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Watch 2011 HELI-EXPO Fly In. Video by Lyn Burks
View Gallery from the 2011 HELI-EXPO. Photos by Lyn Burks and Dana Maxfield.
Article, Photos & Video By Lyn Burks
After landing on the big white H, we surface taxi the giant Aircrane, also nicknamed Goliath, across the parking lot of the Orange County Convention Center. Just before the Erickson Aircrane ground marshalling guy puts his arms in the shape of a big X telling us to stop, the pilot not flying asks the pilot if he see’s the little tree on the right side to which he get’s an “affirmative” reply. As the parking brake and nose wheel locks are applied, Randy Erwin, Captain of the Goliath cracks the intercom and says, “not bad for a couple of old farts eh?”
As for 42 other helicopters, the short hop from Orlando Executive Airport to the landing area at the Orlando Convention Center is but one of many legs of this journey. It’s a journey that culminates in helicopters sitting pretty on the show floor of Heli Expo 2011.
As an attendee and exhibitor of HELI-EXPO for many years, I took all those shiny helicopters sitting on the show floor for granted. Naturally, it did not take a rocket scientist to figure out they were flown to the event and pushed into the hall. However, I found myself wondering just how much effort, how many processes, and how many people had to be thrown into the front and back ends of the show to pull it off safely.
With the obvious goal of the entire effort being SAFETY, the biggest assets for the leaders of this parade are organization and communication skills.
Safety, Schmafety it all starts with ORGANIZATION!
If you were asked to sit down and organize a list of all items that must be considered in order to pull off such an event, you would most likely start off with the obvious big ticket items; how many helicopters, space available to land, space available in show hall, insurance, local weather patterns, legal authorizations and so on. However, once you dive from the high level issues and down into the weeds, one quickly gets the gist of the cliché phrase, “the devil is in the details”.
In the end, the points to be covered range from the giant items like pilot briefings and fire rescue right down to the minutia of making sure that all aircraft fuel vent lines are taped shut and batteries are disconnected. Now imagine a checklist with 100 check boxes representing all of the details that must be covered. Now multiply that by 42 aircraft and 42 pilots. Have you ever tried to get 2 helicopter pilots to do one thing? It is kind of like herding cats!
Who could possibly get 42 helicopter pilots, all flying different aircraft, to get with the program in short order in the name of safety? Harold Summers, that’s who. Mr. Summers, HAI’s Director of Flight Operations, is the wizard behind the curtain when it comes to getting everyone in and out safely. He is tasked with setting up the infrastructure and procedures for the pilots to work within during the fly in and fly out and he does it very well.
HAI President sets the tone straight away at Pilot Briefing
After all the administrative stuff is out of the way, the Pilot Safety Briefing is the first hoop to jump through if you want to fly a helicopter into the show. This briefing is mandatory and Matt Zuccaro, President of HAI, opens the briefing. His opening appropriately shifts responsibility slightly away from the organization and into the cockpit. He tells the pilots that HAI has done all it can to create a safe environment for flying into the convention center, but the ultimate responsibility for completing the flight safely is in the hands of the pilots. He urges pilots to make conservative decisions and to speak up if there are any safety issues that pop up during the process so that they may be addressed immediately.
At the pilot briefing, the information was disseminated by representatives from both HAI and the local FAA Air Traffic Control Center. The follow items were highlighted:
- Departure sequence from the Showalter (FBO) ramp at Orlando Executive Airport – KORL.
- Departure Procedure (HELI-EXPO Departure), which would be assigned by the KORL Control Tower.
- Expected Route of Flight.
- Communications required at LZ prior to initiating approach. Contact “Expo Ground” on 123.05.
- Taxi procedures in LZ.
- Shutdown and aircraft prep prior to entering show hall which included such items as fuel allowed in tanks, taping fuel vents, disconnecting batteries, and securing critical circuit breakers.
- Departure procedures at the end of show.
- Signing up for the time slots allotted for flying in to show.
I had the exciting opportunity to embed myself on two helicopters during the Heli-Expo Fly In. One was the Erickson Aircrane, and the other was an Air Methods EMS equipped EC130 which was piloted by the American Eurocopter VP of Flight Ops & Training, Del Livingston. Although the journeys of each helicopter were interesting, the giant orange Erickson S64 Aircrane, also know as Goliath, was of particular interest.
The reasons for wanting to follow the “crane” into the show are many. Logical reasons might include the fact that it’s one of the star helicopters of the show, as well as to witness how the Aircrane’s size creates a massive challenge just getting it into the building. Perhaps a less obvious, but more selfish reason is the fact that I have never had the chance to fly on the crane, not to mention it’s a damn cool helicopter! Bragging rights have to count for something!
Because of the sheer size of the helicopter, pre-flight of the crane was a team effort and required coordination of all 3 crewmembers (PIC, SIC, Crew Chief) and took nearly 30 minutes. Once the team gave me a passenger brief and introduced me to the center cockpit jump seat, the entire team began the pre-start and start-up checklists. I was given the option to sit in the aft facing pilot seat, but opted for the center jump seat for the great views both fore and aft.
For many years I have been flying helicopters that virtually start themselves, so except for some of the manual processes during start up, getting the crane up and running was straight forward. The largest impressions made upon me were really more physical than anything. First, the cockpit is really high in the air. Second, that big six-blade rotor head really pushes the fuselage around during start up.
On this day, David York, a VP with HAI has shed his shirt and tie and is controlling the departures from Showalter ramp at the KORL airport. Once David gives us the thumbs up, we know the heli-spot at the Convention Center is clear and we are contacting KORL ground control for taxi. As we roll out to the hold short lines just shy of the runway, we contact KORL tower and they clear us for the Expo Departure. Fifteen minutes later we are contacting Expo Ground on 123.05. Expo Ground indicates the LZ is clear and we begin our approach to the big white H at the convention center.
In classic big-ship-long-line-utility-pilot form the crew flies the approach to a 100’ hover and drops in precisely on the spot. Once on the ground, the HELI-EXPO ground controller does a hand off of sorts and points us in the direction of our parking spot where an Erickson crewmember marshals us out of the way.
Problem: 72’ Rotor diameter, 38’ door.
Flying the crane from KORL to the convention center was the easy part. Now is where the work really begins. In a timely manner, four of the six blades must come off for the crane in order to fit through the doorway. I laugh to myself over the simple irony of the “ground crane” being hired to remove the blades from the “air crane”. Following two hours of labor by the Erickson team, the blades are efficiently removed and stored on a cart. Upon completion of blade removal, the team prepares to roll the Aircrane into the convention hall.
Even though I am sure they have measured the aircraft height, I silently doubt the helicopter will fit through the door. To me, it still looks as if the tail rotor is much too high to make it under the door header. As it turns out, the tail rotor blades (in any position) were higher than the door header and would not fit without some maneuvering. The crew had to slowly rotate the tail rotor as the helicopter moved through the opening, putting the door header in between the blades. It was a tedious process with less than a couple inches to spare!
Once into the hall, it was smooth sailing back to the Erickson Aircrane display area where the team would reinstall the main rotor blades and some other ancillary equipment. Naturally, by the end of the show all operators who had undergone such monumental efforts to get into the hall would have to reverse the entire process and do it all again just to get back out.
I thought you said this was a fly in!
For several reasons, there are many aircraft (16 to be exact) that are actually not flown in, but driven in by tractor-trailer. Some aircraft are mockups and are not flyable. Others are experimental, while some are trucked in simply because it is more cost effective than flying. HW Farren is one of those companies who specialize in hauling helicopters all over North America and abroad. At this show, they were responsible for safely delivering the high profile Sikorsky X2 and S76D.
Generally speaking, I think that to a certain degree, most HELI-EXPO attendees (myself included) do not have a true appreciation for the efforts and costs of getting all of those helicopters into the show hall for attendees to touch and feel.
From the helicopter operator’s perspective, when you consider the distances that many travel and the number of days a helicopter may be out of the revenue stream, the costs to the operator and/or OEM can rapidly add up. With respect to the show itself, HAI does an outstanding job of organizing the Fly In. Creating a legal and safe infrastructure for the operators and pilots to work within is a huge task and its success every year is a testament to the dedication of Mr. Summers and the entire HAI Team!
SPECIAL THANKS to HAI, American Eurocopter, Erickson Aircrane, and the Air Methods Corporation for their assistance and cooperation.
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