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Tuesday, March 1, 2005

Editor's Notebook

James T. McKenna

Where is Ray Prouty?

In this post, I field a lot of questions from readers and folks I meet at events like HAI's Heli-Expo 2005 last month in Anaheim, Calif. Questions like: What's going on with MD Helicopters? Who do you think had the edge in the VXX competition? What are the prospects for Bell? When is Frank Robinson going to build a turbine helicopter? But beyond a doubt the questions I'm asked most frequently fall into one category that might be summarized as this:

"Where is Ray Prouty?"

A distinguished aerodynamicist, Prouty for more than 20 years explained fundamentals of rotorcraft flight to Rotor & Wing readers through his periodic "Aerodynamics" column. He de-mystified the complexities of how helicopters work and helped many a pilot better understand the interaction of his or her control inputs with the aircraft and the forces acting upon it.

With bachelor's and master's degrees in aeronautical engineering from the University of Washington, Ray is a private consultant for the helicopter industry. He's got a half-century of experience under his belt, including starting his career as a helicopter aerodynamicist started at Hughes Tool Co., then moving over to Sikorsky Aircraft, followed by working as a stability and control specialist at Bell Helicopters, a group engineer on helicopter aerodynamics at Lockheed Aircraft, and chief of stability and control at Hughes Helicopters/McDonnell Douglas Helicopters.

In addition to his writings for us, he's penned a college textbook, "Helicopter Performance, Stability and Control." Ray is a member of the faculty for the aerospace "short courses" offered by the University of Kansas' continuing education program. He lectures at sessions sponsored by the American Helicopter Society, which has named him an Honorary Fellow. Most recently, Ray has written on aerodynamics for that society's fine publication, "Vertiflite."

Ray's followers are legion. I can tell you that personally, based on the questions, emails and letters I get about him. He's even featured in a song. Professor Gareth Padfield of the University of Liverpool's Flight Science & Technology Research Group wrote a ditty called "The Helicopter Blues" that includes this verse:

I'll go see Ray Prouty
They said "He ain't got no blues."
Please help me Ray. How much more aerodynamics do I need?
Ray said, "Wake up and smell the coffee, boy.
Learn how to hide those helicopter blues."

Sgt. Ernie Stephens, our law-enforcement correspondent and chief pilot for the Prince George's County, Md., Police Dept., considers Ray his hero, and he's not alone. At this year's Heli-Expo, we at Access Intelligence hosted Ray and his associates at Helo Books (which has published a compilation of his R&W "Aerodynamics" columns and plans additional editions). Once attendees learned Ray was there, a steady stream of visitors came to our booth in Anaheim just to see him, to express their awe and appreciation for his contributions to operations and safety, and to just chat with this icon of the industry.

During one of the rare moments when he was not entertaining visitors and friends, I sat with Ray for a bit. He and I had been discussing for about a year the possibility of him writing again for R&W readers. He's a busy guy, with a full schedule of lectures, consultancy and writing. But in Anaheim Ray said he was again available to contribute to our magazine.

Heli-Expo 2005 was a great show. Attendance was light but intense. Most everyone who came seemed intent on talking business, and no exhibitor with whom I spoke was unhappy with the number and quality of people passing their way. There was an energy in the exhibit hall. Everyone from AgustaWestland, Bell and Sikorsky to Erickson Air-Crane, Kaman and Simplex Manufacturing seemed excited by prospects for their own businesses and for the industry. Bell/Agusta Aerospace Corp. bagged 20 firm orders for AB139s from SEACOR Holdings for offshore Gulf of Mexico work by its Era Helicopters unit, for goodness sakes! In an industry that generally orders cautious lots of, at most, a handful of aircraft then sees how they perform, that is an amazing commitment by an operator to an aircraft. With all that, though, the highlight of Heli-Expo 2005 for me was when Ray Prouty said he'd write for us again.

Ray doesn't want to pen columns on his own ruminations. Rather, he wants to answer your questions. He won't answer all of them, he said. He won't talk about structures; it's not his specialty. He also won't take out his crystal ball and speculate about industry developments; he said his crystal ball's not very good any way. But he will entertain your questions about helicopter aerodynamics and publish in these pages his answers to those he finds most pertinent and intriguing. So, starting today, send your questions to me at jmckenna@accessintel.com or 1201 Seven Locks Rd., Suite 300, Potomac, MD 20854. I'll get them to Ray and publish his answers just as fast as we can manage it.

I know you'll all join me in saying, "Welcome back, Ray!"

As of today, Ray Prouty's back at Rotor & Wing and ready to answer your questions about aerodynamics. So start those cards and letters rolling in.

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