The Helicopter Association International (HAI) has revealed the winners of its Salute to Excellence Awards in nine categories. They include, among others, two helicopter search-and-rescue (SAR) teams, a firefighting pilot who refused to give up on a crew on the ground, and a flight instructor with perhaps more time in one of the world’s most popular training helicopters than anyone else in the world.
The winners are:
LIGHTSPEED AVIATION EXCELLENCE IN COMMUNICATIONS AWARD — Michael Hirschberg, the executive director of AHS International (formerly the American Helicopter Society) and editor of its publication, Vertiflite. He has written aircraft reviews, historical articles, profiles and commentaries. In addition, Hirschberg, an aeronautical and mechanical engineer by training, has written numerous technical papers. In his role as executive director of AHS International (the world’s oldest and largest vertical flight technical society), Hirschberg organizes all AHS technical conferences and Annual Forum, and publishes the Annual Forum Proceedings and the Journal of the AHS.
W.A. “DUB” BLESSING AWARD for CFI OF THE YEAR — Simon Spencer-Bower, owner, operator, chief pilot, and chief flying instructor for Wanaka Helicopters in Central Otago, New Zealand. With nearly 21,000 flight hours, he has been a pilot since 1977, a helicopter pilot since 1980, and a helicopter flight instructor since 1984. Spencer-Bower has 12,500 hours helicopter dual flight instruction given and since becoming a flight instructor, has trained nearly 600 pilots for private, commercial, and instructor certificates. In addition, he holds the distinction of being one of the highest-time pilots of Robinson helicopters — most of it training other pilots in the R22 model — with more than 15,000 hours in the R22, R44, and R66.
Spencer-Bower is also the creator of the Advanced Helicopter Mountain Flying Course, the only mountain training course approved by New Zealand’s Civil Aviation Authority. He says his instructing philosophy is to teach students beyond the bounds of the standard curriculum so they learn above-average flight skills as well as good aeronautical decision-making skills.
EXCELLENCE IN HELICOPTER MAINTENANCE AWARD — Patrick Cox, the director of product support for the Robinson Helicopter Company. He is a prominent figure in the development of all technical aspects of all three of the company’s models — the R22, R44, and R66. Cox co-authored the maintenance manuals for both the R44 and the R66, and has developed many of the procedures, techniques, and special tools for all three models. He has taught more than 3,000 maintenance technicians to qualify them to work on R22s and R44s.
MD HELICOPTERS LAW ENFORCEMENT AWARD — US Park Police “Eagle 1” Aviation Unit, for their role in responding to the shootings at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 16, 2013, including the rescue of a critically injured shooting victim.
Located directly across the river from the Navy Yard, pilot Sgt. Kenneth Burchell, and rescue technician Sgt. David Tolson, along with a local police officer to help coordinate radio traffic, were over the scene within four minutes of the initial request for help. After picking up a SWAT officer, the crew returned to the building, where a Park Police officer and four civilians had taken cover. After lowering the SWAT officer to help keep the rooftop secure, the crew hoisted the critically injured woman and airlifted her to a nearby hospital.
After returning to the scene and picking up Park Police Officer Michael Abate, Eagle 1 returned to the scene to extract the three remaining civilians while Officer Abate provided overwatch with a long gun from the helicopter above.
All told, the crew of Eagle 1 spent five and a half hours in the air that day, rescuing survivors and supporting ground personnel in their efforts to track down the gunman and secure the area.
AIRBUS HELICOPTERS GOLDEN HOUR AWARD — Snohomish Co. Helicopter Rescue Team. Lost or injured hikers and climbers in Washington State’s rugged Cascade Mountains have no better friends than the Snohomish County Helicopter Rescue Team, which is part of the Snohomish County Volunteer Search and Rescue program.
2014 was another busy year for the team, known by the call-sign Snohawk 10. In March, they were one of the first helicopters on scene following the deadliest landslide in US history, in Oso, Washington. In the first three hours following the landslide, working closely with a US Navy helicopter from NAS Whidbey Island, the two helicopters pulled 14 people from the treacherous slurry of sand, silt, clay, and fallen timbers.
The Helicopter Rescue Team responds to an average of 80 calls each year. Although affiliated with the county sheriff’s office with some positions staffed by deputies, most on the team are volunteers, with many paying for their own equipment and specialized training.
EXCELLENCE IN SAFETY AWARD — Edwin McConkey, an unsung hero of the helicopter industry. He is not a pilot or mechanic, but he has arguably done more to keep pilots, crews, and passengers safe in poor weather conditions than any other individual.
McConkey is a mathematician and software engineer with a strong helicopter operation background. In the late 1990s, he developed the criteria and an algorithm that allow the creation of helicopter-specific instrument approaches to landing facilities that lack traditional all-weather infrastructure. That algorithm, refined in 2008 to account for advances in satellite navigation, is now used by the FAA and international aviation authorities to develop point-in-space approaches that are especially critical for hospital helipads. Those approaches mean air ambulances can transport patients in visibility that would otherwise prohibit flight.
SIKORSKY HUMANITARIAN SERVICE AWARD — Portuguese Air Force 751 Squadron, a search-and-rescue (SAR) operation, and although they do perform SAR missions overland, they are best known for their ultra-long-distance, open-water operations.
Operating from three bases, 751 Squadron crews are responsible for search-and-rescue operations in a 2.3 million square mile portion of the Atlantic Ocean. That’s an area approximately two-thirds the size of the entire United States of America — including Alaska and Hawaii — or roughly one-third of the entire North Atlantic.
Flying the three-engine AgustaWestland EH-101 Merlin, 751 Squadron crews frequently fly roundtrip missions of 700 nautical miles. Their longest unrefueled mission, in terms of both time and distance, was a 7 hour, 20 minute flight that covered 726 n.m. — more than 1,340 kilometers.
The 100 members of 751 Squadron include pilots, crew members, rescue swimmers, and maintenance technicians dedicated to the squadron’s motto, “So Others May Live.”
APPAREO SYSTEMS PILOT OF THE YEAR AWARD — Gary Dahlen. In the early days of California’s King Fire last September, the firefighting community very nearly suffered a loss to rival the 2013 Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona which killed 19 firefighters or the 1994 South Canyon Fire which claimed 14 smokejumpers lives, but for the efforts of Gary Dahlen, this year’s pilot of the year.
A dozen firefighters, having been out all night trying to establish a fire break, were working to isolate a spot fire when the wind came up, fanning a blaze that had been behind them and quickly cutting them off.
Ten miles away, Dahlen was waiting as his helicopter was refueled when he heard a call unlike any he had heard in nearly 30 years of aerial firefighting: “All available helicopters, prepare for an emergency launch.”
After locating the crew, which had dug in and deployed their individual fire shelters, Dahlen saw the crew was only moments from being overrun by a wall of flame. But he also saw a slim avenue of escape. Dahlen called the crew’s leader on the radio and told him the men had to immediately abandon their shelters and sprint toward his helicopter. Throughout the crew’s dash up a dirt road, Dahlen kept in contact, guiding the crew and urging them on until they were clear of the flames.
Gary Dahlen’s quick thinking and actions almost certainly prevented the deaths of a dozen firefighters that day.
BELL HELICOPTER LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD – Lou Bartolotta, Like many of his generation, Lou Bartolotta got his start in helicopters during the Vietnam War. Unlike many others, he’s been in it ever since, including three years working for HAI.
Bartolotta joined the US Army in 1969, and flew more than 1,000 hours during his one-year tour in Vietnam. In the mid-1970s, he joined Bristow Helicopters and flew for them for nine years in pre-Revolution Iran and in Scotland’s North Sea oil fields.
After his stint with HAI, he joined MBB Helicopter Corporation, the German company that later merged with France’s Aerospatiale to form Eurocopter (now Airbus Helicopters). He helped MBB establish itself in the emerging field of helicopter air ambulance services. From there, he moved to the Agusta Aviation Corporation — then a little-known Italian helicopter company, but now the industry giant known as AgustaWestland — as its vice president of US marketing and operations. In his time, he has overseen numerous company projects, including the introduction of the BA609 (now the AW609) civilian tiltrotor aircraft.
He retired from AgustaWestland last year, but continues to serve the helicopter industry through his consulting firm, L.P. Bartolotta & Associates.
Bartolotta has devoted his entire adult life to the helicopter industry, and along the way, been an important part of several industry milestones.
The Salute to Excellence Awards will be presented at the annual Salute to Excellence Awards dinner during HAI HELI-EXPO 2015, which will be held in the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida, March 2-5, with the exhibit hall open March 3-5.