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Helicopter group honors members' achievements

Helicopter Association International has announced the winners of its 2012 Salute to Excellence Awards, honoring those who uphold the helicopter industry’s highest traditions.

“In an industry for which safety is so important, everyone strives to do their very best—and these awards pay tribute to those who rise above the rest,” said Matt Zuccaro, president of the Alexandria, Va.-based organization that represents more than 3,000 members in 70 countries.

The awards in nine categories will be presented at the Salute to Excellence Dinner Feb. 13 during the association’s trade show Heli-Expo 2012 in Dallas, Texas, and include the following recipients.

AgustaWestland Safety Award: Gerry Block, chairman and CEO of Sandel Avionics Inc., makers of terrain avoidance and warning systems (TAWS) for general aviation fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. The systems have saved many lives by helping pilots avoid controlled flight into terrain under low-visibility situations.

Rolls-Royce Excellence in Helicopter Maintenance Award: Todd A. Smith, director of maintenance, Bristow Academy, a helicopter flight training operation with three locations in the southeast. Smith oversees maintenance of about 75 aircraft by 40 technicians, and has established apprenticeship and mentoring programs for training the next generation of helicopter technicians—all while maintaining the highest commitment to safety in the shop and in the air.

MD Helicopters Law Enforcement Award: James J. Greeves, National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians-Paramedic (NREMT-P), Master Police Officer, Fairfax, Va., County Police Department Helicopter Division. Greeves has spent 13 years and more than 4,000 flight hours in the Fairfax County Police Department’s Helicopter Division. He is credited with apprehending 300 fleeing suspects. In addition, Greeves is a qualified helicopter paramedic who has transported some 320 patients, and is credited with saving the lives of at least two injured fellow law enforcement officers. During a tour with the department’s K-9 unit, Greeves spearheaded an effort to outfit K-9 officers and their partners with infrared flashers to make them visible to helicopter crews using night vision goggles.

Eurocopter Golden Hour Award: 25th Infantry Division Huey Crew. The crew of a restored Bell UH-1D, including several Vietnam veterans, was pressed into service in the moments following last September’s crash of the Galloping Ghost P-51 Unlimited class air racer at the National Championship Air Races in Reno, Nev. The Huey was part of a static display near the course, when the accident occurred. Facing the need to transport many injured people, race organizers asked the Huey crew to help transport the injured to a local hospital. Within moments, the crew had installed the ground-handling wheels, and with the help of a crew from another static display, pushed the three-ton aircraft uphill, fueled it, and hover-taxied to the accident site. They transported four patients that day, all of whom survived.

Sikorsky Humanitarian Service Award: Crew of UNO-838, UTair Aviation. Twenty members of a United Nations peacekeeping operation in the Democratic Republic of Congo are alive thanks in part to this crew flying in support of the U.N. mission. Under the command of Sergey Ignatov, the crew had just arrived and shut down at Dongo Airport when peacekeepers came under fire from unknown forces. Ignatov immediately began the helicopter start procedure, while his crew got the U.N. peacekeepers, including several wounded, aboard. The helicopter lifted off, taking more fire including two shots that punctured fuel tanks. Losing fuel, the crew diverted to another airfield that was clear of danger.

Excellence in Communications Award: Lyn Burks, Online Editor, Rotorcraft Professional Media Network. Burks began his flying career as a popular and well-respected flight instructor in south Florida. In an effort to draw together what he saw as a disconnected community, in 1999 he acquired, and has overseen its growth to include (an internet video channel dedicated to rotary-wing flight),, and The helicopter-specific media empire demonstrates Burks’ vision, passion, and belief in a better industry for all.

W. A. (Dub) Blessing Certified Flight Instructor of the Year Award: Terry G. Cole., Captain, Era Helicopters LLC. Cole has more than 20,000 flight hours, including nearly 16,000 in helicopters. That includes more than 8,000 hours of helicopter instruction. Now with Era helicopters for nearly 30 years, he has been an instructor or check airman on nine different airframes. He previously received the HAI Pilot Safety Award on reaching 15,000 accident- and violation-free flight hours.

Pilot of the Year Award: Jay Slagle, Captain, Bristow Group. Slagle is recognized for his efforts landing an 11-ton helicopter after it lost tail rotor effectiveness. Inbound to Bristow’s Galliano Base, a Sikorsky S-92 with 14 souls aboard began an uncommanded nose-right turn as the aircraft slowed. The turn worsened as power was reapplied. Recognizing an imminent emergency, Slagle and fellow Captain Chuck Melton diverted to a nearby airport with a 6,500-foot long by100-foot-wide runway. Maintaining 80 knots, they flew the S-92 onto the runway without an effective tail rotor and used differential braking to bring it to a controlled stop.

Bell Helicopter Lifetime Achievement Award: Michael Dee Atwood, president, Aviation Specialties Unlimited, Inc. Simply put, HAI said, Atwood is one of the biggest proponents of, and advocates for, one of the most significant safety enhancements ever introduced into the helicopter community: night vision technology. A decade ago, night vision goggles were well known in the military, but virtually unknown in the civilian helicopter fleet. Atwood and his company took a leading role in identifying and overcoming the challenges to introducing the technology, working with industry and the FAA to develop guidance and training.

HAI’s Zuccaro congratulated all the winners, noting that they “remind each of us how important it is to strive to be our very best. Our lives, and the lives of our passengers, depend on it.”

Dan Namowitz
Dan Namowitz
Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 35-year AOPA member.
Topics: Aviation Industry, Helicopter, Helicopter Association International

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