2020 Salute to Excellence Winners

Celebrating the highest standards of professionalism in helicopter aviation

Join us for the Salute to Excellence Awards luncheon on Wednesday, January 29, from noon to 1 pm in the Anaheim Convention Center. The event will feature short presentations about each of the 2020 Salute to Excellence award recipients.

Salute to Excellence tickets can be purchased online when you register for HAI HELI-EXPO or on site at Attendee Registration. If you are attending with a corporate group or friends, consider reserving your own table for 10.

Excellence in Communications Award

Sponsored by Lightspeed Aviation
Mark Ogden, Editor, HeliOps magazine, Gerringong, NSW, Australia

Mark Ogden has been editor of the HeliOps (civil helicopters), HeliOps Frontline (military helicopters), and Air Attack (aerial firefighting) magazines for the New Zealand–based Kia Kaha Media Group for the past 20 years. Ogden, who never shies away from highlighting issues that affect the global rotorcraft industry, is known for his highly respected, hard-hitting editorials, which provide focused analysis of the industry in each issue of all three magazines.

Ogden is also a prolific technical writer, having contributed to various safety documents and manuals, including:

  • Aircrewman and Winching Standards for the New South Wales Rural Fire Service
  • The Australian Transport Safety Bureau Major Accident Investigation Manual
  • Remuda Corp.’s operations manual for the Sling Tank underslung firefighting bucket.

His writings have ranged from company profiles and industry analyses to pilot reports to articles on aviation safety and helicopter flying techniques, as well as safety alerts for the Aviation Safety Network. Additionally, Ogden is a highly skilled helicopter photographer who has shared with his readers many years’ worth of his work.

Humanitarian Service Award

Sponsored by Sikorsky
Los Angeles County Fire Department Air Operations Firehawk Unit, Pacoima, California, USA

As wildfires once again burn throughout Southern California in 2019, this award recognizes the efforts made by the flight and ground crews of the four S-70 Firehawk helicopters while battling the 2018 Woolsey Fire, the largest wildfire on record in Los Angeles County. The fire destroyed nearly 97,000 acres, with 1,643  homes lost and more than 295,000  people evacuated at its peak.

The Woolsey Fire began midafternoon on Nov. 8, 2018, just outside of Simi Valley near the borders of Ventura County, Los Angeles County, and the City of Los Angeles. The four S-70s joined multiple other aircraft and ground crews battling the conflagration over the next four days. While the flight and ground crews rotated as necessary, the helicopters themselves were shut down only for refueling and inspection. This resulted in the four LACFDAO helicopters totaling 119.4 flight hours in  the first three days—equivalent to almost an entire month’s worth of flying and maintenance in one week—completing more than 350 water drops amid winds ranging from 40 to 70 knots.

Operating on the leeward side of the flames due to high winds, LACOFD helicopters and crews were often the only aircraft working the lines. The winds kept the smoke low across the terrain and homes, forcing the crews to fly and refuel within the smoke as they realized that the only way to attack the fire was to become engulfed in it. Flying conditions quickly became almost nightlike because of the reduced visibility.

In addition to the efforts of the flight crews, the maintenance and support crews worked tirelessly on the ground. Operating in 24-hour shifts, the maintainers kept the aircraft available for every launch, ensuring they were always safe and ready to go. A majority of the 20 people on the maintenance team volunteered into the night and weekend to ensure that routine maintenance was performed efficiently and safely.

W.A. “Dub” Blessing Flight Instructor of the Year Award

Sponsored by H. Ross Perot, Jr. and the Perot family
Dwayne Williams, Chief Pilot (ret.), Bell and MD Helicopters, Arlington, Texas, USA

Dwayne Williams has the unique distinction of having received five separate nominations this year for the Flight Instructor award, with each nomination coming from a previous recipient of the award.

Williams possesses a solid foundation in helicopters, having begun his flying career in the U.S. Army in 1965 and having served in Vietnam from 1966 to 1967, where he developed his leadership and flight training skills. After his military service, Williams continued his career as a pilot for Petroleum Helicopters, Inc. in the Gulf of Mexico.

In 1974, Williams found an exciting opportunity with Bell Helicopter International in which his military experience as a standardization and instructor pilot was welcomed training Iranian Army pilots. He became the chief pilot for the advanced flight program in Iran and continued in that leadership and training role until the close of the program in 1979.

Upon returning to the U.S., Williams was hired by Bell Helicopter Textron as a test pilot, demonstration pilot, and international delivery pilot. During this period, he traveled to virtually every corner of the earth to promote Bell and its products. He next moved to Bell’s Experimental Test Pilot division and rose to become the program’s chief pilot.

Notable achievements in Williams’s time with Bell include conducting first flights in 12 different Bell models. His exemplary flying skills enabled him to become the company’s first acrobatic pilot as well as the demonstration pilot for the 680 rotor system, the first Bell helicopter to be used with loops and rolls as part of the standard flight demonstration. Williams also served as a test pilot for flights on the Bell XV-15 Tilt Rotor, the forerunner of the Marines V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft

Williams retired from Bell in 2005, but he wasn’t finished with helicopter flight leadership and training.  In 2006, he accepted the chief pilot’s position at MD Helicopters, Inc. in Arizona, where, through 2012, he directed the production and delivery of helicopters as well as pilot training.

Most recently, Williams accepted a position as chief pilot with Aerodynamics in the company’s night vision goggles (NVG) program. Currently, he serves as both the certification pilot and the chief NVG instructor at Aerodynamics. 

Williams has flown nearly 16,000 accident-free flight hours over his career, with 3,750 of them as instructor. In 2015, the FAA presented him with its prestigious Wright Brothers Master Pilot award, recognizing his more than 50 years of flight.

Law Enforcement Award

Sponsored by MD Helicopters
Bryn Elliott, Founder and Editor, Police Aviation Research, Waltham Abbey, Essex, England

Bryn Elliott served as a police constable for the London Metropolitan Police for 30 years, retiring from the force in 1996. Upon his retirement, he established Police Aviation Research, the parent company of Police Aviation News and the Police Aviation Conference (PAvCon) Europe. His efforts in the sector have connected public safety aviators in Africa, Asia, and the Americas with their peers in Europe.

Elliott is responsible for the meticulously researched and compiled articles that make up Police Aviation News, often traveling to all corners of the world to gather information on helicopter usage in police aviation, search and rescue, and aeromedical transport. Each issue contains helicopter safety information, including accident and incident reports, that sometimes can’t easily be found elsewhere

PAvCon originated in 2006, when Elliott was invited to assist in setting up a series of police aviation conferences. After three successful shows, Elliott became president of PAvCon in 2009 and has been the sole organizer of European police aviation conferences ever since.

The primary goal of Elliott’s work is the sharing of ideas and resources, an endeavor whose impact on helicopter safety has been significant. As a direct result of his work, notable progress in helicopter safety has been made in such places as Africa, the Netherlands, Germany, and Australia. Public safety aviation across the globe is safer thanks to the research, media, and events Elliott and his company provide.

Golden Hour Award

New South Wales Ambulance Service, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

In the 1980s, the NSW Ambulance Aeromedical Rescue Helicopter Service provided a patchwork of rudimentary capabilities across multiple providers. The organization operated successfully for three decades, but the group needed to evolve to ensure it could continue to provide the efficiency, capabilities, and safety standards expected of a modern aeromedical service.

In 2012, the NSW government undertook an independent review that resulted in a 10-year strategic plan to ensure significantly improved patient outcomes for all residents and communities across the state. The review determined the plan could be achieved only by completely transforming the state’s contracting and services delivery model for aeromedical support and by standardizing that model’s integration with NSW medical services. The ambitious plan would then require implementation by a strong team.

Ron Manning, the ambulance service’s director of aeromedical services, and Garry Sinclair, its head of helicopter operations, were true leaders and patient advocates who knew that such transformational change would require vision and courage. The plan would have to entail improved patient outcomes and integrated team training to support a holistic environment and safety above all else.

Today, NSW Ambulance (as the organization is now known) boasts the largest aeromedical helicopter capability within the southern hemisphere. From 7 bases across the state, the service operates a standardized fleet of 12 Leonardo AW139 helicopters in identical aircraft and aeromedical configurations utilizing a common set of operational procedures and standards. The service ensures that NSW Ambulance helicopter doctors and paramedics can quickly reach patients in remote areas. Over 96% of the population of NSW is within one hour of a helicopter and its critical care doctor and paramedic team.

Operating in a geographical region four times larger than the United Kingdom and slightly larger than the US state of Texas, the service has flown some 17,000 hours in two and a half years. During this time, it has conducted more than 10,000 critical care missions at multiple sites, including canyons, crevasses, roadways, rivers, oceans, frozen lakes, cliffs, and cruise ships. For each of its missions, the service’s average response times are less than 10 minutes by day and less than 20 minutes by night.

Central to NSW Ambulance’s focus on safety is the Aeromedical Crewing Excellence (ACE) Training Centre in Bankstown, NSW, which features a growing list of high-fidelity simulation assets, including:

  • An OEM Level D AW139 full flight simulator
  • An advanced sea survival and underwater escape training facility with full environmental controls
  • A virtual reality–based full-crew cockpit and cabin training system
  • Wet- and dry-winching training capabilities
  • A suite of advanced clinical simulation assets.

The ACE Training Centre is built upon a holistic approach to provide best-in-class training facilities and highly realistic mission-simulation technologies. This approach to training requires a focus on fully integrated technical and nontechnical skills training for helicopter clinical crews, pilots, air crews, engineers, and specialist support personnel.>

Safety Award

Sponsored by BLR Aerospace
Krisna Dewi, Commercial Manager, PT. Sayap Garuda Indah (Heli SGI and Air Bali), Bali, Indonesia

Krisna is receiving the Safety Award in recognition of her promotion of a business model that places safety above all other business elements, including profit. Her unwavering advocacy and determination to prioritize safety in the company’s operations has also resulted in increased business for her company during a period when Indonesia’s helicopter industry has experienced low or negative growth.

In 2014, at the height of the downturn in helicopter support for offshore drilling and amid uncertainty in Indonesia’s resource industry, Heli SGI was facing a shaky future. In a bid to turn things around, the company brought in an industry expert, Ronnie Fahy, to provide guidance. As part of the process, Fahy interviewed the company’s employees; Krisna stood out because of her vision and plan to move the company forward.

Krisna had witnessed other operators reducing expenses, including safety standards, in order to offer lower prices to customers. Her radical plan, considered brave at the time, mandated putting safety and quality above all else and charging accordingly. Her idea also included choosing to work only for clients who understood the business model and were willing to pay for a safety- and quality-first approach.

In an administrative role when Heli SGI’s reorganization began, Krisna was quickly promoted to commercial manager, the second-highest position in the company. As a woman with no aviation background in an industry dominated by experienced men, Krisna found she bore not only the responsibility of reviving the business but also the task of earning her colleagues’ respect. She accepted both challenges with determination, focusing on her goal to turn around Heli SGI by providing higher levels of safety and quality than its competitors.

To support her vision Krisna, with the full support from Heli SGI Board of Directors, had to develop the necessary safety and quality protocols. Some of the resulting projects initiated include:

  • Introducing health and usage monitoring systems (HUMS) in single-engine helicopters (not previously seen in the Indonesian helicopter industry)
  • Introducing virtual-reality simulation training for longline pilots (another innovation for the Indonesian industry)
  • Introducing the dual-FADEC Eagle 407HP into Indonesia, an aircraft with increased power, payload, and range capabilities, which critics considered overkill
  • Introducing FAA-approved training programs for longline pilots
  • Advocating substantial investment in SGI’s safety department
  • Adopting an open-book safety policy, sharing safety concerns with both clients and the industry at large.

Krisna began the process of reinvigorating Heli SGI by giving all prospective clients the same message: “Thank you for inviting us to talk. However, there’s one thing we need to make clear from the start: Heli SGI will not be the cheapest in your procurement process and will not enter into a bidding war. If that’s acceptable, let’s shake hands and begin moving forward.” As might be expected, some potential clients ended the meeting there, and Krisna faced criticism.

The return on Heli SG’s investment in safety is clear. When Krisna received her promotion in 2014, Heli SGI was operating on one contract flying 60 hours a month. Today, in part because of her work in the past five years, the company operates 12 helicopters on contract, flies 600 to 800 hours a month, and has several long-term contracts with large mining companies.

Krisna’s work has not gone unnoticed: other operators are now adopting the Heli SGI safety-first model. And while that means more competition, the end result is that not only has Krisna helped her company grow and become safer, she has helped Heli SGI make the industry become safer too.

Excellence in Helicopter Maintenance Award

Sponsored by Rolls-Royce
Corey Brekke, Afghanistan Maintenance Manager, Columbia Helicopters, Missoula, Montana, USA


Corey Brekke began his aviation career in Montana, where he obtained his A&P license in the winter of 1991. Subsequently, he worked for eight years in the South Pacific on a 350-foot tuna boat, where he was the only aircraft mechanic onboard, maintaining a Hughes 500.

In the spring of 2000, Brekke accepted a job with Columbia Helicopters. After only five days on the job, he departed to work in Alaska as the fourth man on a logging crew working on a Columbia Model 107-II Vertol.

Recognized early on for his can-do attitude, work ethic, ability to get along with and lead a crew, reliability, technical knowledge, and overall skill set, Brekke advanced to the position of assistant crew chief in just a year and then to crew chief in 2003. Brekke also forecasts maintenance and logistical needs to support the aircraft during high-utilization periods. His ability to troubleshoot problems and innate desire to get to the root of a technical issue is well known to those who work with him.

In 2011, Columbia received a contract to support Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, delivering four Vertol 107-IIs and a 234 Chinook. Brekke had started working as senior crew chief on the contract when it soon became clear Columbia needed someone in-country who had the knowledge, skills, and experience to lead a team that would meet the stringent operational readiness rate the military required. Brekke’s extensive operational and maintenance experience made him the obvious choice for the position, and he was promoted to Afghanistan maintenance supervisor.

In the eight years since, Columbia’s fleet in Afghanistan has grown rapidly, due in part because of Brekke’s leadership and direction. These helicopters operate nearly as far as geographically possible from the company’s headquarters and maintenance facility in Aurora, Oregon.

Columbia promoted Brekke to Afghanistan maintenance manager in 2018. The new role required him to focus heavily on managing maintenance resources to support the military’s missions. Instead of using traditional small maintenance teams assigned to specific aircraft, Brekke transitioned the teams to shift work resembling that of an airline, a change that required some team members to work 4 a.m. to 4 p.m. shifts in support of daily flight operations. The remaining mechanics work the night shift, performing aircraft inspections, repairs, component changes, and fleet-health improvements, among other tasks. These actions enable all of Columbia aircraft to be fully mission capable each day, able to meet the customer’s mission requests.

Today, Brekke continues to lead from the front in all aspects of his job, whether working with his maintenance team on Columbia’s Vertol 107-IIs or 234 Chinooks or coordinating with the head office in Aurora to ensure he and his crew have the parts needed to maintain the 90 percent–plus operational readiness rate they’ve exhibited since arriving in Afghanistan. Indeed, Brekke is always looking for new ways to improve and serve. Because of his dedication and leadership, Columbia has been able to maintain its impressive operational readiness rate while providing reliable service to U.S. and NATO troops.

Pilot of the Year Award

Jason Glynn, Pilot, Era Helicopters, Larose, Louisiana, USA

Among its many highlights, Jason Glynn’s stellar career includes having served as a flight instructor for Vortex Helicopters in Mississippi, followed by roles at Era Helicopters with increasing levels of responsibility.

But Glynn didn’t start out in the helicopter industry: first, he repaired diesel-engine generators on petroleum exploration platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. After multiple helicopter flights, however, Glynn’s passion for aviation grew to the point he decided flying helicopters was what he wanted to do for the rest of his career.

Glynn became more familiar with the helicopter industry while in a job performing base support at the Era heliport in Port Fourchon, La., where he loaded and unloaded cargo, refueled aircraft, and washed helicopters. Six months later, Glynn began putting himself through Vortex’s flight school while still working as a ramp hand for Era. An exceptional student, he impressed the school’s instructors, examiners, and owner, who offered Glynn a job as a flight instructor upon his graduation.

Over the next 10 months working at Vortex, Glynn labored tirelessly, leaving his home at 4 a.m. to drive from Louisiana to the Vortex heliport in Mississippi to ensure that his students could fly the 6 a.m. flight when the sun came up. Most days, he’d still be at the heliport at 10 p.m., after completing night instruction or just spending extra time helping students with their studies, before traveling back home to do it all again the next day.

After his time as a flight instructor at Vortex, Glynn had flown nearly 920 hours, making him eligible to become a copilot at Era. Throughout this period, his inspiring attitude, exemplary work ethic, and thirst for knowledge prompted unsolicited recommendations from almost every senior captain in the company. Because of Glynn’s outstanding dedication to the job, Era’s chief pilot was already very familiar with his name, which led to a position with the company as a copilot of a Sikorsky S-76 helicopter.

Throughout his 16 years at Era, Glynn has continued to excel, quickly moving through the ranks of instrument flight rated second-in-command (IFR SIC) to visual flight rated (VFR) captain to IFR captain. His work ethic, dedication to aviation safety, and strong desire for positive industry change inevitably drew him into a management role at the company. Over the years, Glynn has served as base lead pilot, assistant chief pilot, assistant director of operations, S-76/EC225 check airman, operations manager and is now director of operations.

“Jason has left an indelible mark on our industry, embodying exemplary leadership, fostering positive change and continued innovation,” says Jamie Comar, chief pilot and director of training at Era, in nominating Glynn for Pilot of the Year. “He’s been the go-to guy for employees and passengers alike … the lifeblood of Era and the company’s drive for aviation safety and excellence. Anyone who’s had the pleasure of working around this man remembers his name, his work ethic, and his selfless ambition.”

Lifetime Achievement Award

Sponsored by Bell
Gary Wiltrout, Chief Pilot (ret.), Salmon River Helicopters, Boise, Idaho, USA

Gary Wiltrout has flown helicopters around the world during a 50-plus year career in aviation. He first flew for the US Army, transporting troops in and out of battle in Vietnam in 1968–69. Afterward, he served as a flight instructor at Fort Rucker, Alabama.

After being honorably discharged from the army in 1971 having flown 2,000 accident-free hours, Wiltrout moved to Alaska and began flying firefighting missions, followed by assisting with the construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System. While living and working in the state, Wiltrout also conducted search-and-rescue missions, aircraft accident investigations, seismographic work, and power-line construction.

In 1999, Wiltrout became chief pilot for Salmon River Helicopters in Riggins, Idaho, where he worked 20 years before recently retiring. During his career with many different companies, he flew more than 26,500 flight hours in helicopters, more than 20,000 of them while conducting longline, external-load missions.

Wiltrout flew multiple models of helicopters during his career: the Bell 47; the Bell UH-1A/B/C/F/H models; the Bell 206A/B models; the Bell 204, 212, and 214B models; the Fairchild Hiller FH-1100; the Aérospatiale Alouette III and Lama; the Hiller Soloy UH12-E; and the Sikorsky S-61 and S-64E/F models.

Wiltrout contributed to a variety of projects worldwide during his distinguished career, including:

  • TransAlaska pipeline construction, Alaska, 1971
  • Lewiston-grade power-line crossing, Idaho, 1972
  • Terror Lake Hydroelectric Project, Alaska, 1984–85
  • Cranberry bog sanding, Oregon, the 1980s
  • Training New Zealand pilots to log, Malaysia, 1993
  • Rocky Mountain National Park rehab project, Colorado, 1993
  • New Carissa wreck disaster assistance, Oregon, 1999
  • Power-line work, Costa Rica, 2001
  • Ferry flights across Brazil, the Amazon rain forest, and the Caribbean to the United States, 2008
  • Ferry flights across Asia from Afghanistan to Australia, 2011
  • Night-vision googles training and preparation, Port Alberni, BC, Canada, 2012
  • Offshore flare-tip replacement projects, Australia, 2013, 2014, 2016.

Whatever the project or mission, Wiltrout is always ready to help, teach, and share his experiences, as is reflected in his personal motto, “We were all new once, so be kind, helpful, and understanding.” He never hesitates to share his techniques and skills with others.

Today, Wiltrout remains a mentor to many, especially new pilots. Many of the pilots he’s coached are operating safely and competently today because of his selflessness. In early 2018, Wiltrout made another generous gesture when he donated a kidney on behalf of a friend’s husband.

Wiltrout has survived three aircraft accidents—including two catastrophic engine failures—and the death of his pilot brother Timothy Wiltrout in 1990. In each case, with his family’s support, he has persevered and continued working in the industry.

Those who have worked with Wiltrout cite his many admirable qualities. “His contributions to this industry are endless, and many who have worked with him will miss his extreme professionalism, positive attitude, integrity, humble spirit, and wealth of helicopter knowledge,” says Cindy Carlson, President, Salmon River Helicopters. “He’s given back to our industry many times over.”