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Wednesday, February 1, 2006

Editor's Note: Expect the Unexpected

Simon Roper offers a cautionary tale this month in the second installment of his diary about pursuing a commercial helicopter pilot's license in Australia.

Having traveled halfway around the world from his home in England to Becker Helicopters in Queensland, he overcame the challenges of learning the tools, techniques and jargon of helicopter flying to the point that he was on the brink of soloing. Until, that is, an event knocked him out of the cockpit for more than a year and presented him with challenges that made the ones he'd overcome mere child's play.

The event that did that had nothing directly to do with aircraft, but it offers a valuable lesson: always expect the unexpected. The helicopter industry is just beginning an earnest struggle to figure out how to improve a safety record that, until now, has been cited by many people as a reason not to embrace rotorcraft. As that struggle becomes more focused, it inevitably will foster an examination of aeronautical decision-making and how it must and can be improved.

For the conservative pilot, flying is an endless series of "what if" exercises: "What if an engine quit, or weather closed in, or . . . or . . . or . . .? What would I do then?" This is the approach instilled by good training, but its importance can fade as the hours build up. That's a tendency that all pilots should resist. Lessons in everyday life outside the cockpit can be useful in honing your "what if" skills for flying, as was the case for Simon. I don't mean to cast doubt on his decision-making. My point is that, as in his case, things we bank on as certain sometimes can prove just the opposite, and dangerously so.

Enstrom and Sharkey's Helicopters are taking this problem head on with a new, half-day course reviewing the human factors of flying and how they contribute to accidents. Offered during this month's Heli-Expo, the course is intended to help you hone your decision-making skills and conservative flying (and preflight) techniques.

Other training highlights at Heli-Expo will include ELITE Simulation Solutions' display of its new S623 Evolution full-cockpit helicopter simulator. Modeled on the Eurocopter AS350, it is designed for IFR and VFR training. Fidelity Flight Simulation also will be showcasing the Eurocopter EC135 flight training device it built for STAT MedEvac. The company bills the device as having received the first full-motion FTD approval from the FAA and the first FAA approval for a civil Eurocopter aircraft simulation device.

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