Salute to Excellence Awards

For more than 50 years, Helicopter Association International (HAI) has encouraged and celebrated the highest standards of professionalism within the helicopter industry through its Salute to Excellence Awards. These awards honor those pilots, maintenance technicians, operators, and others who have demonstrated a commitment to excellence that has enriched the international helicopter community.

Nominations for the 2016 series will be accepted beginning August 1. Please be sure to check back here at that time to nominate a worthy candidate.

HAI congratulates the 2015 Salute to Excellence honorees for their contributions to the international rotorcraft community. These honorees are examples of the very best in vertical aviation:


Michael J. Hirschberg is executive director of the world’s oldest and largest verticalflight technical society, the American Helicopter Society (AHS) International, and editor of their flagship publication, Vertiflite magazine.

Hirschberg started writing for Vertiflite in 1997, began volunteering as its managing editor in 1999, and in 2011 assumed his current role as executive director of the society. As executive director, Hirschberg organizes all AHS technical conferences and the society’s Annual Forum, and serves as the publisher of all society publications, including the AHS Annual Forum Proceedings, the Journal of the AHS, and Vertiflite.

An aerospace and mechanical engineer by training, Hirschberg has authored numerous technical papers. In addition, he has written more than 100 aircraft technology reviews, historical articles, profiles, and commentaries, and is the author of three books on advanced aircraft design and development.

Before joining AHS, Hirschberg was an aerospace engineer, working on advanced aircraft and rotorcraft concept projects for the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Office of Naval Research. He also worked in the Joint Strike Fighter program office, supporting vertical propulsion system development for the two program contenders: the X-32 and X-35.

In addition to his written work, Hirschberg is an internationally renowned speaker and lecturer on rotorcraft issues and is an advocate for the advancement of vertical-flight research and technology to the executive and legislative branches of the U.S. government.

Michael J. Hirschberg is recognized as an important conduit for his role in promoting the free flow of information among the vertical-lift industry’s technical community
Simon Spencer-Bower, QSM, is the owner, operator, chief pilot, and chief flying instructor for Wanaka Helicopters in Otago, New Zealand. He has nearly 21,000 accident-free total flight hours and 12,500 hours helicopter dual flight instruction given. He also holds the distinction of being one of the highest-time pilots of Robinson helicopters in the world — most of it training other pilots in the R22 model — with more than 15,000 hours in various Robinson aircraft.

Since becoming a flight instructor in 1984, Spencer-Bower has trained nearly 600 pilots for private, commercial, and instructor certificates. He also created the Advanced Helicopter Mountain Flying Course, the only mountain training course approved by New Zealand’s Civil Aviation Authority.

In addition, Spencer-Bower is a top aerobatic performer, having won New Zealand’s aerobatic championships 15 times and placing third in the world in the 1985 international aerobatic championships.

Spencer-Bower is the recipient of two of New Zealand’s highest aviation awards: the 2002 Director of Civil Aviation’s Individual Award for services to aviation safety in New Zealand, and the 2009 Capt. Greg Vujcich Memorial Award in recognition of excellence in general aviation flight instruction in New Zealand.

In 2010, Spencer-Bower was honored by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II with the Queen’s Service Medal for services to aviation.

Simon Spencer-Bower says his instructing philosophy is to teach students beyond the bounds of the standard curriculum so they learn aboveaverage flight skills as well as good aeronautical decision-making skills.
Patrick Cox is director of product support for the Robinson Helicopter Company. As such, he leads the development of all technical aspects of the R22, R44, and R66.

Cox coauthored the maintenance manuals for both the R44 and the R66 models, and has developed many of the procedures, techniques, and special tools for all three Robinson models. And company president Kurt Robinson notes that Cox works continually to update the maintenance manuals for all models, as well as service letters and service bulletins.

Cox has taught more than 3,000 maintenance technicians to work on R22s and R44s. As the technical director of a British operator put it, “In my experience, the student does indeed go away feeling well-equipped to tackle a Robinson helicopter with confidence and knowledge.”

Cox’s customers say he is one of — if not the — most knowledgeable people in the world about Robinson helicopter maintenance. And he is always available to help a mechanic, no matter where in the world they might be working. One Australian operator said, “I have lost count of the number of times he has remained in his office well after hours to help with a particular issue.”

That accessibility, along with his expertise and strong focus on safety, makes Patrick Cox the No. 1 person Robinson mechanics around the world turn to for technical advice and solutions. Perhaps the highest praise came from one customer, who said, “I always use Pat Cox as the benchmark in technical service, compared with any other aircraft manufacturer personnel.”
On September 13, 2013, at approximately 8:20 a.m., a gunman walked into an office building at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., and began firing. Within 20 minutes of the first shot being fired, the local police asked the United States Park Police for helicopter support.

Based directly across the river from the Navy Yard, Pilot Sergeant Kenneth Burchell and Rescue Technician Sergeant David Tolson prepared to enter an active-shooter situation. They were over the scene within four minutes of the initial request for help.

Because of the scene’s close proximity to Reagan National Airport, Sergeant Burchell contacted the tower there. The controller designated the Park Police helicopter — call sign Eagle 1 — as the “air boss,” coordinating air traffic over the Navy Yard.

Originally tasked with a medical evacuation, Eagle 1 was quickly diverted after survivors of the attack were spotted on the roof of the building. After picking up a SWAT officer, the crew hovered over the building, where a Park Police officer and four civilians — one critically injured — had taken cover. The crew lowered the SWAT officer to help keep the rooftop secure, then hoisted the injured woman and airlifted her to a nearby hospital.

Eagle 1 refueled and then picked up Park Police Officer Michael Abate, before returning to the scene to extract the three remaining civilians, with officer Abate providing overwatch with a rifle from the helicopter.

All told, the crew of Eagle 1 spent five-and-a-half hours in the air that day, providing surveillance, rescuing survivors, and supporting ground personnel.
Washington State’s Snohomish County Helicopter Rescue Team (HRT) are specialists highly trained in high-altitude mountainous-terrain helicopter extractions.

Last year was particularly busy for the HRT. On March 22, call sign SnoHawk 10 was first on scene following a deadly mudslide in Oso, Washington, which claimed 43 lives. Working in coordination with a U.S. Navy helicopter from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, the HRT rescued eight people within the first three hours of the mudslide.

Several months later, on a June evening, the team received word that a climber on a challenging rock face in the Snoqualmie Pass had become stuck on a tiny ledge and did not think he could hold on for the four hours it would take rescue crews to reach him by ground. After reconnoitering, the crew landed at a nearby ski resort to offload unnecessary equipment, then returned, hovering 120 feet above the climber, lowering a team member who performed a strop extraction.

In September, the team was called out for a hiker with a severe head injury. Faced with marginal visibility conditions, the pilots inserted a rescue team lower down the trail but were forced to depart before the team was ready to have the patient hoisted out. The crew returned several times, hoping to find improved conditions. Finally, returning after sunset and wearing night-vision gear, the crew were able to extract the patient and the medic.

If you’re injured, lost, or trapped in Washington State’s rugged Cascade Mountains, the three words you most want to hear on the radio are “SnoHawk 10 inbound!”
Thanks in large part to the work of Edwin D. McConkey, technical director for Hickok & Associates, Inc., helicopters conducting life-saving air ambulance missions are able to use hospital heliports in limited visibility.

All-weather airports require significant infrastructure, a great deal of land, and even more airspace — necessities that often are simply not available for rotorcraft-only landing facilities, especially around hospitals.

In order to address the issue and make it possible for increased air ambulance flights in poor weather, the FAA developed point-in-space instrument approaches. These approaches allow instrumentrated pilots in properly equipped helicopters to descend safely in poor visibility to a point where the pilot ought to be able to see the landing zone.

But before Ed McConkey’s work, drafting those procedures was a time-consuming, laborious task.

McConkey is a unique combination of mathematician, software engineer, and helicopter operations man. In 1997, he wrote an algorithm that automated the process for bringing together FAA terminal-operating procedures, terrain information, and obstruction databases necessary to create a nonprecision point-inspace approach. Those procedures allowed pilots to descend safely to 500 feet above the landing zone.

In 2008, thanks to rapidly developing satellite guidance technology, McConkey refined the algorithm, making it possible for pilots to descend even lower — to 300 feet above the landing area.

It is no overstatement to say that Edwin D. McConkey’s breakthrough work has profoundly affected low-visibility instrument-guided helicopter operations, especially in the air ambulance field.
The 751 Squadron of the Portuguese Air Force was formed in 1978 as part of a coordinated national search-and-rescue organization made up of air force and navy assets. Headquartered at Montijo Air Force Base, south of the capital city of Lisbon, the squadron also operates from bases on two island groups that make up autonomous regions of Portugal: the Azores, a thousand miles to the west, and the Madeira Islands, west of Morocco.

Using Aérospatiale/Eurocopter SA 330 Puma helicopters, the squadron developed a reputation for long-distance over-water missions. The unit operates over a 2.3-million-square-mile territory — most of it open ocean — approximately one-third of the northern Atlantic Ocean, or nearly threequarters the size of the continental United States.

Since transitioning to AgustaWestland’s threeengine AW101 Merlin 10 years ago, the squadron regularly undertakes missions of as much as 800 nautical miles round-trip, doubling the number of lives saved to more than three thousand.

Such missions — which may last up to eight hours and often provide only 30 minutes on station — require detailed planning and coordination, and a strict approach to fuel consumption. Often, fixed-wing assets will fly ahead of the helicopter to verify the location and, if possible, relay instructions that will speed the rescue operation.

The squadron’s longest nonstop, unrefueled mission, accomplished last year, covered 726 nautical miles round-trip, with nearly seven-and-a-half hours in the air.

For more than 30 years, whether on land or at sea, the 100 men and women who make up the squadron have dedicated their lives to the squadron motto, Para Que Outros Vivam: That Others May Live.

On the morning of September 15, 2014, CAL FIRE captain Kevin Fleming and a crew of 10 were into their second day of cutting fire lines near Pollock Pines, California, east of Sacramento, as part of the mission to tackle the King Fire.

A breeze had changed into a hot, up-slope wind, allowing a small fire below the crew to flare up and trap the crew. Fleming ordered the crew into their fire shelters and, with radio batteries dying, got an emergency message out to the firebase.

Ten miles away at the firebase, Gary Dahlen’s Bell 205 was being refueled after a morning of conducting water drops, when Dahlen received a call he’d not heard in 28 years of aerial firefighting: “All available helicopters, prepare for an emergency launch!”

After a quick briefing, Dahlen took off and flew directly to the scene, where he spotted the crew in their fire shelters on a dirt road, only moments from being overrun by the raging wildfire. Dahlen saw one slim chance for the crew: a clearing nearly a mile away up the dirt road.

Dahlen radioed Fleming, telling him and his crew to get out of their shelters and run toward his helicopter as fast as they could. Dahlen’s calm but insistent radio calls pulled the crew toward the helicopter until they had safely outrun the flames. Dahlen then flew on ahead and found a suitable landing zone, before joining with another pilot to extract the crew.

The King Fire consumed more than 150 square miles and destroyed 80 buildings. But 12 firefighters are alive today because of Gary Dahlen’s quick reaction and determination to see them all home.

Lou Bartolotta joined the U.S. Army in 1969 and flew more than 1,000 hours during a one-year tour in Vietnam, where he received the Bronze Star and Air Medal with Multiple Clusters.

In the mid-1970s, Bartolotta joined Bristow Helicopters and flew for them for nine years in prerevolution Iran and in Scotland’s North Sea oil fields. From there, he served the helicopter industry as Helicopter Association International’s (HAI) director of regulations and vice president of operations — at a time when the FAA was recognizing the importance of helicopters and establishing its first rotorcraft program office.

After his stint with HAI, Bartolotta joined MBB Helicopter Corporation, the German company that later merged with France’s Aérospatiale to form Eurocopter, now Airbus Helicopters. He was instrumental in helping MBB establish itself in the emerging field of helicopter air ambulance services.

From there, Bartolotta moved to the Agusta Aviation Corporation — then a little-known Italian helicopter company, but now the industry giant known as AgustaWestland — as its vice president of U.S. marketing and operations. During his time there, he oversaw numerous company projects, including the introduction of the Bell/Agusta BA609 civilian tiltrotor aircraft, now known as the AgustaWestland AW609.

Bartolotta retired from AgustaWestland last year but continues to serve the helicopter industry through his consulting firm, L.P. Bartolotta & Associates, LLC.

Like many of his generation, Lou Bartolotta got his start in helicopters during the Vietnam War. Unlike many others, he’s been in it ever since, devoting his entire adult life to the helicopter industry and to numerous industry milestones.
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