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Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Rotorcraft Report: Hickok Smoothes Path to IFR Approaches

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When faced with IFR approaches, there are very few options available to emergency medical helicopter pilots. Among those is a software-based area navigation tool for helicopters offered by Hickok and Associates.

Recently tested in Bern, Switzerland for Swiss Air Ambulance at Insel-Spital hospital, the IFR system should gain official acceptance with the Swiss Federal Office of Civil Aviation in mid-2008.

Using the existing Global Navigation Satellite System receiver in the helicopter, Hickok uses point-in-space navigation to determine a flight path, a virtual runway of sorts, for pilots to follow in landing.

"I just wanted to know why I can’t fly my helicopter from heliport to heliport like a plane flies from airport to airport," President Stephen Hickok said.

While the FAA requires 5000 ft of clearance around a helipad, the area outside that circumference could contain many obstructions, limiting available approaches. Hickok’s system takes these obstructions and determines the available unobstructed approaches. The system uses defined approach patterns based on both geographical and manmade obstacles as topographical information to determine a safe approach pattern.

"This is basically a 3D runway where the helicopter is decelerating and descending to the point of stopping before landing," Hickok said.

Hickok will help determine safe approaches into any heliport and establish available GPS coordinates for pilots to follow.

According to Hickok, the company will update approach patterns as needed using existing maintenance proposal databases. These databases track local urban development activities of all kinds.

Hickok also intends to share these maintenance proposals with helicopter operators as projects become known. This will allow operators to enter discussions in their community so they can voice the effect these developments will have on their missions. — Evan Sweetman

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