He’s contributed a lot of effort and time too. “I’m up early and stay at work until late. A typical workday is nonstop; I’m a true workaholic because I think I don’t work hard enough.” Any recreational exercise is left for weekends or he might take a walk if he gets home early enough to enjoy it.

Another pastime Nehls used to enjoy, as he’s been too busy the last couple of years, is being an IAC aerobatic competitor. “I didn’t have time to participate, so I sold my competition Yak-55M a couple of years ago. It appeared at the Oshkosh airshow this year as a converted twin with jet engine, rebranded the Yak-110, which was interesting. I really like flying precision aerobatics and plan to get back into it once we get a little further with HeliTrak.”

Still, the fixed-wing pilot tries to get in non-acrobatic stick-time whenever he can, although not as much time as he’d like to, and hopes to do a future rotorcraft transition, probably in HeliTrak’s R44 that is used for autopilot and collective pull down (CPD) system development. The CPD has now been certified by the FAA, both for the R44 and R22. It initiates the lowering of collective in the event of an engine or drive system failure, buying the pilot critical time. “Now the challenge is marketing and getting the market to realize the product and embrace the technology,” says Nehls. “For our autopilot, we’re in the midst of our certification efforts and have a little bit of development to do. We’re anticipating that we’ll have that out next spring.”

Those are short-term challenges being met and overcome by HeliTrak. However, Nehls and company also have longer and larger aspirations. Nehls says, “We plan to develop autopilots for much larger aircraft and go into autonomous aircraft as well. There is a lot of disruptive technology in the rotorcraft market happening in the form of advance flight controls and autonomous navigation. This technology is going to impact the rotorcraft industry. How our company adapts and fits into this new technology is one of our bigger challenges and opportunities for the long term.”

“ 18 Nov/Dec 2018 CANDID CONCERNS Everyone in the

rotorcraft industry is Kevin Bacon.

Nehls is candid that rapid technological advances cause him concern. “The rapid advance of technology is outpacing our industry’s ability to keep up with it from an operational safety perspective. I worry about our industry using technology to cut corners. There are a lot of experienced pilots out there with thousands and thousands of hours. Will the technology be used to replace them with less experienced pilots? A pilot is much more than a cockpit manager; there’s airmanship involved.” It seems a contradiction, to what he just said, but Nehls believes that autopilot technology can help solve those concerns. “Autopilots reduce workload in the cockpit and allow the pilot to focus on high priority tasks at the time,” he explains. “That said, pilots need to be trained how and when to use autopilot.”

This candor about technology’s shortcomings is refreshing coming from someone who is now staking his career on bringing new technology to new markets, but his honesty reveals his affection for the rotorcraft industry, an affection that began way back at a grass airstrip when that Hughes 269 captivated a little boy. “What I like about the rotorcraft industry is the people and its purpose. Helicopters are a diverse workhorse that do a pretty daunting job every day, protecting and serving the public. Most people associated with rotorcraft have a strong desire to serve,” he says as a now mature man who looks beyond the machine itself and sees the people with it. “Everybody knows everybody in the industry. There’s a lot less than six degrees of separation between the people in it. Everyone in the rotorcraft industry is Kevin Bacon,” concludes the rising rotorcraft startup star.

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