2018 Summer Issue

The magazine of Helicopter Association International

Get a Cardboard Box
Matt Zuccaro 2018 Summer

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 tailrotor@aol.com.

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

Best Regards,


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Minimal vs. Optimal
Zac Noble 2018 Summer

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).

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