Helicopters Magazine

Features Procedures Safety & Training
Let’s Ante Up on Safety

July 9, 2007  By Ken Armstrong

We need to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and present ourselves as highly skilled experts

Most pilots wouldn't drive without their seatbelts secured. Why then
would they strap on a million-dollar helicopter and not avail
themselves of all the protection they can muster? For that matter, why
would they greet their customers while sporting a pair of tattered blue
jeans, faded T-shirt and a couple of days’ growth of beard?

professional aviators, we need to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps
and present ourselves as highly skilled experts to instill greater
confidence among our clients. I'll admit to tardiness in taking my
mother's advice, “clothes make the man.”

However, this summer my
Longranger and I showed up in camps wearing Nomex flying suits and
gloves, full leather boots and a helmet – well, the helicopter actually
wore a layer of Imron.

Many kudos ensued and at first I reckoned
my ruggedly handsome features garnered the compliments – but the girls
in camp suggested otherwise. In truth, the firefighters and managers I
worked with respected my professional ‘presentation’ and I was treated
with more respect than I truly deserved. Fellow pilots also
complimented my apparel and declared they wished they could afford
similar ‘protection.’ Invariably I responded, “Can you afford not to?”


decades, militaries around the world have been issuing protective
clothing and helmets to their flying crew members. Many have stepped
further up the safety scale with vests that served as personal
floatation devices and some even contained short-term breathing
apparatus to allow escape from ditched helicopters. As a civilian
industry we must do more to protect occupants from enroute conditions,
crash impact and subsequent fire or water caused death as we should be
no less protected than the military.

In the eighties my
executive passengers and I were flipped upside down at low level in a
Jetranger in a remote patch of mechanical turbulence at River's Inlet,
BC. My head and the door panel would have melded had my new helmet not
interceded. The investment in the antibuffeting head gear was motivated
by a previous flight when I had been knocked unconscious in a Sikorsky
58T in mountain rotor turbulence and was lucky to be high enough to
recover when I regained consciousness. Without the new helmet, that 206
load of management personnel and me would simply have contributed to
the fuels in the helicopter's flaming wreckage. In fact, no one was
injured in that incident.

Now, whenever passengers ask whether
helicopter flying is dangerous and why am I wearing a helmet, I have a
good response. I tell them that the fire-resistant clothing and helmet
protect me in the event of an emergency so that I can continue to fly
the helicopter and negotiate a safe landing for them. When customers
realize the uniform is for their benefit they react very positively.
Also, one finds that the general populace respects uniform-like apparel
as it connotes authority and professionalism. After all, would you
trust your life to a grubbily attired airline captain or bus driver?

spend millions of dollars on helicopters, maintenance and salaries but
are generally missing the bus on staff presentability. In the early
seventies, one helicopter company owner, the late Jack Nicholson,
introduced crew flying suits with the name Alpine Helicopters Ltd.
embossed across the back. He also provided downfilled parkas to staff
members at a vastly discounted rate. (I still have these items of
clothing in storage.)

Jack was also of the opinion that the
helicopter must always be spotless as clients primarily assessed his
company on the appearance of the crew and helicopter. A dirty
helicopter reputedly fostered more than one pink slip.

So let's
all ante up on safety. Misguided economies have much higher costs than
the flight gear. Ever consider what an incapacitated pilot can cost in
deductibles on a helicopter insurance claim, passenger litigation,
benefits to the widow or replacement pilot training costs?

Comparatively speaking, the helmet and flying suits are a bargain.


Stories continue below

Print this page