Helicopters Magazine

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Peak Partnership

February 23, 2010  By Blair Watson

In a signing ceremony at the training centre of Canadian Helicopters Limited (CHL) at the Penticton, B.C., airport (CYYF) on Oct. 22, senior managers from CHL and Eurocopter Canada finalized an agreement related to CHL’s Mountain Flying Course (MFC).

In a signing ceremony at the training centre of Canadian Helicopters
Limited (CHL) at the Penticton, B.C., airport (CYYF) on Oct. 22, senior
managers from CHL and Eurocopter Canada finalized an agreement related
to CHL’s Mountain Flying Course (MFC).

Rens Bisschops, Dutch police pilot; Dave Schwartzenberger, CHL instructor; Ted Fisher, CHL instructor; Edwin Groos, Dutch police pilot.

“This agreement underlines our
joint commitment to improving flight safety,” said Jean-Pierre Blais,
CHL’s president. “Eurocopter has been a long-term supplier to Canadian
Helicopters and its technically advanced products are well recognized
within the industry. We are very pleased to have an agreement to team
with them and believe their technical support and promotion will assist
in providing both a safer environment for our customers in their work
and good business opportunities for Canadian Helicopters.”

“CHL’s program offers an intensive, world-class training based on years
of flight experience,” said Guy Joannes, president and CEO of
Eurocopter Canada. “This activity will be strongly promoted through
Eurocopter’s worldwide network as a reference, and we’re very proud to
support this kind of innovative training in Canada.”

Helicopter pilots from various countries including Canada, United States, Netherlands, Mexico and Norway have trained at CHL’s school.
Tim Simmons, CHL senior flight instructor and check pilot.


Last February, Eurocopter Group announced its endorsement of the MFC
after the program was audited and approved by Didier Delsalle, a senior
company test pilot. Delsalle received worldwide recognition in May 2005
when he landed an AS350 B3 on the summit of Mount Everest – twice in
two consecutive days. Eurocopter Canada Limited, a subsidiary of
Eurocopter Group, is based in Fort Erie, Ont.

The MFC, which lasts three weeks, involves four days of ground school
and 26 hours of flight training. Pilots learn about airflow in
mountainous areas, how their helicopter performs in relation to it, how
to navigate in the mountains, and other piloting skills. CHL also
offers an abbreviated MFC, which includes four days of ground school
and 15 hours of flight training.

CHL instructors at the School of Advanced Flight Training at CYYF have
an average of 11,000 flight hours, including more than 6,000 hours of
mountain flying experience. Since 1951, the school has trained in
excess of 14,000 pilots (200 to 300 annually). Jan Rustad, CHL’s chief
flying instructor and business manager, spoke during the signing
ceremony and answered questions from media representatives. Also
present at the ceremony was Penticton mayor Dan Ashton, who recognizes
that CHL’s training programs help to make the city’s airport
commercially viable.

Helicopter pilots from various countries have undergone training at
CHL’s school. Customers include the Canadian Forces, Royal Canadian
Mounted Police, U.S. Navy and Marines, U.S. Forest Service, Royal
Netherlands Navy, Dutch and Mexican federal police forces, and the
Norwegian Air Force.

Witnessing the signing ceremony were several distinguished out-of-town
guests, including Wouter Kaihatu, Head of Flight Operations and Flight
Training for the Dutch National Police, who had recently signed a
four-year contract with CHL to provide advanced operational flight
training for up to 23 of the force’s helicopter pilots in the first
year. “This is a significant new contract from the Dutch National
Police,” said Jan Rustad. “They are a well-respected customer who has
recognized the value of our training for many years.”

CHL and its predecessor, Okanagan Helicopters, have taught pilots for
nearly six decades. Starting in the late 1940s, company founder Carl
Agar, a rotary-wing aviation pioneer in Canada, developed the concepts
of helicopter mountain flying that formed the foundation of piloting
techniques taught by CHL. Carl and his instructors refined their
mountain flying skills and started training helicopter pilots in 1951.

In Penticton, CHL operates an AS350 B2 Astar, two EC120Bs, and three
Bell 206 JetRangers. Eleven people are employed at the School of
Advanced Flight Training: six flight instructors, three AMEs, and two
office staff. CHL pilots also fly charter work from the airport. In
addition to the MFC and its abbreviated version, pilot training
programs offered by CHL include: recurrency training; mountain flying
refresher programs; vertical reference and slinging; water bucket
forest firefighting techniques; a turbine endorsement course; float
flying operations; heli-drip torch operations; and aerial harvesting.

After the signing ceremony, the EC120Bs were used to transport media
and city council representatives to some of the mountainous areas east
and west of CYYF, where training occurs. Pieter Koster and Tim Simmons,
CHL senior flight instructors and check pilots, flew the aircraft. They
demonstrated how flying – within a couple of hundred feet of the ground
at times – on the upwind side of a mountain allows the pilot to reduce
power to maintain altitude, while flying on the downwind side requires
more power because of how air flows over and around a mountain and
affects a helicopter. By maintaining a specific height and airspeed and
flying close to the mountain, it was apparent from the engine torque
indicator whether the helicopter was in up-flowing or down-flowing air.

After circumnavigating one of the mountains to the northeast of CYYF
for the initial demonstration, Koster and Simmons flew toward a canyon
on the east side of the Okanagan Valley. A helicopter is the perfect
machine to access sites in a canyon, but the terrain can be deadly and
airflow above and in the chasm can be uncertain. Simmons explained that
pilots have flown in canyons, winding their way along a twisting route,
and suddenly encountered a narrow dead end, with catastrophic results.

During the MFC, pilots learn how to approach and survey a canyon, and
use the aircraft’s instruments and external visual cues to determine
the direction and strength of the wind. After the initial
reconnaissance, they decide whether to descend into the canyon or not.
Conditions were suitable for Koster and Simmons to do so, and each in
turn landed his helicopter on a rock outcropping well below the top of
the canyon’s walls.

Another aspect of mountain flying taught by CHL instructors is
determining wind direction. With air flowing over the top and around a
mountain, it is imperative that pilots understand how air behaves in
close proximity to a mountain, particularly for landing and taking off.
Having a mental picture at all times of where the wind is coming from
and an escape route when flying close to a mountain is critical for
safe operations.

Edwin Groos and Rens Bisschops, pilots with the Dutch National Police Force, recently completed CHL’s advanced flight training program. For years, the force has sent its pilots to CHL to train and
gain experience in mountain flying, float operations, vertical
reference and more. The Netherlands is a predominantly flat country;
more than 60 per cent lies beneath sea level. The highest point is a
hill called Vaalserberg (“Mount Vaals”) just 333.7 metres above sea
level. Although there is a lack of mountains in the Netherlands,
Bisschops and Groos sometimes fly near high city structures, so the
mountain flight training they received is applicable to their work.
They commented:

“The mountain course trained us in the ‘fact finding mission,’ meaning
to read the wind and its behaviour around terrain features, in our case
mainly buildings. In addition to this, mountain flying often means
degraded helicopter performance due to high-density altitudes. Within
our daily job, we are often loaded up to maximum takeoff weight and
because of this, we are power-limited. The techniques and precision
flying taught in the mountain course will obviously help us deal with
this problem when landing in challenging areas with limited power

“Due to the watery nature of the Dutch landscape and the relatively
large operating area above the North Sea, we are often exposed to the
possible dangers of flying over water. The float operation course gave
us the basics of flying over water and performing auto-rotations into
water. Of course, we never hope to put this technique to real use, but
for sure this training gave us a good insight in the possible hazards
water can pose.”

“All in all, the advanced flying program made us better pilots in
judging the wind and picking landing spots in difficult areas. The
experience of flying into narrow canyons, cirques [steep, bowl-shaped
hollows at the upper end of mountain valleys], confined areas, and
landing spots on top of high altitude pinnacles gave us a lot to think
about and above all a wonderful and unique experience!”


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