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Sunday, August 1, 2010

Training: Tech Upgrades in the Cockpit

Steve Colby, Matt Murphey, BJ Raysor and Dennis Small spoke during the Tech Updates panel at Rotor & Wing's 2010 Safety and Training Summit.

By Andrew Parker, Managing Editor

Left to right, Steve “Elroy” Colby, Matt Murphey, BJ Raysor and Dennis Small. Photo by Andrew D. Parker
With the latest innovations in technology reaching the cockpits of various military and public service helicopters, new challenges have surfaced for operators regarding pilot training and accident prevention. Rotor & Wing Columnist Steve Colby, defense contractor and retired U.S. Air Force combat rescue weapons instructor pilot, led “In the Cockpit: Technology Updates for Helicopters,” during the Rotor & Wing 2010 Safety and Training Summit in June. Also speaking during the panel was Matt Murphey, Texas Department of Public Safety; BJ Raysor, director of operations for Arkansas Children’s Hospital; and Dennis Small, base manager and check airman for LifeFlight of Maine.

“We’ve talked a great deal about how to manage accidents, and how you do that through sharing and cross-tell of information, with the IHST [presentation] and some of the other safety management forums,” Colby said. “Today we’re going to shift gears a bit and talk about technology. When I saw what these guys were talking about, this was a new twist for me, so in the spirit of what I originally wanted to do, I’m going to raise this concept of FOQA and say, ‘Wow, there’s really some good stuff we can learn here,’ in terms of how we can improve our safety.”

Raysor, who is an IHST member, pointed out that “we need to take it upon ourselves and commit ourselves—every one of us—to try and do what we can as individuals and as operations, to reduce those accidents.”

Every time there is an accident in the helicopter industry, “the public loses confidence, our insurance rate goes up and the liability cost of an aircraft goes up, which affects the purchase/acquisition cost,” he continued. “So every time, just because—and my own pilots have said ‘we do it better that that, we’re not flying that way, we’re not flying in that weather, we’re doing this.’ But the other guys aren’t, and when they have an accident, it still impacts us negatively. So everybody’s accident is our accident.”

Murphey explained the challenges of rapid growth. Over the past three to four years, Texas DPS has expanded from eight duty stations with seven helicopters and seven aircraft to 14 duty stations, 14 helicopters and nine fixed-wing aircraft. Five of those helicopters are dedicated to border patrol missions, he said, adding that the agency has gone from 27 people on staff to around 60 over the same period.

“About 10 years ago we had an accident, and nobody was injured but it totaled a Jet Ranger,” Murphey said. “Subsequent to that—as a lot of people do once they have an accident—we stopped doing autorotations in our own aircraft. [Since then,] our training has really progressed. Can you imagine bringing in 18 guys, all of which are rated in something, but now we need to get them trained in the span of six months? So it’s been a monumental task in the past 36 months to acquire these aircraft, get them spec’ed, and get lower-time guys in the aircraft safely.”

Noting that several speakers at the Rotor & Wing Summit spoke about minimum requirements, Murphey noted that at DPS, “we give you a circle to operate in, and that circle could be [small] if you’re a 400 or 500-hour guy, and if you’re a 4,000 or 5,000-hour guy, your circle is [much larger]. Don’t get out of your circle.”

If a pilot does get out of the safety circle, “there’s obviously consequences,” Murphey continued. “It could be a slap on the hand, or like others commented a cup of coffee with a butt-chewing in order, it could be grounding or back to the highway patrol and working the road.”

For videos from the 2010 Safety & Training Summit, visit:

Rotor & Wing Safety and Training Channel

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