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The pilot-hoisting program is serviced by an AW-109SP. “It’s a very late-model high-tech aircraft with lots of automation,” says Brim. The company has six pilots and six hoist operators/A&P mechanics in its hoisting program. At night the crew consists of two pilots and a hoist operator; in daytime a single pilot and hoist operator fly the mission.

The company conducts flights both to inbound ships out in the ocean that haven’t yet crossed the bar, and to outbound ships that have successfully passed. Inbound ships are approximately 20 miles offshore when the bar pilot is placed on them. Outbound ships are approximately seven miles offshore when the pilot is retrieved.

An average day for Brim Aviation is seven or eight transfers, with some days having as many as 20. A typical transfer outbound to a ship can be VFR, special VFR, or IFR,

depending on weather. “Once we get established outbound pointing offshore, we’ll locate the ship on radar, track to it, talk to the ship, and find out its distance from the Columbia River buoy, get its course and its speed, and fly to it,” says Ellenwood.

The flight begins with a cruising speed of 140 knots at a height of 500 to 700 feet, then when the aircraft is approximately five miles from the ship, it slows to about 120 knots, puts the gear down, and descends to about 300 feet, holding that height until it either breaks out or doesn’t find the ship. Within two-and-a-half miles of the ship, speed is reduced back through 90 knots, and within a mile it’s down through 70. When the ship is spotted, it descends through 200 feet and shoots a fairly shallow approach to the ship.

Once speed is down to 50 knots, the aircraft doors are opened. “We’ll open the door, talk to the pilot and hoist operator

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about where to put the pilot, and continue typically up to the port side of the ship,” says Ellenwood. “Once the pilot is hooked to the cable and out of his seatbelt and load-checked, the hoist operator directs the flying pilot into position and we do a dynamic hoist. From there, we do an instrument takeoff off the ship and either pick up a GPS approach coming back in, or a special VFR, or occasionally a VFR approach.”

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