Thursday, May 29, 2014

Excellence and Humility...The Perfect Couple

John Leduc is one of my favorite aviation heroes, up there with Yeager, and Gann, and David Sparkman.  You probably have never heard of John, but I assure you that you know of his work - because he has been producing 160th SOAR NightStalker pilots for decades. First as a military instructor pilot, and later as a civilian contractor-instructor. He almost single-handedly wrote the standard-operating-procedure that the Chinook units in the 160th were using when I was there.

John embodies the concept of the "quiet professional" which is what special operators are supposed to be. John's nickname is "Lucky" because he once flew a Chinook all the way to Honduras from the US, overwater, and had it eat itself for lunch right after landing at the airport. He told me that when the aircraft started coming apart, he immediately reached for the throttles on the center console. Except they weren't there - he had transitioned into a D-Model Chinook from the C-Model. The throttles had been moved to the overhead console. He realized his mistake and reached up, and by the time his hand got to where the throttles were supposed to be, they were gone. The top of the cockpit was torn off by the crashing forward transmission and rotor system. It looked something like this.

On Johns ship, everyone lived.


John taught me to operate the MH-47D Model, with a cockpit that was state of the art in it's day. The aircraft had a strap-down inertial guidance system, a doppler-navigation computer using four beam-legs to derive distance and direction from a known start-point, and an early GPS; all sending position estimations to a mission computer. John would fail the devices one at a time and watch us go through the degraded system procedures, until we were reduced to the hand-held map. He liked to mention that we were pigs in space.

The other thing that set the aircraft apart from other Chinooks was the big black tube sticking out from the nose; the aerial refueling probe. After much experimentation, the 160th selected a probe length that ended six feet or so inside the tip path plane of the spinning forward rotor blades - the only such arrangement on any helicopter in the world.

A Chinook pilot has to run the aircraft's forward rotor up over the bobbing paradrogue, which creates it's own hazardous situation and makes a blade strike occur all too easy. John is a masterful pilot, and can stick the probe tip into the center of the drogue ring every time. But that's not what he did when he took Tommy Pequeno and I out for our first jousting match. 

On that sunny day over southeast Georgia, when he was demonstrating aerial refueling, and the windshield was completely covered with airplane RIGHT THERE, he calmly described every step of the task, from observing the C-130 at a safe distance, to the move down and into the pre-contact position with the probe-tip 10 to 15 feet behind the paradroque (which moves around on the best day and taunts you in turbulence to "come and get me if you can"), the acquisition of vertical and lateral visual cues (the amount of wing underside visible while looking up underneath the lowered wing flaps, and the position of the  refueling pod's vertical pylon/strut against the flaps side edge), and finally the  announcement, "moving to contact."

I bet my eyes got wide as we closed the 10 feet with a 4 knot closure rate, and then he did it - he missed the drogue. The probe tip caressed the white fabric of the inflated ring and slid past it at the ten o'clock position. Neither Tommy nor I could speak, so John announced a "miss" and slid the aircraft left and up until we were looking straight into the dump tube at the outer end of the -130's wing. "Okay, you have the controls."
Now, if you have been thinking, you realize how masterful that simple little training technique was. A pilot looking at a refueling paradrogue eye-to-eye for the first time is going to be a bit apprehensive, and will probably grip the controls more firmly than normal. His arm mucles will tense up  and affect control touch - and bring on a case of the jerks which is a bad thing up near an airplane. The intentional miss decompresses the situation, and makes the student relax - "heck if he can miss so can I..."

If you ask John, he would tell you that he can miss the paradrogue on any given night.

This is but one example of John Leduc's humility. He is an expert, an aviation MASTER, but you would never know it to talk with him. More than most, he knows what part luck plays in a successful flying career. You can do everything right and still come up short. From this knowledge springs humility.

John has passed on more knowledge than most instructors, and often the beneficiary doesn't even know he is being instructed - he just thinks he is engaged in a friendly conversation. John quietly stays at the top of his game, and freely gives away everything he has to offer. He leads by example.

We should be such pilots.

We should never stop trying to improve our skills, and our knowledge of our craft. Sure, the mission can become routine, and years of experience can dull the desire for self-improvement, and we don't make that much money, and blah blah blah.... We are pilots! People depend on us to do the right thing every time - even if we are retiring in a week or two. When we screw up, it affects how the world looks at all of us. I like a line from a recent Vertical Magazine article, "keep your moral compass pointing north." It ain't always easy, but it's right. Constant self-improvement need not be overwhelming. While waiting for a crew to return from dropping off a patient at a receiving facility is an excellent time to turn on the battery, test the caution panel, and find out if you know what to in the event of each of those segments illuminating. You don't have to tackle them all at once - but do a couple each flight. Pull out the flight manual and review a limitation or two. If your attainment of aviation knowlege has devolved to the CTS or AVSTAR training we do each month or quarter, make yourself a list of all the books you should be familiar with, and give 15 or 20 minutes a day for rediscovery. AOPA has free online training segments that take only a few minutes each, and serve to refresh understanding of stuff we forgot years ago.

When I went to the IP course, the IP handbook was a slim green-covered paperback that some instructor wrote as part of his advanced degree training. I will never forget the admonition inside the cover, "Be gentle to man and machine."

It is not the mark of excellence to demonstrate how aggressively you can maneuver a helicopter. If you think that such skills are important, ask your examiner about it when taking a check ride. Our crew members and passengers should consider us to be boring pilots, who simply go up - over - and - down. (If you are a crew member, and your pilot is thrilling you, be aware that he or she may end up killing you and for God's sake don't ask for it). Any idiot can crank a helicopter around the sky doing whifferdills, and you can only tie the record for flying low. The mark of an excellent pilot is one who uses only as much aircraft as he or she must to get the job done.

That's it. A little bit of continuous self-improvement, a daily dose of self-discipline, and a dash of humility, and you too can be like John Leduc....

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

I think I can... I think I can... "Soon, pilots will control flights with brain commands"

What if we could fly without touching the controls.  Not the autopilot flying, us flying. By thought alone!

Read the story...click here.

Unmanned Astar Helicopter takes off after pilot exited for a "fluid level check." Pilot killed. Aircraft Destroyed.

NTSB Identification: WPR14FA195
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Sunday, May 18, 2014 in Peach Springs, AZ
Aircraft: AMERICAN EUROCOPTER CORP AS350B3, registration: N840PA
Injuries: 1 Fatal.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

On May 18, 2014, about 1600 mountain standard time (MST), an American Eurocopter Corp, AS 350B3, N840PA, rolled over after landing at the Ramada landing site located at the bottom of the Grand Canyon near Grand Canyon West Airport (1G4), Peach Springs, Arizona. Papillon Airways Inc., DBA Grand Canyon Helicopters, was operating the helicopter under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 91. The commercial pilot with a certified flight instructor (CFI) certificate was fatally injured; the helicopter sustained substantial damage. The local repositioning flight departed 1G4, about 1555. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and a company flight plan had been filed.

The accident site was 1.75 nm east of 1G4, located at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, approximately 380 feet west of the Colorado River (west shore). The wreckage was found resting on its right side located at the subject landing pad.

Witnesses reported that the pilot landed and was planning on exiting the helicopter to perform a "fluid level check." After landing, the pilot exited the running helicopter; shortly thereafter the helicopter became airborne without the pilot at the flight controls. The helicopter subsequently impacted the ground and rolled over. The pilot was struck by one or more of the main rotor blades and was fatally injured. 

The helicopter was examined on site by the investigation team. No abnormalities with the helicopter airframe or engine systems were noted. The helicopter was recovered for further examination.

The helicopter was equipped with an Appareo Vision 1000 cockpit imaging and flight data monitoring device. The Appareo device was undamaged and shipped to the NTSB Vehicle Recorders Laboratory in Washington, DC, for data extraction. 

The helicopter was equipped with a 406-mhz Emergency Location Transmitter (ELT). The Armed Forces Rescue Coordination Center (AFRCC) received the ELT activation at 2300z (1600 hours mountain standard time.) The first activation did not have any latitude or longitude information. However, the second activation was received at 2329z, which was 29 minutes after the accident with lat/lon data that was 1,500 yards north of the accident site. The ELT did not assist in locating the accident site due to on scene witnesses.

A Forum Comment...

I'm not going to judge you but leave you with these thoughts:

In your (and my) life, mistakes will be made. More times than not, those mistakes will go unnoticed and will be without consequences. We all say and do "stupid" things and usually get away with it. Sometimes, we get a bit unlucky and the wrong person hears it or the wrong conditions preside. Rather than judge the actions or in-actions of someone else, better to reflect on our own lives and learn from this mistake so that it doesn't happen to us or a loved one. 

I find it strange that you find the need to judge someone or their actions. After all, we are all


And another...

I realize lots of pilots, especially in utility get out with the rotors running.  Most of the time nothing occurs.  Tell that to this pilot. 
It is just a stupid thing to do.  You are giving up your control of the aircraft. If anything went wrong, you would be unable to stop it.  Just shut the stupid thing off. 
This case in particular is most shocking to me.  There is no easier, or faster helicopter to shut down and start up than the B3.  This guy died to save himself a 30 second cool down, followed by a 45 second startup.  
Guarantee you that Pappilion no longer allows pilots to get out hot.  After this accident, none of you should be getting out hot.  Learn from his mistake.


So - What are YOUR views on exiting a running helicopter?  Comments welcome...

Future Flight Crew...

Meet Elizabeth Lawson, who will someday perform that procedure in the air.. Welcome to the show Elizabeth, we are glad you are here...

New Bill For EMS...

Click here to access...

Wounded War Veteran Becomes Medevac Pilot...

This Is A Wonderful Story. I Salute You Sir (click here)

For the men and women who still bear the wounds of war, it can be a rough road back to civilian life. "CBS This Morning" contributor Lee Woodruff reports on one Iraq War veteran who found his way.

A Visit with MedFlight Of Ohio.. by Matt Echelberry at limaohio.com

“We care for each other here. You’re here as much as you’re at home,” Woody Shubert commented. He is a paramedic who has been working in the air transport business for three decades, and with MedFlight since the company started in 1995.

Click here for the story...

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Hard Landing for West Michigan AirCare...

No known injuries thankfully. The report references landing gear.

Bent helicopters can be fixed...

To read more click here.

Monday, May 26, 2014

For Memorial Day. A Reposting of "Lunch Date."

It’s 60 degrees in Kabul………
If you’ve flown aircraft in combat you know there’s nothing like it.  
There’s no training that can prepare you for it psychologically and physically, 
there’s nothing an IP can tell you or a vet can pass along in a war story that 
prepares you for the first time the rounds hit the aircraft or the corkscrew 
comes your way.  As much as we know this, we know we have it easy, as long 
as the motors still work we can leave, but the guys on the ground don’t always 
have that option. 
There are a lot of guys and gals on the ground right now a long way from the 
barbecue, for them and for all those who have gone before them a 
Memorial Day salute and thanks…..
Le pas requosta (Courtesy "In on 2")

He flew back into that dark hell of dust and dirt 

and blood.

Lunch Date

It is easy to forget what is going on "over there" as we all grind through these
"tough economic times" and worry about the future of health care or our job or whatever.

A couple of weeks ago, I had lunch 3 other 160th Flight Leads. One currently serving,
three retired. I work for EMS brand Y (as in Why did they do That?). Another fellow
just took a job with Hermann in Houston. Yet another fellow is going to be a missionary
in a foreign land. The active duty guy wants to work in our area when he retires, and
hence keeps the communication open. So we have lunch when he is stateside.

So we are sitting there at the Macaroni Grill on a regular day when I ask him about a
recent mission in which his chalk two aircraft crashed on departure from a "warm"
landing zone. The gist - people were shooting and they were leaving and there was
no support anywhere nearby. The zone was typically dusty as all get out, and a 47
really pumps it up. On departure chalk two crashed. Americans died. My buddy in the
lead aircraft had to make a decision.

Leave or land.

He says at the lunch table, "I had to go back and look for survivors, any man here would
have done the same."
I appreciate his faith but can't help wondering how I would have acted. In my nine years
in the seat, I did trash one perfectly good MH-47 under fire, but never had to make a
decision like that. After 12 years flying in the "real world" I am also more cynical, more
jaded, more aware that it's really all about money here in the U S of A.

He flew back into that dark hell of dust and dirt and blood. They trust the the velocity
vector and the acceleration cursor more now-days than we did when I did it. He landed
on his system, and did the right thing. And found out the bad news.

Apparently the military isn't quite so generous with awards these days. For what he and
his crew did, I would recommend the Medal. He didn't die. We'll see.

So I am sitting there and I can feel the karma flowing out across the table. I am not a big
karma guy, but I don't know how else to describe it. Honor? Integrity? Do those words still
matter in our country? I sit up a little straighter. I hold my head a little higher. I feel
somehow - for just a few moments - elevated. I tell him that.

It's the only award I have to offer.

NTSB Blames Maintenance For Helicopter Crash...

"For 3 days before the accident flight, the helicopter was parked outside without its engine cover installed and was exposed to light drizzle, rain, mist, and fog. The engine inlet cover was installed the day before the accident at an unknown time. The helicopter remained outside and exposed to freezing temperatures throughout the night until 2 hours before the flight," the NTSB concluded.

New Helicopter to Fly Patients in Northeast Pennsylvania...

The helicopter, Commonwealth One, will also be staffed by providers skilled in surgical airway management and needle decompression, among other things. It will begin operating Sept. 1, and will be stationed at Benton Township, Lackawanna County (click to read more)

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Fire And Ice...

While reading a statement made by an accident pilot to the National Transportation Safety Board, I wondered why - as this poor fellow's night was going from bad to worse - he didn't just land the helicopter. This life-and-helicopter saving step gets ignored so often that the Helicopter Association International (HAI) even had a shirt printed up that reads ... "Flight Not Going Well? Land the Damn Helicopter!"

Click here to read the NTSB report on this "hard landing"

Maybe we keep going when we should stop because we have come under the spell of one of the hazardous attitudes. Or maybe we have become complacent. Beyond these factors, I think there is something else at work when we hesitate to land - and it is related to how we pilots view ourselves.

We get-it-done, us helicopter pilots. We are self-starters - dedicated and reliable. If you assign one of us the task of getting a machine and people from point A to point B, we will do our best to make it happen; To complete the mission! We do this both for how it makes us feel inside - how it validates our self-image - and also to keep us in good graces with our employer.

It doesn't help that the picture is clouded by the few "pelicans" in our midst. You know about pelicans, right? A pelican is a pilot who no longer wants to fly. To get a pelican in the air,  you have to throw rocks at him. Pelicans take the "safety-out" and use it when they should not: when they want to get off duty on time and don't want a late flight, or when they have other plans or projects. Pelicans invoke safety when safety is not really an issue and teach managers bad habits.  Pelicans become known to the EMS folks in the field, who tell stories about the guy who won't fly if there is a cloud in the sky. Pelicans give pilots a bad reputation, just like flight-rats.

A flight-rat is the absolute opposite of a pelican. The flight-rat has decided that he will produce more flight volume than anyone else in the area, and he or she accepts all flight requests immediately, then checks weather and destination to see how many rules they will have to bend to get-it-done. Flight-rats make crews nervous, and wrong-headed managers happy.

So, imagine you are flying along and your helicopter catches fire. You smell smoke from the environmental control unit (ECU) or the instrument panel, or see flames lighting the night sky, or a smoke trail behind you during the day. You immediately - instinctively - push down on the collective and look for a place to land. The prospect of burning to death is so terrible that humans do everything in their power to avoid it. They land and if possible GET OUT of a burning aircraft.

When we smell smoke - We Land!

For the even-moderately-smart among us, ice has the same effect. At the first sign of ice - the vast majority of helicopter pilots stop flying.

If they don't the helicopter will stop flying for them. The windscreen will become obscured making visual flight (especially landing) difficult, the inlets will shrink making engines lose power and "backfire" (compressor stall), and the rotor blades will turn into 2x12 planks that produce no lift. When the rotor system slings ice off one blade and not the other, the vibration will shake the aircraft to pieces. The ice will accumulate on the fuselage (body) of the aircraft, which typically is already operating hard-up against max-gross-weight, and the old girl will come shaking and shivering out of  the sky - ready or not.

Photo credit Jeff Heinz, The Globe Gazzette

You can read about one such event by clicking here.

Ice was a factor here too.

NTSB Report...

So, since we know enough to stop for fire and ice, why is it that we keep going when things are going south bit by bit. Perhaps it's the incremental deterioration of the situation. Things get a bit worse, and we adapt, and a bit worse, and we adapt again, and then we tell ourselves we are almost there...

It is for these reasons and others that I ask crew members to reach inside themselves and stir up the confidence to know when to say STOP. Because sometimes I your pilot want to get the job done, I want to get the patient to the hospital, or the helicopter back to the base, or to get off on time. I don't want to create any fuss, or draw attention to myself, or create a scene. Sadly, all too often my reluctance to use the wonderful ability of a helicopter to land just about anywhere does indeed create a scene... an accident scene like this one...

I had a wonderful experience talking with a - literally - brand new flight nurse a couple of weeks ago (it was his first day on the job). We were in a room full of people, but the room dissolved and it came down he and I. I was looking directly into his eyes as I was telling him these things, about us pilots and our egos and our humanity. As I talked to him I was alternating between heat and cold, Fire and Ice...

We had a direct link. I could see it and feel it.

I said, "you got this?"

He said quietly, "yes. I do."

Mission accomplished.

Friday, May 16, 2014

National Mediation Board (NMB) Finds Medical Helicopter Service Subject to Railway Labor Act

The determination of whether an entity is covered by the Railway Labor Act impacts compensation strategy and potential liability as the FLSA exempts from its overtime requirement individuals employed by such air carriers.  The coverage determination is made by the National Mediation Board (NMB), which recently issued new opinion re-confirming the applicability of the Railway Labor Act to a medical helicopter service’s employees.  TriState CareFlight LLC, 41 N.M.B. No. 15, 4/29/14.

To read this article click here...

By Noel P. Tripp

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

From Whence We Came...

Update: 5/15/14

After posting the info below a couple of days ago, I came to a facebook post this morning about a Vietnam vet who just passed away. He flew with the (former) Caraway Lifesaver Program in Alabama - and was one of the pioneers of HEMS in America. God Speed Don Malloy...

We at Life Saver 4 (Sylacauga) are deeply saddened today with the loss of our pilot, Don Malloy. Don has flown with Life Saver since 1983. Over these 31 years, he has transported thousands of patients to a higher level of care, saving thousands of lives. His quiet demeanor, sassy wit, and vast intelligence will be greatly missed by each of us.

The Vietnam era helicopter pilots are coming to the end of their line. I found this on another website today and decided that it was pertinent to HEMS and should be saved...

(pictures courtesy "oldestfart")

Comments from another army aviator...

"Love it!  I graduated from WOCS in Class 89-17 and retired as a W4 just over four years ago -- I was born about a month before the Solo Party picture at the pool was taken.  WOW!  Time flies (no pun intended).

I think some people get heartburn over the Army pilots, in particular, and the military pilots, in general becuase they resent the brotherhood dimension to our connection to aviation.  Look at those guys standing around the pool throwing in the last guy to solo.  That was 1964 and it was really no different than the last guy in my class to ride the Solo Cycle -- a Chitty Chitty Bang Bang-style bicycle contraption complete with a tail rotor -- when he soloed at Stinson Stagefield in July of 1989.  It was a hot Friday afternoon in front of the A Company/WOCS HQ bulding and I remember it like it was yesterday.  CW4 Bob Giffin was the Senior TAC Officer.

For some of us, flying is just a job -- and, yes, I flew yesterday.  For others, our military service helped shape us as yound guys by cultivating an awareness that what really defines us is what we're a part of and not, necessarily, just what we do.  All military pilots are part of that brotherhood (and, increasingly, sisterhood) and most of us revere it.

The evidence for this is that as a retired CW4 I can look at a photo that was taken before I was born and relate to the moment as if I had been there.  I could easily substitute the names for my classmates for the faces under those red hats.  Moeover, if given the opportunity, I sure I would have a great conversation with one or all of those guys who were standing around the pool celebrating the fact that their entire class was moving on in their training and that No Man Would Be Left Behind.  Regrtettably, however, I suspect some members of that Class were, ultimately, left behind becuase they gave all they had in support a war which they were directed to serve in.

Great job guys.  Thanks for the memories.  Thanks for your service.  Thanks for your leadership.


(A CW4 Retired Army Aviator)

(Thank you CW4 - for YOUR service, Dan Foulds)

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Correction To My Story About Pilot's Beds, ASTNA, And Sleep Inertia...

While teaching AMRM I tell stories. As Robert Shiller wrote,

"Psychologists have argued there is a narrative basis for much of the human thought process, that the human mind can store facts around narratives, stories with a beginning and an end that have an emotional resonance. You can still memorize numbers, of course, but you need stories."
I was doing this today in a room full of Boston Medflight folks, talking about fatigue and sleep inertia and a proposal that was once made to remove the beds from the pilot's rest areas. I incorrectly attributed this proposal to the Air and Surface Transport Nurses Association. While on a break, Michael Frakes - who is one of the leaders in the HEMS industry and a former member of the board of directors for ASTNA - pointed out my error and informed me that the proposal initiated with CAMTS, and was resisted by ASTNA. If I have presented at your program and misrepresented this, please take note of this correction to an error of fact.

No harm intended...

Fly safe...