By Debbie Hersman
Yesterday we wrapped up four days of NTSB activities at Heli-Expo in Anaheim, California. These last few days, the NTSB has been talking about improving safety through realistic training scenarios, best practices for maintenance employees, safety management in helicopter emergency medical services (HEMS) operations, and getting a flight recorder in every helicopter. Improving the safety of helicopter operations is on our Most Wanted List in 2014 and at the Expo we’ve worked to present the “lessons learned” from past helicopter accidents.
I spoke at the Helicopter Association International’s (HAI’s) “Salute to Excellence” awards, where Chris Horton, manager of flight operations at Guidance Aviation, took home HAI’s AgustaWestland Safety Award, in part for his work fostering safety management systems. Chris is a rising young star in the “safety first” school of thought in helicopter operations.
I shared with the audience my top ten list of why I love helicopters. I recalled the many jobs I have seen helicopters do – such as when I watched a Skycrane helicopter lift the 18-foot, 15,000-pound Statue of Freedom from the top of the Capitol dome with care and precision, then set it gently on the ground. I have ridden on helicopters surveying a pipeline spill in Michigan and a hazardous materials train derailment in South Carolina. I have ridden along with Customs and Border Protection working along the southern US border, and with law enforcement doing their job over Los Angeles.
Helicopters go where no other aircraft go, and they do jobs no other aircraft can do. Helicopters get the job done.
As we toasted the best of the rotor world at HAI’s Salute to Excellence, I couldn’t help but think about some of the Vietnam-era pilots in the audience. Had any of them flown search-and-rescue missions in a Huey in 1966… when a young pilot ejected from his F-100 after it was hit by Viet Cong ground fire over the Mekong Delta? He was 50 miles away from the closest friendlies and he needed a miracle; it came in the form of a Huey with 50 caliber machine guns on each side. The crew hovered over him, he crawled up on the skids, they pulled him in and got out of there with the gunners in the doorway returning fire. That helicopter crew did a job that nobody else could do!
So, my very personal thanks for getting that job done. That young pilot was my dad.
This year, we at NTSB, are committed to addressing unique characteristics of helicopter operations so that helicopters can get the job done more safely. So congratulations to Chris Horton and to all of HAI’s Salute to Excellence award-winners. And congratulations to HAI on an informative and safety-minded Heli-Expo.