Helicopters Magazine

HAI announces Salute to Excellence winners

January 13, 2014  By Carey Fredericks

Jan. 13, 2014, Alexandria, Va. - The Helicopter Association International (HAI) is proud to announce the winners of the 2014 Salute to Excellence Awards, which recognize those who, through either a single act or a lifetime of service and dedication, have exemplified the best the helicopter industry has to offer during the previous year.

As helicopters serve the needs of society around the world, there are those in our industry who go above and beyond. "We are honored to be able to recognize their achievements," said HAI president Matt Zuccaro.

Bell Helicopter Lifetime Achievement Award

The winner of the 2014 Bell Helicopter Lifetime Achievement Award is Archie Gray, Sr. V.P. of Aviation Services for Air Methods Corp., of Denver, Colorado. As such, Gray is responsible for operations and maintenance for the largest air medical operator in the United States. But Gray’s passion for ensuring the reliability and safety of the helicopters Air Methods' pilots fly has benefited the entire industry. As a regular participant in customer advisory forums for two airframe original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), an engine manufacturer, and numerous parts suppliers, Gray has pressed the OEMs to improve both products and processes, developing systems to benchmark and score the supply chain.

It speaks volumes about Gray that the CEOs of two rival airframe manufacturers — Bell and American Eurocopter — each wrote letters in support of his nomination for the award.

Pilot of the Year Award

Few, if any, individual helicopter pilots are doing more to raise awareness of helicopters and excite the general public about what they can do than Chuck Aaron, the 2014 Salute to Excellence Pilot of the Year.

As the only pilot authorized by the FAA to fly helicopter aerobatic routines in the United States, Aaron thrills audiences throughout the country. Although Aaron is best known as a helicopter aerobatic performer, he is also a lifelong helicopter safety advocate and evangelist for the industry. As one person noted in his nomination, "His devotion to 'intelligent risk-taking' has made possible helicopter dynamic demonstrations that were previously thought unattainable, and as a result, has become an ambassador to the world for the potential of helicopter aviation."

Aaron is also an accomplished test pilot, having — among other things — test-flown a new tracking system for the U.S. military's AH-64 Apache helicopter, which involved flight in brownout conditions to test a new infrared vision system. He is also an FAA-certificated airframe and powerplant (A&P) mechanic.


Aaron's stated goal for his aerobatic routines is to excite young people about aviation, and show them that they, too, can do things not thought possible.

Sikorsky Humanitarian Service Award
On the night of February 9 last year, the crew of Rescue 912, 103 Search and Rescue Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force, launched into the teeth of a raging winter gale, to search for three hunters whose small open boat had become trapped by ice and who, by then, had been out in the storm for 20 hours. After reaching the hunters' approximate location, the crew began their search, attempting to ease forward at five knots — a feat made nearly impossible by a 40+ knot tailwind. As their fuel level approached critical, the crew came up with an unorthodox solution to their weather challenges.

The flight crew turned the aircraft 180° into the wind and conducted the search tail-first. They located the hunters and despite the high winds, rotorwash, and static electricity shocks from the aircraft, successfully hoisted all three hypothermic men and returned them to Gander airport in Newfoundland, where there were adequate medical facilities.

For their determination and ingenuity, aircraft commander Capt. Aaron Noble, first officer Capt. Jonathon Groten, flight engineer Sgt. Bradley Hiscock, SAR Tech team leader Chief Warrant Officer Jeffrey Warden, and SAR Tech team member Master Corporal Mark Vokey — the crew of Rescue 912 — are the recipients of the 2014 Sikorsky Humanitarian Service Award.

AgustaWestland Safety Award
Chris Horton, the manager of flight operations for Prescott, Arizona’s Guidance Aviation, is the recipient of the 2014 AgustaWestland Safety Award.

Horton caught the "safety bug" early, while working on his minor as a student at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University's Prescott campus. While there, he focused heavily on accident mitigation and safety program management.

He joined Guidance Aviation in 2010 and quickly rose to manager of flight operations. He developed the safety management system currently in use there and incorporated it into the flight training curriculum. At the beginning of each semester, students attend a presentation outlining the SMS program and emphasizing the students' importance as part of the safety system. "Flight training is more than learning to fly the aircraft, but it is professionalism training, understanding of SMS, and learning safe habit patterns," Horton has said.

Horton instituted a three-times-annually safety stand-down day for all 50 of Guidance Aviation's employees and all of its 16 helicopters. He is a member of the HAI Safety Committee and of the FAA Safety Team.

Airbus Helicopters Golden Hour Award

Howard Ragsdale got his start in the helicopter industry as a U.S. Army aviator during the Vietnam War. He flew for a while as a corporate pilot after returning to the U.S., before moving into air medical services with Omniflight Helicopters, eventually rising to chief operating officer there. He then moved to Rocky Mountain Helicopters as director of LifeNet Services, an experiment in EMS provisioning that eventually came to be known as the community-based model.

Ragsdale later served as the president of PHI Air Medical Services, before rejoining his former LifeNet Services colleagues at Air Methods, which had acquired Rocky Mountain Helicopters.

Over the course of his career, Ragsdale has directly developed or managed helicopter EMS operations that have benefited more than three-quarters of a million critically ill or injured patients. For that lifetime of dedication to air medical services, Howard Ragsdale is the 2014 recipient of the Airbus Helicopters Golden Hour Award.

MD Helicopters Law Enforcement Award

Donald Shinnamon has a long history of law enforcement service, much of it working with aviation units.

He began his career with the Baltimore County (Md.) Police Department, where he led efforts to start an aviation unit, which he commanded for more than 10 years. In the early 1990s, recognizing the growth of law enforcement aviation and the need for police departments to coordinate and share information, Shinnamon convinced the International Association of Chiefs of Police to create an international aviation committee, which he chaired for more than 15 years.

Shinnamon also served on HAI's Government Service Committee and other organizations, and was a founding member of the airborne law enforcement accreditation committee, which established standards required for accreditation as law enforcement aviation units.

Having retired from active police work as the Chief of Police for Port St. Lucie, Fla., in 2010, Shinnamon remains on the cutting edge of law enforcement aviation, now working with one of the leading manufacturers of unmanned aerial systems that makes highly sought-after surveillance remotely-piloted vehicles.

For his lifelong commitment to law enforcement and law enforcement aviation, Donald Shinnamon is the 2014 recipient of the MD Helicopters Law Enforcement Award.

Excellence in Helicopter Maintenance Award
Field mechanics work in some pretty hostile environments. But few are as hostile as where the winners of the 2014 Excellence in Helicopter Maintenance Award found themselves in July of last year.

The flight crew of an AAR Airlift S-61 helicopter suffered a power loss in their number two engine while on approach as they flew a re-supply mission in support of the U.S. military in Afghanistan. They landed safely at the forward operating base (FOB), but were now stuck, with the FOB under attack by enemy forces.

After the local operations team at the crew's home base got word and put together an emergency response plan, award recipients Alan Nowak, Joshua Ricciardi, Gabriel Meza, and Nathan Rathe took a replacement to the stricken helicopter, and with the assistance of the flight crew (who are also nominated) and without benefit of a hangar or advanced tooling, pulled and replaced the bad engine and performed all the necessary testing, all while under indirect fire. Time elapsed from the time they left home base until the S-61 departed the FOB: three hours, 55 minutes.

Joining Nowak, Ricciardi, Meza, and Rathe as recipients are pilot Stephen Fiduk, who successfully landed the helicopter, and second-in-command Robert Murphy, who assisted in the landing and in the engine replacement.

W.A. "Dub" Blessing Award (Flight Instructor of the Year)
Dr. Gordon Jiroux, president and CEO of Universal Helicopters, Inc., of Scottsdale, Arizona, is this year's recipient of the W.A. "Dub" Blessing Award for flight instructor of the year.

Jiroux has been instructing for some 30 years and is accident-free in that time. His dedication to safety is evident at the school as well, which has not had an accident in more than 10 years, despite operating 35 helicopters in five locations, flying a total of 23,000 hours last year alone.

In the words of one nominator, "Flight Training has been Dr. Jiroux's life work and will be his legacy. His efforts provide the pilot with the full package of flight training, leaving nothing untold or unturned, including the pilot, the aircraft, and the regulations."

Excellence in Communications Award
Ms. Elan Head, a pilot who can write and a writer who can fly, is the winner of the 2014 Excellence in Communications Award. She is currently special projects editor forVertical magazine.

Head has been an FAA Gold Seal flight instructor, and holds commercial helicopter and commercial helicopter-instrument ratings. So when she researches and writes about a seemingly incomprehensible accident, as she did in "Failure to Enter" for Vertical, she knows her subject and has a thoughtful, forceful way of making her points.

She has been a reporter and editor for both general news media outlets, and aviation and helicopter trade publications. She has worked as both a flight instructor and a contract pilot.

Head is the recipient of an Arizona Press Club award and two New Mexico Association Press Managing Editors Awards.

HAI is pleased to award Ms. Elan Head with the 2014 Excellence in Communications Award for her substantial body of work chronicling the helicopter industry.


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