Archive for June, 2010

Hot or cold

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

Helicopter pilots refer to certain operations as hot or cold. A hot operation is one where the engines are kept running during the procedure and cold is with everything shut down. The arguments for and against hot operations center around safety vs. time savings.

For EMS operators, one of the more common hot operations is loading the helicopter. Many times at an accident scene the pilot will keep the helicopter running while the medical crew gets out to retrieve the patient. Since the idea of helicopter EMS, especially with trauma patients, is to save time, the hot loading of patients is performed routinely. However, there have been studies that have shown very little time difference between hot loading, shutting down the helicopter, and then restarting it to depart. The argument for shutting down is that maneuvering around a running helicopter can be hazardous. For example, people have walked into tail rotors and objects have come in contact with the main rotor system. On the other hand, helicopters are mechanical machines and there have been cases where the helicopter failed to start. On an accident scene, this could shut down a highway for a much longer period of time and delay getting the patient to a trauma center.

Another hot operation that is performed is refueling. Pilots trying to save time or an engine start (turbine engines have start cycle TBOs) will ask to be hot refueled. For trained personnel this can be preformed safely on most helicopters especially when the fueling point is low and below the engine. A fueling port high up on the fuselage and above the engine increases the possibility of a fire if fuel spills. Also, climbing on a ladder or other object to reach the fuel port can place personnel dangerously close to a spinning rotor system.

The case for proper training was apparent several years ago when I was watching a Bell JetRanger giving rides at an air show. When the pilot needed fuel, I watched someone drive a pickup truck, with a fuel tank in the bed, up close to the helicopter. The driver climbed out, ran around to the back, and jumped up into the bed. He stood completely up and then quickly ducked. He obviously felted how close his head came to the spinning rotor system. I turned away because I thought he was going to get hit. I remember thinking, wow, he was lucky!


Monday, June 21st, 2010

When I started flying helicopters in the early 1980s, there were very few female helicopter pilots. Now some 25 years later a lot more women have entered the helicopter industry. Becoming a professional helicopter pilot has become a great career choice for many women.

One organization that has helped more women realize their dream to fly helicopters is Whirly-Girls International. It was founded in 1955 by Jean Ross Howard Phelan who wanted to build a community where female helicopter pilots could share and grow. That year, 13 women chartered the organization at the Mayflower Hotel and today the Whirly-Girls boast more than 1,600 members. You must be a licensed female helicopter pilot to be a member.

In the beginning each membership number corresponded to the number of women helicopter pilots licensed by the FAA. For example, founding member Jean Ross Howard Phelan is Whirly-Girl number 13 or the 13th woman to receive an FAA helicopter rating. As a result, early members viewed their number as a badge of honor. However, according to Whirly-Girls president Catherine Herrald Adams (WG#413) maintaining that correlation today just isn’t feasible.

As the association grew they began offering scholarships for women to get advanced ratings or to help a fixed wing pilot get her helicopter rating. Currently they provide anywhere from six to 10 helicopter flight training scholarships each year. Whirly-Girls funds two scholarships and the balance comes from the generosity of several sponsors including American Eurocopter (Turbine transition), American specialties Unlimited (NVG training), Robinson Helicopter, FlightSafety International (IFR refresher), and Nancy Livingston (WG#4) for funding a mountain flying training course at Western Technologies. This year they added a scholarship in the memory of Julie Short (WG#29) (funded by member Nancy Graham-WG#62) for a Woman CFI to add on a CFII or and instrument rating. Additionally, Survival Systems USA provides a ditching course as a scholarship.

Whirly-Girls has become the largest source of scholarships for female helicopter pilots and depend on membership dues, booth sales at HAI, and the generosity of a wide variety of individuals to fund scholarships and activities. Anyone wishing to join or find out more information should visit their website ( or contact Catherine Herrald Adams at [email protected].

Whirly-Girls president Catherine Herrald Adams

Kristie Ellis, WG#1513 with American Eurocopter VP Del Livingston

Future Whirly-Girl Madi McAdams flying a Bell 206

Guy del Giudice

Friday, June 11th, 2010

Last week was a sad time for many of us in Dallas, Texas. I lost a friend and colleague in a helicopter accident. Guy del Giudice and I worked together at CareFlite; he was also its chief pilot. Also, killed in the crash was CareFlite mechanic Steve Durler and, although I didn’t know him personally, I understand he was very well liked.

Guy was flying a Bell 222 helicopter on a maintenance check flight. At the same time I happened to be flying a news helicopter when I heard Guy call Grand Prairie Tower for a south departure–I work for SKY Helicopter which is under contract with the Fort Worth/Dallas-based CBS affiliate KTVT Channel 11. The photographer and I were covering another news story when we were diverted to a fatal CareFlite helicopter crash south of the Grand Prairie airport. Hovering over the accident site I recognized the aircraft as the Bell 222 and knew immediately that my friend had perished.

The helicopter’s rotor system was located about 100 yards from the fuselage. What exactly caused it to separate from the helicopter in flight is not yet clear. I have no doubt that if anything could have been done to recover from this failure, Guy was the type of pilot who could have done it. He took his profession very seriously and was one of the most skilled pilots I have had the privilege of flying with. EMS crews are like family and all my friends at CareFlite are saddened beyond words. The helicopter industry has lost a talented pilot and a great person.