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Sunday, May 1, 2005

From The Factories

Kaman Getting K-MAX Pilots Ready For Fire Season

With a relatively dry winter in the northwestern United States, firefighting companies are gearing up for a bad fire season. Kaman Aerospace Corp. doesn't specifically train pilots for fighting fires, but it does train them to transition to the unique, long-line capabilities for water bucket operations used to fight fires with the K-MAX .

All of Kaman's training is for vertical-reference operations, which allows the pilots "to use the K-MAX's ultimate visibility to place loads, such as water, more accurately than any other helicopter," said Roger Wassmuth, director of K-MAX marketing and business development.

Key to the training is simply getting used to the helicopter's unique characteristics, he said. To transition pilots to the K-MAX, Kaman uses the H-43 Husky, the K-MAX's predecessor.

"We put the pilots in those and the first thing is to break their habit of putting in left pedal," Wassmuth said.

The aircraft's intermeshing rotor blades cancel out the torque, eliminating the need to adjust the pedals with changes in power settings. That training lasts for 2-3 days. "Once they feel comfortable in the Husky , they fly that with an external line with tires on the end, and get used to looking outside the aircraft, we put them in the K-MAX," Wassmuth said.

The two-week transition course is based on getting the pilots to fly purely with vertical referencing, Wassmuth said. "A lot of helicopters can't be vertical reference because they are too big or the pilot's feet are in the wrong location." In the K-MAX, the pilot looks out the left side. An instrument panel is outside the cockpit there, a torso support hooked to the seat lets the pilot lean out the cockpit and keep his hands on the controls while looking back at the load. "That is why the landing gear is located aft on the K-MAX," Wassmuth said, "so they have a clear view of the load at all times." Instruments on the outside panel provide information on load weight, torque and engine temperature. The panel also has caution lights "so if something goes wrong, the pilot can get back into the cockpit pretty quickly," Wassmuth said.

Once the pilots have shown proficiency for vertical-reference flying, Kaman puts loads on the helicopter and they practice flying loads up to 6,000 lb.

In 2004, Kaman put about 25 pilots through transition training. While transition training is not firefighting specific, the company tries to ensure that if Kaman operators need additional pilots for the firefighting season because of duty-time limits, "we can run as many classes as possible for them."

Schweizer Developing Night-Vision Goggle Course

Schweizer is developing a night-vision goggle course as part of its factory transition/recurrency training. Headed by instructor Charlie Priestley, the course is to be run in three phases, with the students expected to gain experience and competency between each phase.

Schweizer has been working on the course for roughly two years, "but we are now in the spool up phase of the program," Priestley said. He acknowledged its cost will seem fairly high, "because people are going to look at Bell and think they can go to Bell and come out a week later as an NVG pilot," he said. "That is not necessarily true." He said Schweizer can put goggles on pilots and give them 4-5 hr. flying around the pattern, "but what happens when you go back to your police or EMS operations? Are you really ready and proficient to be a pilot-in-command under mission conditions at that point? I don't think you are."

The first phase consists of basically getting used to the goggles. Students are given goggles, then taken on a walk over a ground course to get used to the goggles and start developing their depth perception under different light conditions without coping with the inherent risk of being in a helicopter. "Once they have a feel for how the goggles work," Priestley said, "then we're going to get in the helicopter and do normal procedures, then advanced procedures." After the week's course, a student should have about 10 hr. of goggle time and "be perfectly capable to operate as a second-in-command, or as a pilot-in-command for en-route operations only."

Once a student has gotten about 20-25 hr. goggle time, he can enter phase two of the course, which trains the student for actual mission work, "getting involved in police or EMS-type operations involving landing in confined areas that only have ambient light, or even zero light," or doing out-of-ground-effect hovers and setting up perimeters. This phase also includes crew concept flying. "For military customers we would do formation flying," Priestley said. "This will actually train the student to be pilot-in-command."

The third phase is advanced operations, or "train the trainer." This is for pilots with about 75-100 hr. of goggle time and covers touchdown and hovering autorotations, goggle failures, flying over water and in hazy conditions. "What we do is tailor it to each customer in keeping with the three-phase, turn-key program so we can take them in baby steps," Priestly said. "The first phase kind of gets the `golly-gee-whiz' out of you. You now understand the goggles a little bit, but you know that you're not quite ready to do certain things. Then you go to the second phase and get a little more experience." While the phased program is similar to the military concept of developing a goggle pilot through experience and training, Priestly said, it is unique to the commercial market. "Schweizer's approach is not necessarily to have students come to the goggle program all by themselves. The approach is to help customers such as law enforcement agencies and others, to grow a goggle program for their entire department," he said.

MD: "Back On Track"

MD Helicopter reports that problems facing its Mesa-based training program have essentially been overcome and the program is now back on track (Rotor & Wing, January 2005, page T3).

Helping the company get its training program going again is the fact that pilots have a tendency to avoid training in Arizona during the summer months, according to John Hobby, the company's director of customer support.

One problem had been the lack of an MD900 Explorer for training, caused by both of its company MD900s being out of service from a hard landing on one and corrosion problems on the second. Hobby said MD has gotten one MD900 back and will be getting a second this fall, which will allow them to have one aircraft for training while still providing a twin-engine helicopter to Boeing to serve as a chase aircraft for AH-64 Apache test flights. Under the contract with Boeing, MD Helicopters has to provide either a single twin-engine or two single-engine helicopters for Boeing's testing program. One MD900 has already been put back into service with Boeing, freeing up the two single-engine helicopters, and the other MD900 is to be ready when the training program picks up in the fall. MD has also gotten back an MD600 that had been on tour in China.

This will give the company a complete line of MD500E, MD520N, MD600 and MD900 aircraft for training.

Hobby said MD generally trains two pilots a week, "with the transition course lasting five days and the recurrency training three days."

For multiple pilot training from a single company, MD will send an instructor to the company's site under a fixed-cost contract to train in that company's aircraft.

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