2018 Summer Issue

The magazine of Helicopter Association International

Accident Recovery: Direct-to Disaster
David Jack Kenny 2018 Summer

After an accident, it’s usually clear that someone made a mistake ... often more than one “someone.” The official investigation, reconstruction, and analysis by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is less concerned with apportioning blame than identifying those points at which different decisions might have interrupted the resulting sequence of events. Even so, experts can and do draw different conclusions about the relative importance of actions taken by the drama’s various actors.

The October 15, 2008, destruction of a Bell 222 air ambulance was notable in several respects. Its collision with a brightly lit radio tower on a clear night appears to be an early example of the dangers of substituting GPS-direct navigation for systematic flight planning. The accident led the then–vice chairman of the NTSB to issue a rare written dissent from the agency’s finding of probable cause. And the deaths of the pilot, flight nurse, paramedic, and 14-month-old patient intensified public scrutiny of the hazards of helicopter air ambulance (HAA) operations, especially in low visibility or at night.

The Flight

At 9:12 p.m., the Valley West Hospital in Sandwich, Illinois, requested a helicopter transport. The call was relayed through the dispatch center operated by Reach Air Medical Services in Santa Rosa, California. Reach’s local operator, Air Angels, Inc., accepted the flight immediately. However, departure was delayed by difficulties in determining which hospital could take the patient. The ship lifted off from the Air Angels base at Clow International Airport in Bolingbrook at 10:54 p.m., arriving at the Valley West helipad at 11:11.

At 11:38, prior to departing Valley West, the pilot called Reach Air Medical Services dispatch with the information required by company protocol, including the helicopter’s takeoff weight and center of gravity, an initial heading of 080 degrees, and an estimated flight time of 18 minutes for the 38-mile trip to Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago. Fuel supply was given as 1.5 hours. The exact time of liftoff was not reported but appears to have been about 11:49 p.m.

At 11:55, the pilot contacted DuPage Airport (KDPA), a Class D field with a 24-hour tower underlying the outer ring of Chicago O’Hare’s Class B complex. He gave his position as “over Aurora” at an altitude of 1,400 feet mean sea level (msl), or about 640 feet above the ground, and requested transit through KDPA’s airspace. The controller granted clearance but, because the flight was operating under visual flight rules (VFR), did not provide course guidance or obstacle warnings.

Radar track data showed the helicopter maintaining a straight-line course on a magnetic heading of 072 degrees, the direct route from West Valley to Children’s Memorial, at a constant altitude of 1,300 feet msl. The track ended abruptly at 11:58:25 p.m. at the site of a 734-foot radio tower. First responders found that the helicopter had struck the west side of the aerial about 50 feet below its top, crashed into a field, and caught fire.

Skies were clear, and the DuPage and Aurora airports reported 9 to 10 miles visibility. Surveillance footage showed that the tower’s two sets of high-intensity strobe lights were working before the collision.

Equipment, Personnel, and Procedures

Two months after Air Angels acquired the Bell 222 in 1999, they fitted it with a Garmin GNS 430 combination GPS and nav/comm radio. The unit had received a software update in January 2008, and its Jeppesen aviation database was last updated on June 1 of that year. The GPS was not certified for use under instrument flight rules (IFR). While its database included terrain and obstacle information, the software to display this had never been installed. Air Angels’ director of flight operations (DFO) confirmed that their pilots relied on the 430 as their primary navigation source.

The helicopter was also equipped with an autopilot capable of holding headings and altitudes. Typical practice was to fly at 1,500 feet msl in the daytime and 1,500 to 1,700 feet at night, 700 to 900 feet above typical terrain elevations in the Chicago area, at 125 to 130 knots. The DFO recalled that the accident pilot’s most recent line check had been interrupted by a patient call, which he’d handled according to the company’s operations manual. He’d used the autopilot during the en route portion of the flight.

The 69-year-old pilot had flown helicopters in Vietnam. According to his ex-wife, he’d been shot down seven times, and as a result, “most situations did not cause him much stress.” After leaving active duty, he’d continued to serve in the U.S. Army Reserve but apparently in a nonflying capacity.

His civilian career as a professional pilot had begun in 2004. He held a commercial certificate with an instrument-helicopter rating and private pilot privileges for single-engine airplanes, and had renewed his second-class medical certificate the previous January. Nearly 3,200 of his 3,565 hours of total flight time were in helicopters. The DFO, a former U.S. Army OH-58 pilot, described him as “very reliable and conscientious” and said he “flew his landing approaches in a slow and meticulous manner.”

The NTSB’s factual report lays considerable stress on the fact that the aircraft did not have a terrain awareness and warning system (TAWS). Two and a half years earlier, the Board had recommended that the FAA require all HAA operators to outfit their aircraft with TAWS; the FAA initially responded by emphasizing preflight planning but also developed technical specifications for helicopter TAWS systems. 14 CFR 135.605, requiring installation and training in the use of approved TAWS equipment by all HAA operators, eventually took effect on April 24, 2017.

However, the report also acknowledges that the radio tower “was depicted on the Chicago Aeronautical Sectional Chart, the Chicago Visual Flight Rules Terminal Area Chart, the Chicago Helicopter Route Chart, and as an obstruction on the air traffic controller’s radar display.” It was widely known as the tallest structure in the vicinity of Air Angels’ base. As noted earlier, there was no apparent impediment to seeing its two sets of high-intensity strobes.

ATC’s Responsibility

Radar coverage in the KDPA tower was provided by live feeds from O’Hare’s approach surveillance radar, which depicts the radio tower. The accident flight’s track, cited earlier, showed it flying directly toward that tower, whose location and height were also on the list of local landmarks and hazards that KDPA controllers were required to memorize during training.

The NTSB’s finding of probable cause included “the … controller’s failure to issue a safety alert” as a contributing factor. It cited paragraph 2-1-6 of FAA Order 7110.65, which requires ATC to “issue a safety alert to an aircraft if you are aware the aircraft is in a position/altitude which, in your judgment, places it in unsafe proximity to terrain, obstructions, or other aircraft.” The order also acknowledges that “it is virtually impossible to develop a standard list of duty priorities that would apply uniformly to every conceivable situation.”

A contrarian viewpoint might note the pilot’s clear interest in avoiding a well-lighted hazard that was shown on all relevant aviation charts and was also familiar to him from more than two years of low-altitude HAA flights in that area.


Though we’ll never be certain why this accident happened, one possible clue emerged from the investigators’ interviews with the Air Angels’ DFO. He described the helipad at Children’s Memorial as “not optimal” thanks to a tall steeple near its northeast corner and an elevator shaft on its north side. The pad itself is 13 stories up and so small that a helicopter as big as the Bell 222 must perch with its tail boom hanging over the edge. The pilot wasn’t familiar with the site, and during an interview with the NTSB, the DFO speculated that “at some point” he would have looked it up in the Illinois Hospital Heliport Directory.

“When the pilot would have done this, [the DFO] could not guess. It could have been at the hospital pad at Valley West … or while en route to Children’s [emphasis added]. However, it would be a likely thing for the pilot to do, especially since this was an unfamiliar helo pad for him. The directory is 139 pages, and could take a little time to find the correct page.”

Might the pilot have engaged the autopilot long enough for a quick review of the landing site in the heliport directory? It’s certainly not impossible — and could explain why he was seemingly heads-down during a VFR flight at night.

Differing Opinions

NTSB Vice Chairman Christopher Hart, himself a pilot and former FAA safety official, vigorously disagreed with the majority’s finding that “the controller’s failure to issue a safety alert as required” contributed to the accident. His three-page written dissent stressed that “for VFR pilots, seeing and avoiding obstacles is solely and exclusively the responsibility of the pilot in command … with no exceptions.” Hart also noted internal ambiguities that made the cited FAA order “not particularly compelling in this instance.”

Greater pilot complacency and reduced willingness of controllers to provide services to VFR traffic could also be unintended consequences of any suggestion that controllers share responsibility for obstacle clearance under visual flight rules.

The Takeaway

From the original gyroscopic attitude instruments through GPS, the Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS), and ADS-B, technological advances have improved safety while expanding capabilities … but they have also created new failure modes, both human and mechanical. Autopilots make single-pilot IFR possible in helicopters but with the attendant risks of misprogramming, instrument or processor malfunction, or simple inattention. The incredible precision of GPS navigation raises concerns about increased collision risk, especially over busy waypoints.

No one has more at stake in managing these trade-offs than pilots, who are the first to pay the price for any errors, whether their own or someone else’s. They — and their employers — might benefit from healthy skepticism about the safeguards they think they’ve bought. 

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Visit the American Helicopter Museum and Education Center
Marty Pociask 2018 Summer

A visit to the American Helicopter Museum and Education Center (AHMEC) is a voyage back to a time when helicopter pioneers bravely tested the possibilities and limits of these machines. Located in West Chester, Pennsylvania, the museum is a fitting attraction for an area considered by many to be the one of the incubators of rotary-wing aviation in the United States (see the end of this article to see a list of early rotary-wing pioneers in the greater Philadelphia area).

From Idea to Reality

The AHMEC began as a simple wish: to commemorate the innovation and hard work of aviation pioneers from Pennsylvania’s Delaware Valley. In 1993, as the American Helicopter Society’s Philadelphia chapter celebrated its 50th anniversary, it charged a committee with establishing a lasting tribute to the local men and women who pioneered the development of rotary-wing aircraft. Many ideas were considered, such as a memorial or historical walk.

The committee decided to open a helicopter museum. Their decision was fueled in part by a pledge by Peter Wright, Sr., president of Keystone Helicopters, to donate three vintage aircraft to the fledgling museum. A major figure in the development of the commercial helicopter industry (and veteran of the storied Flying Tigers, a group of US pilots who volunteered to fly for China against Japanese forces in World War II), Wright was instrumental in establishing the museum.

On October 25, 1993, the AHMEC was incorporated as a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization. Work began under Wright’s leadership, who took on the role of chairman of the board, and a dedicated team of volunteers. The initial goals of the museum were to: preserve the heritage of rotary-wing flight, halt the loss of artifacts significant to its founding and development, and recognize its contributions to society.

After an extensive search for the right location, the fledgling museum’s board rented an 18,000-square-foot vacant hangar at the Brandywine Airport (KOQN) in West Chester, Pennsylvania. The hangar had previously been a production facility for Messerschmitt-Bolkow-Blohm (MBB) helicopters. Educators and volunteers developed the initial exhibit content and renovated parts of the hangar to create a museum space.

Additional financial support from individuals and corporations helped make the idea a reality. Membership grew to 800 founding members, and in just three years, on October 18, 1996, the AHMEC opened to the public.

In 2003, Frank Robinson, founder and president of Robinson Helicopters, made a generous contribution of $1 million to the museum, enabling the acquisition of the Brandywine facility as its permanent home.

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HAI Aids HEC Operators with FAA Exemptions
ROTOR Staff 2018 Summer

Following a months-long grounding of US-based human external cargo (HEC) helicopter operations because of certification issues, the first helicopter operator has received its FAA-approved exemption and will be able to resume operations shortly.

Due in part to efforts by HAI staff members, the FAA approved the exemption for Haverfield Aviation on July 13. The Pennsylvania-based company expects to resume HEC flight operations as soon as the appropriate changes are incorporated into its Part 133 Rotorcraft Load Combination Flight Manual and approved by its flight standards district office.

“HAI worked tirelessly on behalf of Haverfield Aviation to ensure the HEC exemption process was moving through the complex system of the FAA,” says Brian Parker, president and CEO of Haverfield. “Chris Martino and Harold Summers [respectively, HAI’s VP of flight operations and its director of flight operations and technical services] were always available and kept Haverfield Aviation promptly updated. HAI certainly contributed to the successful approval of the waiver. Haverfield and its customers that rely on HEC are greatly appreciative of HAI’s assistance.”

The issue came to light earlier this year, when operators learned that the FAA was increasing its focus on compliance with the HEC requirements of 14 CFR Part 27 or 29. The agency had determined that the cargo hooks used for HEC operations were not certified for that use. The hooks, which have been used for decades in HEC operations, have never been implicated in any accident or incident.

Later in the spring, the FAA then requested all operators halt HEC operations until the companies complied or had received an exemption pending certification. The grounding affected operators using MD 500/Hughes 369 helicopters.

Haverfield’s exemption requires them to use an emergency anchor, or belly band, as a secondary safety device in case the cargo hook fails. The exemption also requires the operator to provide training on the use of the emergency anchor and to follow other best practices for HEC operations.

HAI became involved after being contacted by several member companies that had halted their HEC work at the request of the FAA. HAI began working to help resolve the issue while also calling for the operators to work sensibly and safely while waiting for the exemption process to proceed.

Haverfield joined 18 other operators in applying for an exemption. HAI stepped in as a neutral third party between the FAA and the operators, helping to facilitate discussion, address issues, and assist in resolving specific issues, including proper wording on applications for exemption. HAI also served as a central point of contact for the FAA and the operators.

“We served as a liaison, connecting the operators with the FAA. We understood that these companies needed to get back to work, but we also appreciate that we needed to find a solution that would keep everyone in compliance with FAA regs,” says Harold Summers. “We coordinated the communication between the industry and the FAA on a weekly, sometimes daily, basis to speed up and streamline the process.”

While several of the affected companies submitted requests for exemption, the FAA selected one application — Haverfield’s — that came closest to being complete. “Now that it’s approved, it will serve as a template for the other operators to use for their applications,” adds Summers. By modeling their exemption applications on Haverfield’s, other operators can receive summary approval by the FAA.

Founded in 1981 and an HAI Regular Member since 1994, Haverfield Aviation is a provider of aerial power line inspection, maintenance, repair, and construction support services for the North American electric utility industry. 

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Smart Glasses: Helicopter MRO with "Vision"
John Persinos 2018 Summer

Among the technological fantasies offered by science fiction, Star Trek’s holodeck is one of the most intriguing. The holodeck offered the Enterprise crew the chance to interact with a realistic 3D environment. This could be any place, for any purpose — training for a mission on an alien planet or, as a break from shipboard life, spending an afternoon hiking on a forest trail.

The 24th century, inhabited in fiction by Captain Picard and his crew, has arrived early. Science fiction is quickly becoming science fact, as virtual reality/augmented reality/mixed reality, or VR/AR/MR, is being adopted for a broad variety of commercial and personal uses.

If you think that VR/AR is solely a toy for gamers, think again. Yes, it’s a booming leisure activity — and it’s also a social and business phenomenon. Health care providers use it for diagnostics; the Pentagon for combat training; real estate agents to show off homes; and automobile makers to build virtual prototypes of new vehicles, to list only a few examples.

With the commercial aviation sector booming around the world, demand for AR smart glasses in the maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) field is skyrocketing. Major MRO players, such as Air France Industries, Monarch Aircraft Engineering, Lufthansa Technik, and AAR, are adopting smart glasses as a way to help their maintenance technicians work faster, more efficiently, and well, smarter.

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Hot Topics in Finance and Leasing
ROTOR Staff 2018 Summer

Q. Why are hourly-cost maintenance programs (HCMPs) often required when financing or leasing a helicopter?

An HCMP, often referred to as “paying by the hour,” is a program that allows operators to fulfill maintenance requirements, stay on top of costs, and reduce risks, regardless of whether the helicopter is financed or leased.

An operator enters an HCMP program with either the manufacturer or an independent entity and pays a flat hourly rate per flight hour to have a guaranteed percentage of all qualified scheduled and unscheduled maintenance costs covered. The client reports flight hours either monthly or at agreed-upon intervals and pays the subsequent flight-hour invoice while the HCMP covers the agreed-upon percentage of maintenance costs for the term.

Finance and leasing entities usually mandate HCMP programs because of the strategic and financial benefits to their customers and the overall reduced risk of the investment. In addition to streamlining the maintenance budget to a flat hourly rate per flight hour, HCMPs also maintain the residual value of the helicopter. Valuations of aircraft with HCMPs are higher than valuations of aircraft without them.

Furthermore, HCMPs also protect both operators and lenders/lessors from certain financial risks because the necessary funds for future maintenance are accrued in real time. In addition, the risk of qualified unscheduled failures is borne by the HCMP service provider, who may also assume the risk of some other variable costs, such as mandatory service bulletins and airworthiness directives.

The lending and leasing communities usually mandate the use of HCMPs to combat value loss and mitigate the financial risk of maintenance costs.

– Kyle Sale, director of business development for Jet Support Services, Inc. (JSSI)

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Dr. Carrol Max Voss Flies West
ROTOR Staff 2018 Summer

Dr. Carrol Voss, the founder of AGROTORS, Inc., and a pioneer in the use of helicopters in aerial application, died June 10 at his home in Maine at the age of 98. Voss joined the Navy Air Corps during World War II, serving as a flight instructor for PBY and PBM “flying boats.” He met his wife, Wilma “Jo,” who was also in the Navy at the time, and they married in 1945.

Voss continued his education and interests in entomology and aviation following the war, earning a doctorate at the University of Wisconsin. In the late 1940s, Voss received his helicopter pilot’s license and started working in the industry. After nearly a decade of working with helicopters and agriculture, he started his own company, AGROTORS, Inc., in 1958. The company became a leader in aerial application operations, later opening a flight school in the mid-1960s.

Voss served as a consultant with the World Health Organization, helping to establish aerial application programs for insect infestations in Africa. He was also a consultant for agricultural spraying in India, the USSR, and South America.

Voss began working with HAI in 1953 when it was still Helicopter Association of America. He was active in the Agriculture Committee and helped to produce a safety video about flying in the wire and obstruction environment. His son, Tim, who was also active in HAI, took over AGROTORS when the elder Voss retired in 1985.

Voss was the recipient of the Twirly Birds Les Morris Award (1995) and HAI’s Lawrence Bell Lifetime Achievement Award (2001). AGROTORS also received HAI’s Sikorsky Humanitarian Service Award (2000) for assisting with mosquito eradication in New York.

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Threats … and Opportunities
Jim Wisecup 2018 Summer

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.



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Flight Path
ROTOR Staff 2018 Summer

Q Your current role?
In addition to being a pilot, I manage aircraft scheduling, plan routes, and ensure FAR/GOM compliance for on-demand charters to ensure optimal business output.

QYour most memorable  helicopter ride?
My most memorable flight was the first time I flew into New York City and circled the Statue of Liberty. Being from a small town in the heartland, New York City was a place I had only seen in movies, and I never imagined I would end up flying here.

Q What still excites you about helicopter aviation?
Walking out to the helicopter each day still excites me. The quick pace and challenge of using noise/traffic abatement routes, calling FBOs, hovering between parallels, calling out traffic, and getting a landing
clearance all at the same time is something I never would’ve imagined myself capable of in a solo pilot environment. Now it’s all in a normal day’s work.

Q What advice would you give to someone pursuing your career path?
Shake as many hands and make as many friends as possible. The people you meet will be your network of colleagues and friends throughout your career. The rotorcraft
community is very tight-knit and getting

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