting that way.

They’re wagering heavily that their 2010 Collier Trophy–winning X2 rigid coaxial compound helicopter design, flying since May 2015 aboard their S-97 Raider technology demonstrator, will be worth more to the US Army than two (actually up to five) other unconventional but not-yet-flying aircraft that competitors may offer the army.
 

Read More: What's New at HAI HELI-EXPO in Atlanta
February 28, 2019

HAI HELI-EXPO® has become a must-attend event in the helicopter industry. The show annually brings the helicopter industry together for four days of meetings, education, and networking. And of course, there’s always lots of excitement on a show floor packed with more than 700 exhibitors displaying the latest aircraft, engines, avionics, and everything an aviation business needs. 

This year, HAI has added some new content to help keep you updated on the latest trends in the industry. From new Professional Education courses and Rotor Safety Challenge sessions to helicopter trendsetters at HAI Connect and a fresh take on the Salute to Excellence Awards—Atlanta will not disappoint. 

Welcome to Atlanta!

HAI HELI-EXPO visits the Gateway to the South for the first time, and there’s plenty of reason for visitors to get excited. Having just hosted Super Bowl LIII in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the city is big enough for HAI HELI-EXPO, with attractions, museums, and history for everyone. The College Football Hall of Fame, the site of the HAI HELI-EXPO 2019 Welcome Reception, is on the east side of the Georgia World Congress Center complex. A few blocks away are the Coca-Cola museum and the Georgia Aquarium, the largest in the Western Hemisphere. A visit to the Martin Luther King National Historical Park is one option, as is a visit to the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum. Visit www.Atlanta.net for more suggestions or information.

Salute to Excellence Luncheon
Wednesday, March 6, 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm

For more than 50 years, HAI has recognized the outstanding achievements and exceptional merit of individuals and organizations in the international helicopter community. This annual awards event has been moved to the lunch hour, just steps from the show floor so it’s easy to attend this premier event of HAI HELI-EXPO. Tickets can be purchased online when you register for HAI HELI-EXPO or on-site at Attendee Registration.

New Convention Center

HAI HELI-EXPO 2020 will be held in Halls B and C of the Georgia World Congress Center, the fourth-largest convention center in the United States. There will be a connector between the two halls so attendees can travel between the halls in comfort. And the connector isn’t just a way to get from B to C—there will also be food options, seating areas, and music.
Take advantage of the photo booth in Hall B, located between meeting rooms B209 and B210, where you can capture—and easily share—your memories from HAI HELI-EXPO 2019.

Welcome Reception at College Football Hall of Fame
Monday, March 4, 6:30 pm – 9:00 pm

The HAI HELI-EXPO Welcome Reception is always a good time, but this year will be special for all attendees who are fans of college football. Sponsored by Bell, the reception will take place at the College Football Hall of Fame, across the street from the Georgia World Congress Center. Have fun with your colleagues as you debate the greatest college football program of all time. There is also an indoor playing field where you can demonstrate your skills.

New HAI Professional Education Courses

HAI Professional Education courses are scheduled before or after the show. The courses are taught by industry experts and designed specifically for helicopter professionals; tracks include safety, pilot skills, operations, maintenance, inspection authorization renewal, and career development. Professional Education courses require a separate registration, in addition to your HAI HELI-EXPO registration. You can view the complete Professional Education schedule at rotor.org/takeacourse. Read on to learn about our most exciting new courses.

Part 107 UAS Ground School
Sunday, March 3, 8:00 am - 5:00 pm

There’s no denying that unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) have become a growing part of the industry. For the first time, HAI is offering a Part 107 ground school that prepares attendees to take and pass an FAA Part 107 knowledge test, which enables them to operate small UAS. Previous aeronautical knowledge certainly helps, but this course does not require experience.

Underwater Egress Procedures and EBD Familiarization
Monday, March 4, 8:00 am - 5:00 pm

If your aircraft crashed in water, would you know how to escape? This course—held at the Georgia World Congress Center for half the day, and at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis Hotel pool for the other half—provides all personnel working or traveling on or over water with the basic knowledge and skills necessary to egress aircraft in a ditching emergency while deploying an emergency breathing device (EBD). 

But Wait … There’s More

Don’t miss these other great new courses:

  • Aviation Safety Programs and Emergency Preparedness, Saturday, March 2, 8:00 am – 5:00 pm
  • The Emotionally Effective Leader, Saturday, March 2, 8:00 am – 5:00 pm
  • Introduction to Vertical Reference Long-Line and External Cargo Training, Saturday, March 2, 8:00 am – 5:00 pm
  • Helicopter Flight Instructor Refresher Course, Sunday, March 3, 8:00 am – 5:00 pm
  • Introduction to the Dirty Dozen Contributing Factors, Sunday, March 3, 8:00 am – 5:00 pm
  • Integrating UAS into Your Current Operation, Monday, March 4, 1:00 pm – 5:00 pm

New HFI Rotor Safety Challenge Sessions

The HFI Rotor Safety Challenge offers a slate of safety education sessions, free to registered HAI HELI-EXPO attendees and exhibitors. This year’s Challenge is sponsored by MD Helicopters. Many Rotor Safety Challenge events are eligible for FAA WINGS and AMT program credits. Plan your day now with the full schedule at rotor.org/takethechallenge.

The 2019 Rotor Safety Challenge features some new sessions, including: 

John and Martha King: Avoiding Unwanted Helicopter Adventures
Tuesday, March 5, 2:30 pm - 4:00 pm

After an aircraft accident and discovering their own sense of vulnerability, John and Martha say they have become “born-again pilots.” The Kings use humor and stories from real-world cross-country experience to vividly illustrate principles of risk management and pass along practical and insightful tools you will use forever.

Other New Safety Sessions

Be sure to attend these other exciting new sessions:

  • Increase Focus to Increase Safety, Tuesday, March 5, 10:30 am – 11:30 am
  • Special Instrument Procedures and Increased Risk Management, Wednesday, March 6, 9:15 am – 10:15 am
  • Safety: Neither a Goal Nor a Priority, Tuesday, March 5, 1:15 pm – 2:15 pm
  • Helicopter Ditching and Egress: Evaluate, Prepare, Perform, Tuesday, March 5, 9:15 am – 10:15 am; Wednesday, March 6, 8:00 am – 9:00 am
  • Safely Managing Helipads, Wednesday, March 6, 8:00 am – 9:00 am

New Events at HAI Connect

HAI Connect (#B5014 ) is a space that hosts special events, meetups, interviews, and networking opportunities on a range of subjects relevant to you. This event space is right on the show floor, so be sure to check the schedule often on the monitors at HAI Connect and in the show app.

Chuck Aaron: Get Inspired – a Career in the Helicopter Industry
Tuesday, March 5, 2:00 pm – 2:30 pm

A living legend in the helicopter industry, Chuck Aaron knows his stuff. Join him in HAI Connect for an overview of careers and opportunities in the helicopter industry. 

Read More: Simulator Training Hits Its Stride
February 28, 2019

For many years, the helicopter industry has seen simulator training as something the big operations do. Yes, the top-of-the-line Level D simulators do provide a great training environment. But it also costs a great deal to rent these devices, if one is even available for your aircraft.

Many in our industry prefer to conduct all training in an aircraft. “I want my training to be as realistic as possible,” said one pilot I spoke with, “and what could be more realistic than training in an actual helicopter?”
Actually, training in a simulated environment offers a host of benefits for pilots and operators, including enhanced realism. And the good news is that you don’t necessarily have to spend a fortune to reap those benefits.
 

Read More: Pilot Pathway Programs Gain Traction
November 13, 2018

One way to expand your pilot recruiting pool? Partner with a flight school.

As recently as 2011, Mark Schlaefli received a stack of nearly 400 pilot resumes at the beginning of every tour season at Papillon Helicopters in Las Vegas. He’d heard about a looming pilot shortage, but it didn’t seem to be an issue. He had plenty of talent to choose from and new pilots calling all the time.

At about the same time, flight schools from around the region began reaching out to companies like Papillon to discuss partnerships that would create pathways to professional pilot careers. Flight schools would benefit by promoting a career path for its pilots while operators would enjoy a steady source of pilots trained to standards vetted by the operators.

“We really didn’t see a need to have such a partnership, with so many pilots sending us resumes, so we didn’t pursue the opportunity,” says Schlaefli, who is now director of operations at Las Vegas–based Sundance Helicopters. “I’ve come to regret that decision. We should have been partnering with schools all along, participating in the development of pilots from an early stage to help ensure qualified pilots.”

Today, not only is the stack on Schlaefli’s desk much shorter, the skill and experience of candidates applying for the jobs is lower than previous years.

“Our industry has an arbitrary 1,000-hour minimum turbine time requirement for new hires, but each year the number of pilots with that experience shrinks,” says Schlaefli. “There is no regulation requiring it. It’s operator imposed.

“We need to think outside the box to keep our pipelines open, such as partnerships and programs to ensure skill and safety in lower time pilots,” he says. “Time in a logbook does not necessarily equal experience or the capacity to be a professional helicopter pilot.”

Schlaefli is not alone. Historically, US Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Air and Marine Operations (AMO) hired the majority of its aviation agents directly from the military, with pilots from regional airlines being a close second. However, competition with airlines for these pilots paired with increased bonuses to remain in military service have significantly reduced the talent pool. At the same time, AMO is expanding, both increasing current pilot ranks and expanding into the unmanned aircraft sector.

Fifteen years ago, CBP required all new-hire helicopter pilots to spend time as a ground agent before transitioning to aircraft in order to gain a strong understanding of the operation. There was plenty of interest and no threat of a shortage of talent.

Today, with all air operations for the CBP now under AMO, the requirement to serve as a ground agent no longer exists. Yet competition is fierce for qualified applicants who meet the agency’s 1,500-hour minimum.

Read More: Testing the Unmanned K-MAX’s (and Our Own) Limits
November 13, 2018

Sometimes trust is all we have. But whom (or what) should we believe in?

Bingo Fuel. It was a caution light none of us had seen previously, at least not while operating the CQ-24A Unmanned K-MAX aircraft. With the vehicle many miles from home base, the light was a real concern: it signified a minimum fuel state for the return flight, the words on the command tent’s big screen for all to see.

The Situation

I was directing a team of contractors testing the K-MAX’s ability to deliver cargo while operating autonomously, part of our workup before we began flying actual missions. We were in southwestern Afghanistan, watching the operator maneuver the aircraft over Forward Operating Base Payne miles to the south of us. Because the K-MAX was over the horizon, the operator was using the Beyond Line of Sight (BLOS) datalink.

Maneuvering manually under BLOS was nonstandard, but I had directed it as a contingency in case the Payne equipment, operated by two Marines we had previously trained, became inoperative. We already knew that the K-MAX could autonomously complete a flight, but I thought it useful to know if we could reposition manually if asked to do so by the landing zone controllers. After all, this was a war zone—stuff happens.

We soon discovered that manual control of a hovering, over-the-horizon aircraft was difficult work. The CQ-24A BLOS installation had the same limitation as any other: system lag. Once a control input was made from our command tent, it could take up to six seconds for the signal to bounce off an orbiting satellite, travel down to the aircraft, influence its vector, send the resulting change in attitude, speed, and position back up to the satellite, and then back down to the operator’s graphic user interface (GUI) screen. (This provided team members with the rare opportunity to complain about the speed of light.)

With this lag, it was quite easy to “chase” the aircraft. Our eventual technique was to make a one-second input on the hand controller, release, then wait until we saw the K-MAX’s icon stop on the GUI screen. Repeated as necessary, the process was as tedious as it was inefficient.

Further, the BLOS installation was so basic that there was no guarantee a one-second displacement on the hand controller would produce the same amount of aircraft movement each time. And without external cameras, the operator had to surmise his entire closed-loop feedback from the GUI screen.

More Than a Fancy Science Project

The Unmanned K-MAX had begun as a mere science project years before. The brainchild of Greg Lynch, a Lockheed Martin program manager and former Air Force helicopter pilot, he first fought his own superiors and then Department of Defense officials over the feasibility of an unmanned helicopter delivering supplies to remote locations in a combat theater.

Lynch believed the K-MAX was the perfect platform for this, an aircraft already proven by hundreds of thousands of manned flight hours. The K-MAX design was simple for a helicopter, which meant it was reliable to the extreme. It was also quiet. Its dual intermesher configuration didn’t require a tail rotor, making its aural signature among the lowest in the world.

The Unmanned K-MAX prototype, using off-the-shelf components, began winning the hearts and minds of executives and officials alike through a series of successful demonstrations, culminating in a final test in 2011. By this time, the United States had absorbed significant ground convoy casualties in its two war zones. The military saw the ground convoy as the primary method of satisfying the logistical needs of the warfighter—and our adversaries saw them as targets with high rewards and low risks.

With the military eager to “get supplies off the roads,” nearly overnight the fancy science project gathered sufficient momentum for the Marines to send it to Afghanistan, as is, with civilians as its maintainers and half of its operators.

Read More: On the Trail of the Dragon Slayers
November 13, 2018

My plan was to visit commercial helicopter operators fighting wildland fires in the western United States. It seemed there were fires everywhere, some springing up overnight, and every operator I spoke to said, “Sure—come on out!”

I’d ask, “Where should I meet your folks?” and they’d reply, “Not really sure where they’ll be.”

“When should I be there?” They’d respond, “Can’t really say.”

So with a car full of cameras, beef jerky, and energy drinks, I set out on a journey of discovery and happenstance. And you know what? It worked out just fine.

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