Read More: HAI Welcomes 2018–19 Board of Directors
August 03, 2018

More than 100 people helped HAI welcome its new Board of Directors on June 25 as the association held its annual reception to mark the end of the fiscal year and the installation of the new board. Old friends and new connections mingled over hors d’oeuvres as they congratulated the board on another year of serving HAI members.

During the reception, outgoing Chairman Daniel B. Schwarzbach of the Houston Police Department passed the gavel to James O. Wisecup of Air Methods Corporation, who on July 1 took over as chairman of the Board of Directors (read more about Wisecup in his profile on p. 12 and his chairman’s column on p. 4).

HAI President and CEO Matt Zuccaro also honored Schwarzbach and outgoing board members Torbjorn “TC” Corell and Chuck Aaron with plaques to commemorate their time as HAI volunteer leaders.

Read More: Jim Wisecup: HAI’s New Chairman
August 03, 2018

“One of the good guys.” “A real gem.” “What happens when our industry gets it right.”

These are the types of comments I heard about Jim Wisecup as he was elected to the HAI Board of Directors and then was selected by his fellow directors as chairman of the association for the 2018–19 term. And spending an afternoon with Jim helped me to understand why he is so respected in the industry.

Jim is a highly experienced 16,000-hour pilot with a deep understanding of industry issues and an even better grasp of how we will solve every one of those problems: through people working together.

Deciding on Aviation

Jim grew up in the Houston area. After high school, he attended the University of Houston for a year, but he says that at 19 he was “too impatient” for college. (Fifty years later, Jim has more patience: he is finishing up his studies at Southern Utah University and expects to get a bachelor’s degree in aviation science in spring 2019.)

Even as a teenager, Jim knew that he wanted to fly for a living — his first ride in an airplane taught him that — so he joined the US Army. Unlike other services, the army did not require its pilots to have a college degree.

During his year in Vietnam, Jim flew for the MACV-SOG unit, which conducted special ops missions. Characteristically, Jim turns his year of living dangerously into a funny story, remarking that he had three engine failures caused by FOD (foreign object damage). The first was caused by a mortar round, the second by an artillery shell, and the third by a rocket-propelled grenade. He earned several decorations, including a Purple Heart, Silver Star, Bronze Star, and multiple air medals along the way.

Jim was discharged in April 1971 and then went to work for the US Department of the Interior. He had used his GI Bill benefits to get his fixed-wing ratings and was also working as a fixed-wing instructor. But his real goal was to find a job flying helicopters.

At this time, the helicopter industry was flooded with US Army–trained pilots and maintenance technicians, so finding a job in the helicopter industry wasn’t easy, even for an experienced pilot. Luckily, one of Jim’s fixed-wing students mentioned that he would soon be quitting his job at Offshore Helicopters in Sabine Pass, Texas.

Armed with that intelligence, Jim applied for a job at Offshore but was told that there were no openings. Jim didn’t share that there soon would be, and sure enough, he was offered the newly open position.

He started flying offshore in 1974 — pilot #5 of five pilot positions. After three years, when Offshore’s chief pilot left, Jim was offered the position. “I was probably the only one of the four pilots left who showed any desire or aptitude for the job,” says Jim.

Over 10 years of operations, Offshore went from five helicopters to 40, and from five pilots to 85. In 1979, when Bristow Helicopters bought Offshore Helicopters, Jim became chief pilot for Bristow’s US operations. After spending a year-and-a-half working for Bristow in the Gulf of Mexico, he was transferred to Bristow operations in Scotland and then to Malaysia as a training captain.

In 1984, Jim moved to Arctic Air as chief pilot — after several years abroad, he was eager to get back to the United States. He was working in California in 1987 when he got a call from Larry Kelly, whom he had worked with in the Gulf of Mexico (and with whom he later served on the HAI Board of Directors). Kelly urged Jim to apply for a job in Tulsa, Oklahoma, flying air medical missions for Rocky Mountain Helicopters.

Jim’s interview for the job was with John Heiskel, vice president of air medical operations for Rocky Mountain. Heiskel turned out to be someone who had interviewed with Jim for a job in the Gulf — and then didn’t get it. Luckily, Heiskel didn’t hold a grudge.

Jim has been flying in the helicopter air ambulance (HAA) sector ever since. Rocky Mountain Helicopters was acquired by Air Methods in 2002, and Jim is now an assistant chief pilot at the company, which operates 300 bases serving 48 US states.

Flying air medical has its own rewards, says Jim, who no longer flies patient transport flights. “I miss it sometimes, but not at four o’clock in the morning when it’s 10 degrees outside.” From thousands of transports, three or four patients have returned to say thanks, says Jim, and that makes it all worthwhile.

Read More: Coming Back Home to Aviation
August 03, 2018

Austin Rowles has been around aviation professionals practically his entire life. When he was very young, his father started a flight school called Palm Beach Helicopters.

“My family rode out three hurricanes [in Palm Beach County, Florida], and after one of those hurricanes destroyed the office, we rebuilt there. Every major event that has occurred in my life has been in some way, shape, or form caused by aviation.”

After high school, Rowles decided to major in computer science. Though his love of computers still runs deep, after a year of study in that field he decided to come back to his roots and pursue his other passion, aviation.

“A combination of watching my father pour his blood, sweat, and tears into this industry, and seeing my brother’s father-in-law work as a maintenance technician drove me to come back home.”

Rowles applied for and won a 2018 HFI Maintenance Technician Certificate Scholarship. He is working on his airframe and powerplant certifications and will finish his private pilot rating this summer. In addition, he has been working with his brother’s father-in-law at his shop on Meacham Airfield in Fort Worth, Texas. Rowles has done everything from a full four-phase inspection of a King Air C90 to fabricating instrument panels for multiple Cessna models.

“This industry revolves around a single word: networking.”

Rowles’s ultimate career goal is to eventually run his own Part 147 school that concentrates on the rotorcraft side of the aviation industry. “I believe rotorcraft are heavily neglected in our current schools, and I hope to be a driving force to fix that.”

When asked what advice he would give others considering a career in aviation, Rowles says, “This industry revolves around a single word: networking. Skill is always important — you should always strive to be the best at whatever it is you want to do — but when you’re shooting for that director of maintenance position at that popular company you’ve always wanted to work for, it helps to know the right people.

“Go to as many meet-ups as you can. Write names down and never forget a face. There are so many wonderful people in this industry, so it’s a pleasure just getting to know everyone.”

Read More: Before Google Could Translate
August 03, 2018

My first trip abroad was to the Soviet Union. As a youngster growing up at the end of the Cold War, I was not sure what to expect.

My stay with a host family was wonderful, and it turned out that the Russian family was a lot like mine: the kids complained about doing chores and didn’t like vegetables, but everyone loved Grandma’s cooking. It was eye-opening to see firsthand how many similarities we had.

My Soviet summer came to an end too soon, and I headed home … just missing the real excitement a couple of weeks later when, on August 18, 1991, Russian president Boris Yeltsin lead the resistance to an attempted coup. The coup was unsuccessful — but it set the stage for the breakup of the Soviet Union by the end of the year.

It was such a fascinating adventure, I had to go back. A few years later I returned, this time to the Russian Federation. By this time, I was a private fixed-wing pilot and had been working for some time with my dad at a small FBO that he ran at a local general aviation airport.

Along with other operations, we ran some cargo flights in Piper Navajos and Beech 99s. I don’t recall why, but at the time there was a lot of chatter in our area about the Soviet Antonov An-2 and its possible use in cargo missions. Naturally, when I returned to Russia, I was determined to discover if and how this single-engine biplane could be used in our operations.

I told my host family of my quest to talk to some pilots. A few weeks later, I found myself packed into their little Lada, headed out to a “surprise.” We drove through the beautiful wooded Russian countryside until suddenly, we pulled up at a little airstrip where members of an aero club were critiquing the aerobatic flight skills of their fellow pilots.

I was introduced to a number of the pilots and immediately hit it off. Several proudly introduced themselves as former members of the Soviet Air Forces, noting with a grin that they were trained to shoot down my country’s aircraft. I told them of my respect for their flying ability and remarked how great it was that we could all now come together as friends with a shared love of aviation.

When I stop to think about it, this was quite a moment. What really separated me from my new friends?

We grew up under two opposite political systems and, as they dryly remarked, we had considered each other to be enemies, trained to shoot each other down. But once we got over that minor historical speed bump, it was apparent that, just like my Soviet host family, we were more alike than different. We enjoyed talking about aviation and adventures, like any long-lost friends.

While watching the club members go through their aerobatic practice, I noticed a couple of An-2s parked on the far side of the grass strip. I asked all about them and the commercial prospects of bringing an An-2 to America. At least that’s what I think I said. I might have said, “I like chocolate ice cream” or even, in my rudimentary Russian, “Ice cream like chocolate me.” There’s really no way to be sure.

There was a commotion behind me and suddenly, a large pack was slapped on my back — a parachute, as it turns out. I was led to a Yak-52, the primary Soviet trainer aircraft, and promptly secured in the back seat.

At that point, my mind was racing, trying to remember exactly what I said about the An-2. I was hoping I hadn’t agreed to purchase a fleet of the aircraft. I was also thinking I didn’t catch a word about how to use the parachute. One of my new buddies bounded in and asked if I was ready to go. I wasn’t sure where we were going, but the only right answer at that point was “Da!”

Next thing I knew we were over the Gulf of Finland, an arm of the Baltic Sea. Then I heard over the headset the Russian equivalent of “Get ready.” My friend then took me through my first aerobatic experience. To say I was having the time of my life would be an understatement. I squealed like a little kid with such joy that my new friend burst into laughter as he took us through one aerobatic maneuver after another. He even let me do a few loops.

I was wishing we would stay up forever, but alas we headed back to the field and he let me land, which was a new experience from my perch in the back. We rolled up to the ramp and relived our flight, talking till it was finally time to leave. I stayed in touch with my friends for quite some time until addresses changed and mail was lost. (This was, after all, before email.)

Why this trip down memory lane and how does it relate to HAI? Well, at HAI we work on your behalf to keep the rotors turning. We connect people and ideas to advance the industry. No matter where you live in the world, as HAI members we are connected by our love of aviation.

We may have grown up in different political systems, countries, and cultures, but we share a unique bond. Who knew that, just like me, Soviet kids didn’t like vegetables? It wasn’t until I was there, speaking and connecting with people, that I realized that we had many similarities we could build on — similarities that formed a bridge over our differences.

Flipping through the air over the beautiful Gulf of Finland with my new Russian buddy, the one trained to shoot down American aviators, we shared laughter and the sheer joy of the freedom of flight. It was an incredible experience brought about by a host family seeking to connect a kid and his crazy scheme for a Russian aircraft with the local Russian aviation community.

HAI, located just across the river from Washington, D.C., frequently works with regulators and legislators on issues important to our industry. But frankly, they wouldn’t be interested in working with us if we didn’t work for you.

Elected officials put a high priority on helping their constituents back home, and they know that HAI connects them with issues and solutions for those voters. Our power in advocacy comes from the grassroots strength of our members.

Advocacy works the same way in any country in which our members live. HAI is a resource for you to connect people and ideas. We have many affiliates throughout the world who can furnish expert analysis on local operational issues and opportunities. HAI is ready to help you make that connection.

This coming October, HAI will be attending and exhibiting at Helitech International in Amsterdam. If you are planning to be there, stop by our booth and let’s chat. Building networks and relationships is how we strengthen this industry and move it forward. We can all learn and build from each other’s experiences.

To craft common-sense aviation polices, our elected officials, no matter the country, need the expertise our industry can provide. Let’s learn from each other about how effective education and advocacy campaigns can be built. How have you been able to influence your government’s legislative or regulatory decision-making process? Share your victories as well as defeats. We can all learn, refine, and improve our approach in sharing our message about the positive contributions of the helicopter industry.

Finally, get involved politically. For HAI members in America, don’t forget that Congress has an August recess and the House is scheduled to be home in the districts campaigning. This is the perfect time for you to schedule a visit with your elected official. Invite them to your place of business and show them the good work you are doing for your community.

HAI international members, look for the same opportunities according to the openings in your elected officials’ calendars. Become a resource to your elected officials on aviation issues. Help them develop the best aviation policies possible.

By building stronger networks among the aviation community — and inviting others to understand our contributions to a healthy economy and safe communities — we will build a successful, united helicopter industry. In English, we call that “keeping the rotors turning.” How do you say it in your language? Let me know at

Read More: Get a Cardboard Box
August 02, 2018

We will get to why aviation professionals need a cardboard box in a minute.

But first, did you ever think you would see our industry move away from the word helicopter? It appears we are morphing into the vertical-lift industry, unmanned vertical industry, or the vertical urban air-taxi industry, take your pick.

I don’t disagree with this transformation. We are in an exciting time in our industry as different types of aircraft, such as drones, tiltrotors, and autonomous vehicles, come onto the civil market.

HAI supports those who make, operate, fix, maintain, overhaul, or supply all vehicles, manned or unmanned, that can operate in the vertical-lift mode and perform that wonderful maneuver, the hover. As one of the old guys in this industry, I started out flying helicopters and I intend to go out flying an aircraft called a helicopter — but I know that word is no longer big enough to hold all the facets of our industry.

In an effort to be more inclusive, HAI will look at changing our name to better reflect our membership, which includes those active in both manned and unmanned vertical-lift aviation. If you have any ideas on the potential rebranding of HAI, please let me know your thoughts.

Now about that cardboard box.

Many, many, many years ago, one of my mentors and I were discussing safety and corporate ethics. He noted that, regardless of the position you hold — owner, manager, pilot, maintenance technician, or customer — we are all part of the cultural team that controls safety and ethics. And yes, the two are closely related.

My mentor’s ethical philosophy — and mine — can be summarized as “do the right thing.” To achieve the desired result of zero accidents, we must employ this attitude in our everyday risk assessment and decision-making, on every flight, on every job.

To achieve zero accidents in our industry, we must acknowledge that we will not be able to transport every patient, meet the desires of every customer, ferry every corporate executive, or fly every tour flight or training session. When you believe that safety is being compromised, “I cannot safely do that and so I will not do that” is the only acceptable response.

So how does the cardboard box come in?

As the discussion with my mentor progressed, he told me, “Matt, at some time in your career, either as a line pilot, manager, or executive, there will come a time when you will be confronted with a situation that you know to be unsafe, not compliant with regulations, or unethical. This could be in connection with flight operations or even just everyday business operations.”

When that happens, he said, “You need to hold your ground and do what you know to be the right thing. To do this successfully, you need to be able to remove from your decision-making the potential negative impacts of the decision on yourself, such as the possible loss of your job.”

In our industry, we must go to work each day willing to accept negative consequences as a result of doing the right thing. If we cannot do this, then “doing the right thing” isn’t meaningful. “Doing the right thing … when it’s convenient” doesn’t have the same power.

This sounds tough, but when you consider the potential of a flawed decision — the loss of lives in the aircraft or on the ground — it makes sense. Your objective is to do your job each day in a safe, professional manner. When you cannot do that, then speak up.

“Also,” my mentor continued, “You need to get a cardboard box.”

I told him, “I understand everything you’ve told me, and I agree. But what’s with the box?”

He laughed and then explained. “The box is there so you can pack up your personal items before you walk out the door for the last time. Take it home, and then have dinner with your family and fly another day.”

Since that conversation, I have had a cardboard box close to me, in view, to remind me of his advice and my obligation to those who put their trust and lives in our care. I suggest you get your own box. It may help you get through some tough days.

Have I ever packed the box? That is another tale for another day.

That’s my story and I am sticking to it. Let me know what you think at

As always, fly safe, fly neighborly — and keep those rotors turning!

Best Regards,


Read More: Minimal vs. Optimal
July 18, 2018

Aviation pioneer Jimmy Doolittle flew the first instrument approach on September 24, 1929. Actually, he flew two instrument approaches that day. The first one was in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC), but before witnesses arrived to document the milestone, the weather had cleared. Doolittle1 performed the second instrument approach with a hood, or blind, as it was referred to in that period

Being able to see from the cockpit was no longer required for safe flight — and this was only two years after Lindbergh’s historic nonstop solo transatlantic flight.

Lucky Lindbergh was lucky indeed. During his 34-hour flight, he encountered many poor weather conditions, including thunderstorms and sea fog. While there is no doubt Lindbergh logged a considerable amount of instrument flight time on his journey, I guess it doesn’t count when the term instrument flight — not to mention some of the basic instruments — had not yet been invented.

The helicopter is an amazing machine but perfecting vertical flight was not easy: more than 35 years separated the inaugural flight of the Wright brothers from Igor Sikorsky’s first helicopter ride in 1939. But we are fortunate that he persevered.

In addition to cruise flight, helicopters have the ability to hover and to fly very slowly for prolonged periods. This makes it a versatile machine with unique capabilities. However, because of its relatively high operating and maintenance costs, the helicopter is more of a tool in a kit bag for performing a job or task than a pleasure craft.

Because we use this magnificent tool to perform a job, that job often takes priority over the enjoyment of flying the machine. In a nutshell, we are paid to perform a job and the helicopter is the tool we use to accomplish it.

My question is this: does completing the job outweigh, or get in the way of, aeronautical decision-making? Yes, I know it’s a complicated question. I have not forgotten what it’s like to spend hours staring at a radar screen and pacing from the weather window to the computer screen, asking myself: If I were to get a flight request right now, what would I say?

The go/no-go question is complicated by the type of flight we have to accomplish, the time of day, the aircraft we are using, and the crew we have for the flight — and the weather we will be flying in. One of the biggest bets every pilot in command makes upon liftoff is this: I believe I can fly and land this aircraft safely in the weather I am experiencing now and the weather as forecast.

But what are the no-go weather conditions? In the United States, our regulator, the FAA, has something to say on this matter.

In the November/December 2017 FAA Safety Briefing magazine, a chart on page 2 defines visual flight rules (VFR) conditions as a ceiling equal to or greater than 3,000 feet and visibility equal to or greater than 5 miles. Marginal VFR is a 1,000- foot ceiling up to 3,000 feet and visibility from 3 miles up to 5 miles. The Aviation Weather Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) uses the same definitions (see table 1).

Read More: Flying in the Grand Canyon: A Dream Job with Unique Challenges
July 03, 2018

The helitack team at Grand Canyon National Park has to be prepared for anything. With weather conditions ranging from sun and 125-degree heat, to snow, wind, and dust, it takes more than just skill to operate in the canyon — it takes hard work and dedication. The combination of weather, remote terrain, and canyon flying requires advanced mountain flying skills.

The helitack team is drawn from Grand Canyon National Park staff and employees at Papillon Airways, working under contract with the park. Its MD 900 is on 365 days per year, while an AS350 comes on May 1 to add fire season support for about 90 to 150 days per year.

The helitack team performs a variety of missions inside the park during daylight hours. What started as park maintenance support in 1972 has expanded to firefighting, search and rescue, and utility work. The team also helps support management of threatened and endangered species by flying in personnel and equipment for research management, and even animals when appropriate.

With only a small staff available for any given mission (there are four employees on staff in the winter, and six more are added in the summer for the fire season), it’s not uncommon for the team to get pulled in many different directions. “We’ll be working on a pipeline break and literally switch hats and do a medical mission or respond to a fire, or even all three in one day,” says Eric C. Graff, Grand Canyon Flight Crew helicopter program manager.

Read More: Bell Sets a New Course
May 13, 2018

For a company focused on multimillion-dollar aircraft sales to government, military, and commercial clients around the world, Bell was behaving curiously. Its big reveal at HAI HELI‑EXPO 2017, the FCX-001, was less aircraft than a customer-experience concept vehicle. Bell followed up that mold-breaking exhibition by becoming the first aircraft company to ever make a big splash at the annual, quirky, and hip display of cutting-edge consumer technology that is the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

There (and at HAI HELI‑EXPO 2018), Bell displayed a cabin mock-up of its proposed entry in the race to develop the world’s first commercially successful air taxi. And though that mock-up looked more like a smallish, more angular, and cooler version of a passenger cabin in one of Bell’s helicopters, the company assured everyone that the vehicle will be a very, very different kind of machine, one powered by hybrid electric engines and capable of operating quietly, quickly, and in an environmentally friendly way within urban environments.

What next? On February 22, the company announced its first name change since 1960, when Textron Inc. acquired the Bell Helicopter division of Bell Aircraft — evolving from Bell Helicopter to simply, “Bell.” Of course, some — maybe even most — rebranding is merely cosmetic. But for Bell, shedding the one word that has defined not only its products but its very essence for the last 60 years is game changing.

Read More: Business Bounces Back at HAI HELI-EXPO 2018
May 13, 2018

The mood at HAI HELI‑EXPO 2018 in Las Vegas was one of optimism, with several small signs — and one big victory — pointing toward bluer skies ahead for the helicopter industry.

This year, more than 17,300 attendees walked the halls, visiting 705 exhibitors and 51 helicopters. What’s more, 2,368 people attended the HFI Rotor Safety Challenge education sessions, doing their part to make the industry safer.

“The exhibitors really loved the activity on the floor, and the ability to bring in aircraft using our temporary heliport just outside the doors was a real benefit,” says HAI President and CEO Matt Zuccaro. “From an HAI perspective, we were able to do what we wanted most — focus on safety. We rolled out our online certificate program for safety managers and were able to provide 50 free Rotor Safety Challenge courses, where in many of them it was standing room only.”

While business was brisk on the show floor, a victory in Washington, D.C., on February 28 also fueled the fires of optimism. U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Schuster (R-Pa.) withdrew his proposal to privatize US air traffic control (ATC) services from the House FAA reauthorization bill, ending, for now, talks of privatizing ATC. Under the proposed scheme, US ATC would have been run by a private board dominated by airline interests — a group unlikely to prioritize services for general aviation (GA).

“This is a great example of what can happen when people unite and speak with one voice. I offer my deepest appreciation to the entire GA community for its tireless work defending our industry,” Zuccaro said in an email to all HAI members shortly after the announcement. “HAI stands committed to working with Congress to modernize the FAA to maintain its world-class level of service and safety.”