Innovation and Technology Makes us Safer, Right? Training is the Key!

Dean Kamen, the American engineer, businessman, and inventor of the Segway said, “Every once in a while, a new technology, an old problem, and a big idea turn into an innovation.” In the helicopter industry we have seen this principle put to work over and over during the last 30 years: Navigation, night vision, glass cockpits, autopilots, HUMS . . . the list goes on.

In the early ‘90s I was flying a Bell 206 outfitted with the latest and greatest digital navigation unit—Loran C. Just plug in a waypoint and keep the digital CDI (course deviation indicator) centered to navigate to your destination. As a bonus, you were also presented with precise time and distance to the waypoint. In my mind, this was a technological miracle when compared with the navigation tools I was trained to use, which were primarily the old time-speed-heading-distance E6B (“whiz wheel”), VOR, and NDB.

Contrast that with my experience in May of this year when I transitioned into the Leonardo AW169; 85 percent of the helicopter’s functionality is controlled digitally. Now I’ve been flying

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technologically advanced, glass cockpit, twin-engine helicopters since 1999 when I first transitioned into the Sikorsky S76C+. However, the AW169 helicopter pushes digital functionality to limits that I had not experienced. FADEC engine control, swappable digital display units with multiple overlay functionality, TCAS, weather, HTAWS, synthetic vision, HUMS, virtual circuit breakers, and haptic touch- screen displays.

Not long ago, most helicopters were manually started and flown by the pilot. This helicopter virtually starts itself and flies itself with the aid of the pilot(s). Today, it seems to be less about manual control of the helicopter and more about data entry, decision-making, and systems monitoring.

For the first time in my career, while training on the AW169, I received a full 30-minute course of instruction on the functionality of cockpit buttons and knobs. Oh, but not just regular buttons and knobs, as we all know how to use those. I’m talking about virtual buttons and knobs. In the all-glass cockpit with touch-screen displays, things like fuel valves, interior/exterior lighting,

Publisher Brig Bearden Editor-In-Chief

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environmental controls, and even circuit breakers are controlled in the virtual environment. Virtual controls may include on/off rockers, drop-down menus, plus (+) or minus (-) buttons, or slider controls. Are you an R44 or Bell 206 driver? Well, don’t fret. You don’t have to be a fancy twin- engine helicopter pilot to be the beneficiary of all this technology. Glass cockpits and autopilots are rapidly advancing for light single-engine helicopters as well. (See article on page 70).

The counter argument to high-tech helicopters is that all this advancing tech in the cockpit forces us to have our heads down, instead of looking outside, and therefore we’re distracted from flying the helicopter, thus it’s less safe. I disagree, and I doubt there’s data to support the anti- tech claim. Generally, pilots are good and the technology is great. The weak point, and the glue that will bind the two together and truly make us safer, is training. Repeat after me: More tech = more training!

Lyn Burks, Editor-In-Chief

Conributing Writers James Careless Randy Mains Joanna Nellans Brad McNally Rick Weatherford Tim Pruitt

Randy Rowles Sharon Desfor Matt Johnson Scott Skola

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