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Monday, March 1, 2010

Focused on Safety

By Joy Finnegan

Our focus in this issue is safety. Five of our features this month are related to this theme. Before telling you about the safety features in this issue, I want to let you know that we will be conducting our Rotor & Wing Safety & Training Summit again this year in Denver, Colo. on June 8 and 9. Please make note of the dates. We’d love to have you attend.

I can announce for the first time here in the magazine that our keynote speaker will be none other than FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt. This is a great honor and hopefully a show of solidarity from the FAA with the rotorcraft world. More news and session topics for the Rotor & Wing Safety & Training Summit to come.

In this issue, first and foremost, we had a rare, exclusive opportunity to get one-on-one with National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chairman Deborah Hersman. She was sworn in as the 12th NTSB Chairman on July 28, 2009, following her nomination to the post by President Barack Obama and confirmation by the U.S. Senate.

Her two-year term as chairman runs until July 2011. She is also serving a second five-year term as a Board Member, which expires on Dec. 31, 2013. Hersman has been an NTSB board member since June 21, 2004.

She has been the board member on the scene of 17 major transportation accidents, including the crash of a Maryland State Police EMS helicopter in Forestville, Md. in September 2008 and the mid-air collision involving a sightseeing helicopter and a single-engine plane over the Hudson River that killed all nine people aboard the two aircraft in August 2009.

Hersman has also chaired the public events hosted by the NTSB, including the September 2009 meeting announcing four safety recommendation letters containing 19 recommendations concerning helicopter emergency medical services (HEMS).

In the process of conducting our interview with Chairman Hersman, we found that beyond her voluminous credentials lies a true desire to improve the safety of the aviation industry and specifically the helicopter industry. She didn’t pull any punches and was very direct with her answers. Although she had a typical bureaucrat’s entourage with her during the interview, she rarely relied on their input. As you will see, her answers to our helicopter-related questions were well-versed and thoughtful. They were also refreshingly candid. You will find that article on page 26.

Also find within that story a sample risk matrix, something Chairman Hersman talked about as a low tech, inexpensive way to reduce risky operations. It takes up one page with the hopes that if operators need a sample, they could easily pull it out and use it.

We also have a story that looks at the strides made by HEMS operators that have improved safety in that world. We talked to some of the leaders in the industry and asked how they have improved the safety of their operations. It is a fascinating look at this complex work. Find that story, by Charlotte Adams, by clicking here.

Next, Dan Deutermann offers his insights about night flight over water, when the horizon disappears and visual cues are almost non-existent. This is a special type of flight environment and should not be taken lightly. Dan’s extensive experience in this realm gives special credence to his recommendations. He calls that realm “The Abyss”.

Another of our safety focused features takes a look at the European perspective. European Correspondent Thierry Dubois attended the 3rd Annual EASA Rotorcraft Symposium and reports on numerous initiatives that are in the works and opinions expressed by European rotorcraft luminaries, such as Vittorio Morassi, chairman of the new European Helicopter Association (newEHA); Brian Humphries, who is both the chairman of the British Helicopter Association (BHA) and the CEO of the European Business Aviation Association (EBAA); Robert Carter, principal inspector of air accidents at the UK’s Air accidents investigation branch (AAIB); Francesco Paolucci, a flight test engineer with the Italian civil aviation authority (ENAC); as well as engineers, operators and of course, the OEMs. The European helicopter community seems laser-focused on improving safety as well. Learn about what initiatives are in works.

In this issue we are also taking a moment to celebrate the lives of two larger-than-life figures from the history of helicopter piloting.

The first is Richard Kirkland. Author of the book, “MASH Angels,” Kirkland served in World War II and the Korean War. It was during the Korean War that helicopters became “the” mode of transporting wounded soldiers from the battlefield and led to greater survivability.

Injured soldiers were taken to mobile hospitals called MASH (mobile Army surgical hospital) units, familiar to all from the long-running television show and novel on which it was based, “M*A*S*H.” Kirkland has many amazing stories, not only about the MASH days, but about keeping a helicopter in his back yard, among others. Kirkland is a national hero and treasure.

In addition, we take a look at the life and times of another hero, Gerry Ventrella, a Vietnam War veteran. He trained on the Bell OH-13 and graduated to become a Bell UH-1 combat assault pilot in Vietnam. He flew 813 combat hours and was awarded 18 air medals for his service in that conflict. He has been nominated for induction into the Illinois Military Aviation Hall of Fame this summer.

As soon as we button this March issue up, the Rotor & Wing staff will be on their way to Houston for Heli-Expo and by the time you are reading this, the show will be over. The April issue will be chock full of Heli-Expo news and announcements.

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