Read More: About This Issue
June 09, 2020

On the cover: Photographer Mark Bennett captured this S-76 C++ flying over the traffic on LA’s Interstate 405. The helicopter, piloted by Steve Gould (left) and copiloted by Adam Ferris, is part of Helinet’s aircraft management program, which currently oversees four aircraft.

Read More: Helinet Flies Ahead
June 08, 2020

Like many of her colleagues in aviation, Kathryn Purwin has gotten The Call—the one that delivers dreaded news about a loved one or coworker, the one that transforms your life into Before and After. Some time around Sep. 11, 2015, Kathryn learned that her husband, Alan Purwin, had been killed when the airplane he was on crashed in Colombia.

Best known for his film production work as a helicopter stunt pilot and aerial coordinator, Alan was the chairman of Helinet Aviation Services, a multimission helicopter operator based in Los Angeles. Since 1984, he had flown for nearly 150 movies and television productions, including the box-­office blockbusters Air Force One, Armageddon, The Fast and the Furious, Jurassic Park, and Transformers. Considered an innovative film production pilot, he was responsible for iconic stunts such as the helicopter chase scene in the 2003 movie The Italian Job.


Alan founded Helinet, originally called West Coast Helicopters, in 1987 at Van Nuys Airport (KVNY) in Los Angeles. Starting with a Bell 206 LongRanger, Alan and a partner, Michael Tamburro, provided flight services for several Los Angeles–based business professionals and athletes. In 1988, West Coast began transporting organs for LA-based transplant centers. Two years later, it secured its first newsgathering contract.

Charter, organ transport, electronic newsgathering—the fledgling helicopter company was acquiring a diverse list of missions. “I’ve watched this company grow from the very beginning,” says Kathryn. “I remember when Alan had one helicopter, one desk, and one phone line.”

Kathryn first met Alan at—where else?—an airport. She had attended the University of California, Los Angeles, with a double major in history and political science, intending to become a lawyer. But that plan was sidetracked when a friend took her flying. She was hooked.

Instead of a lawyer, Kathryn became a commercial pilot, flying business jets (she holds commercial multiengine and instrument fixed-wing ratings and also holds a helicopter license). When Alan started West Coast Helicopters, the two were already friends; they married in 1994. 

In 1998, Alan merged West Coast Helicopters with Helinet Aviation Services. His reputation as an aerial coordinator and stunt and production pilot for film and TV productions was growing, and the company was expanding into new missions, including helicopter air ambulance work and aircraft management.

With the birth of their children, Michaela and Kyle, Kathryn became less directly involved in the company. After Alan’s death, she didn’t initially plan to be an active owner of Helinet. There were all the other details that needed attention, and of course, her children. Besides, Alan had hired a management team three months before the accident.

Kathryn initially left it to that team to run the business. But without Alan to provide continuity, the company he had created was losing focus. He was a visionary, charismatic leader who could run a complex business out of his head. Replacing him as CEO seemed like an impossible task. 

“After he was gone, it wasn’t my original intent to come in,” says Kathryn. “But I saw that I needed to do that for Alan’s legacy to continue. He worked so hard for it. It was my commitment to Alan that I was going to keep this place alive. That’s why I came in, and that’s why I’m still here.”

Read More: UAS Market Ready for a Breakout
June 08, 2020

The market for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS, or drones) grows bigger every year, as more companies, industries, and governments find ways to use these aircraft. Because drones can easily carry lightweight cameras and other sensing equipment, they’re already utilized for inspection, surveillance, or data-gathering missions. But plans are under way to carry cargo and people, too.

“It depends on what study you read, but the commercial drone industry and light military [drone] market in 2018—in the US alone—was $2.6 billion. And by 2025 it will grow to $16.2 billion,” says Cameron Chell, co-founder and CEO of Canadian firm Draganfly, the world’s first commercial drone manufacturer.
Some studies suggest a much higher number. But whatever the real figure, there’s no denying the UAS industry’s current growth and prospects for more of it, regardless of where the hype surrounding the technology stands.

“I wouldn’t say all the hype is gone, but it is much reduced,” says Kay Wackwitz, a consulting aeronautical engineer and CEO of research and consulting firm Drone Industry Insights, based in Hamburg, Germany.

Most of the excitement generated in recent years has been aimed at attracting investment dollars to the small army of drone start-ups—and to the big ride-sharing companies like Uber that are itching to begin operating “flying taxis.” But a number of start-ups have scaled back their dreams, and some have even shut down after having learned how hard the technical challenges are, how long the road is to full certification, and how much of an investment would be required to produce a certificated and affordable finished product.

Read More: HAI Scholarship Recipient Sarah-Grace Blanton
June 08, 2020

Funds give Marine Corps veteran a sense of security and hope.

With her aeronautical engineer father as a role model, Sarah-Grace Blanton knew since childhood that she wanted to work in aviation. But it wasn’t until she joined the US Marine Corps that the 2020 winner of HAI’s Commercial Helicopter Pilot Rating Scholarship was certain she wanted to be a pilot. While deployed overseas, the Kansas native met several pilots, an experience that ultimately led her to pick helicopters as her aircraft of choice. 

After leaving the military, however, Sarah-Grace encountered several roadblocks when she tried to use the GI Bill to obtain her pilot’s license and instrument rating. For one, she had to pay out of pocket for her license before receiving any GI benefits. Then, when she tried to use the funding for her instrument rating, she didn’t receive her first payment for more than eight months. She found help only after writing to Congress to request assistance but even then was reimbursed for only 60% of her training costs. 

She also had problems using her GI Bill benefits at the school where she originally enrolled in California. After she transferred to Precision Aviation Training in Newberg, Oregon, the process became much easier. 

She says her HAI scholarship was essential to continuing her pilot studies. “If I hadn’t won the scholarship, it would’ve been very hard for me to move to a different state and begin flight training somewhere new,” says Sarah-Grace, who obtained her commercial rating in March.  

The HAI scholarship has given her a sense of security and hope, she says. The funding, she explains, became a “safety blanket” that allowed her to concentrate on obtaining her commercial rating without the stress of accumulating more debt.

Sarah-Grace learned about HAI’s scholarship program from her mentor Dan Megna, a photographer for Vertical magazine whom she met at her former flight school. Megna still mentors Sarah-Grace, helping her network with other professionals and tracking her progress toward achieving her ultimate goal of becoming an air interdiction agent for US Customs and Border Protection. She also aspires to becoming a certificated flight instructor. 

In addition to Megna, Sarah-Grace cites as role models her Precision instructors Henry Sexsmith and Casey Campbell. “They’re always available to help me and give honest feedback,” she says. “They’ve taught me that hard work and not being afraid to ask questions will allow me to grow, as well as how to be a safe and efficient commercial pilot.”

Like so many in the rotorcraft industry, Sarah-Grace has found her training stymied by the COVID-19 pandemic. Although she completed her commercial checkride before a stay-at-home order took effect in Oregon, under the GI Bill she won’t be able to start CFI training and have her tuition paid until the order is lifted. But Sarah-Grace, who’s studying under an aviation science degree program developed by Klamath Community College in Klamath Falls, Oregon, in partnership with Precision Aviation, thinks things will work out.

Sarah-Grace frequently invokes her instructors’ lessons, especially the concept of a mental safety checklist, which she employs before every flight. “Every time I get ready for a flight, I ask myself, ‘Did I get enough sleep? How am I feeling? How’s my preflight?’ When I get in the cockpit, I think, ‘Fly with a purpose,’ because it keeps me focused so there’s no room for error.”

Her advice to other students is never give up. “Don’t be afraid of failure and bad flights,” she says. “Pick yourself back up, brush yourself off, and keep pushing toward your goal.”

She appreciates what the HAI scholarship has afforded her and would eagerly return the favor if she could. “If money weren’t an issue, I’d contribute to scholarships and anything that allows a pilot to build their passion for aviation,” she says. “Just how it was done for me.”

Read More: Learning to Survive a Helicopter Ditching
June 08, 2020

Ditching a helicopter in water isn’t an ideal way to end a flight, but as with everything flight related, training for such an eventuality improves your ability to, if not walk, at least dog-paddle away as safely as possible.

Depending on the environment, flight regime, equipment, skill, and luck, a water landing might mirror a ground landing and result in the aircraft resting comfortably upright on floats in placid water. Then again, elements of the environment, regime, equipage, skill, or luck might fail and you could find yourself in an inverted aircraft sinking in dark, stormy seas. Your fate might then rest entirely in your own hands—a destiny much more in your control if you’ve trained for that possibility beforehand.

I’ve recently flown several missions over the Gulf of Mexico. Even though I was wearing a life jacket and the aircraft had floats, when you fly over miles and miles of water, you do wonder how you would fare in a ditching incident.

With those experiences in mind, I audited “Aviation Survival and Egress Training with Emergency Breathing Devices,” a course teaching the skills needed to survive a helicopter ditching. The class, provided by Survival Systems USA of Groton, Connecticut, as part of HAI’s professional education program at HAI HELI-EXPO 2020, was a packed day that included both classroom lecture and in-pool practice.

Read More: HAI on Social
June 08, 2020

An industry that’s safe together saves lives together! We shared our COVID-19 checklist on HAI’s social media platforms as a supplement to operators’ equipment manuals and company policies, and it received 2,127 engagements on Facebook. We’re ecstatic that our members and followers are prioritizing safety, whether for themselves, their colleagues, or their passengers during the pandemic. Continue to fly safe!

Read More: Untangling the East River Crash
June 08, 2020

A failure to “mitigate foreseeable risks” proves lethal.

Aviation’s approach to risk management has evolved into a two-pronged strategy:

  • Try to identify every potential failure point and update your equipment, systems, and procedures to reduce or eliminate those hazards
  • Devise strategies, preferably multilayered, for coping with whatever emergencies arise from the hazards that remain.

The results are safety features that have become so common that they’re taken for granted, from the redundancy of essential equipment to guards protecting flight-­critical switches to company procedures limiting pilot discretion in marginal weather.

And the risk mitigation process is necessarily iterative: when previously overlooked hazards or rare combinations of circumstances result in accidents or emergencies, the industry responds with a fresh round of analysis, ideally leading to further improvements.

Human nature and the high cost of equipment retrofits have made progress on some fronts very slow, but the long-term trend of aviation safety should arc toward the reduction of all risks not intrinsic to the act of flight itself.

The March 11, 2018, ditching of a Liberty Helicopters AS350 B2 in New York’s East River drew widespread attention for several reasons, from the sequence of events that brought down the ship to the peculiarly awful manner in which all five passengers lost their lives. The accident triggered renewed scrutiny of the controversial practice of claiming exemption under 14 CFR 119.1(e)(4)(iii) to operate air tours under Part 91 without a letter of authorization through advertising them as photo flights, a practice that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) for many years has urged the FAA to ban.The incomplete inflation of the AS350 B2’s emergency floats prompted a fresh look at the rigging and maintenance of those systems. Most fundamental, though—and most damning—was the failure the NTSB called out as the first contributing factor in its finding of probable cause: the two operators’ “deficient safety management, which did not adequately mitigate foreseeable risks.”

Read More: Recent Accidents & Incidents
June 07, 2020

The rotorcraft accidents and incidents listed below occurred between Jan. 1 and Mar. 31, 2020. The accident details shown below are preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. All information was obtained through the official websites listed below, where you can learn more details about each event.

Australia – Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB):

Britain – Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB):

Canada – Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSBC):

New Zealand – Transport Accident Investigation Commission of New Zealand (TAIC):

United States – National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB):

January 2020

Sud Aviation SE 3130 Alouette II
Mokelumne Hill, CA, USA
Jan. 4, 2020 | NTSB WPR20CA059
Injuries unknown | Flight type unknown
No description available.

Hughes OH-6A
Preston, GA, USA
Jan. 8, 2020 | NTSB ERA20LA071
1 injury, 0 fatalities | Aerial observation flight
Helicopter impacted terrain after loss of power.

Garlick UH-1H
Boydtown, NSW, Australia
Jan. 9, 2020 | ATSB AO-2020-003
1 injury, 0 fatalities | Firefighting flight
Helicopter lost power for undetermined reasons and impacted water.

Robinson R66
Mechanicsburg, PA, USA
Jan. 9, 2020 | NTSB ERA20FA074
0 injuries, 2 fatalities | Personal flight
Helicopter impacted terrain during night flight for undetermined reasons.

Bell 407
Lautaro, Chile
Jan. 13, 2020 | NTSB ENG20WA014
0 injuries, 0 fatalities | Commercial flight
No description available.

Bell 206L-4
Lac Saint-Jean, QC, Canada
Jan. 22, 2020 | TSBC A20Q0015
1 injury, 0 fatalities | Search-and-rescue flight
Helicopter impacted frozen lake during search-and-rescue mission.

Bell 407
Minot, ND, USA
Jan. 22, 2020 | NTSB CEN20LA068
0 injuries, 0 fatalities | Air medical flight
Helicopter impacted helipad perimeter fence while landing.

Robinson R22
Charlotte, TX, USA
Jan. 24, 2020 | NTSB CEN20LA066
1 injury, 0 fatalities | Aerial mustering / personal flight
Helicopter hit power line during aerial mustering operation.

Sikorsky S-76
Calabasas, CA, USA
Jan. 26, 2020 | NTSB DCA20MA059
0 injuries, 9 fatalities | Air taxi flight
Helicopter impacted hilly terrain.

February 2020

Airbus AS350 B3
Bulga, NSW, Australia
Feb. 5, 2020 | ATSB AO-2020-013
0 injuries, 0 fatalities | Aerial work flight
Rescue hoist failed for undetermined reasons.

Bell 407
Laishevo, TA, Russia
Feb. 7, 2020 | NTSB ANC20WA019
2 injuries, 1 fatality | Flight type unknown
No description available.

Robinson R44
Marfa, TX, USA
Feb. 14, 2020 | NTSB CEN20CA085
0 injuries, 0 fatalities | Aerial mustering flight
Helicopter impacted ground after striking wire fence.

Schweizer 269C
Ormond Beach, FL, USA
Feb. 17, 2020 | NTSB ERA20CA104
0 injuries, 0 fatalities | General aviation flight
Helicopter’s right skid impacted ground, and the aircraft rolled onto its right side.

Aérospatiale AS350
Tampa, FL, USA
Feb. 18, 2020 | NTSB ERA20CA106
0 injuries, 0 fatalities | General aviation flight
Helicopter departed taxiway after landing and came to rest in drainage ditch.

Bell OH-58A
Calexico, CA, USA
Feb. 18, 2020 | NTSB WPR20CA092
0 injuries, 0 fatalities | Agricultural flight
Helicopter lost lift for undetermined reasons.

Robinson R44
Talkeetna, AK, USA
Feb. 20, 2020 | NTSB ANC20CA023
Injuries unknown | Air taxi flight
No description available.

Innovator Mosquito Air
North Manchester, IN, USA
Feb. 23, 2020 | NTSB CEN20FA098
0 injuries, 1 fatality | Personal flight
Helicopter impacted terrain for unknown reasons.

Robinson R44
Astrakhan, Russia
Feb. 28, 2020 | NTSB ANC20WA031
0 injuries, 1 fatality | Flight type unknown
No description available.

March 2020

Bell 206
Clark, MO, USA
Mar. 4, 2020 | NTSB CEN20LA113
0 injuries, 0 fatalities | Air ambulance flight
Helicopter impacted terrain during forced landing after in-flight loss of engine power.

Eurocopter EC130
Kalapana, HI, USA
Mar. 5, 2020 | NTSB ANC20LA028
2 injuries, 0 fatalities | Sightseeing flight
Helicopter lost control, impacted terrain, and rolled over during precautionary landing.

Bell 206
Konstantinovsky Cape, Russia
Mar. 23, 2020 | NTSB ANC20WA035
1 injury, 1 fatality | Flight type unknown
No description available.

Bell 206
Chicureo, Chile
Mar. 24, 2020 | NTSB ERA20WA137
0 injuries, 1 fatality | Flight type unknown
No description available.

Read More: IIMC Battle Plan
June 07, 2020

Prepare for IIMC

  • Get Rated. Take the first step to surviving IIMC: get a rotorcraft instrument rating and maintain IFR flight proficiency in your type of aircraft.
  • Practice IIMC Recovery. Whether you’re a VFR- or IFR-rated pilot, practice realistic transitions into simulated IMC as often as you can, even if it’s only for a few minutes. If you can swing some hours in a Level D simulator, great. But don’t be a simulator snob; aviation training devices or desktop programs are also effective—and less expensive—ways to accomplish this training.
  • Fly IFR-Rated Aircraft. Whenever possible, fly IFR-certified aircraft equipped with autopilot and stability augmentation systems. Know how to use these systems and how to transition to them in flight.

Before You Take Off

  • Understand the Weather. Complete a thorough weather assessment before every flight using every modern tool available. Make sure you understand the weather conditions throughout your route and their implications for safe flight.
  • Know Your Route. Before takeoff, obsessively plan your route of flight, and make every effort to avoid areas susceptible to changing environmental conditions.
  • Create and Follow a Response Plan. Always have a clear plan for when you WILL return, divert, or land if your flight-control inputs change in response to environmental conditions. These en route decision points must always be clearly announced, observed, and supported by management, air crews, and customers as NONNEGOTIABLE.
  • Learn to Say No. Delay or cancel flights when the weather is questionable or could deteriorate, or if you’re just unsure you can continue the flight safely. Often, that gut feeling is trying to tell you something. Listen and conquer your desire to complete the flight at any cost. Professional pilots know when to say no.

During the Flight

  • Stay in VMC. Follow the FAA’s guidelines on how to remain in visual meteorological conditions (VMC) during a flight (see, pages 11–24 through 11–26 for more information): 
    • If the weather ahead appears questionable, slowly turn around BEFORE you’re threatened by deteriorating visual cues. Proceed back to VMC or to the first safe landing area.
    • Don’t proceed further when the terrain ahead isn’t clearly discernible. It’s called VFR for a reason.
    • Always have in mind a safe landing space (such as a large open area or airport) for every segment of the flight.
  • Follow Expert Guidance. If you do find yourself in the clouds, follow FAA guidance on how to respond to VFR flight into IMC. (A brief summary of these steps is included in this issue’s “5 Dos and Don’ts,” on p. 19.)
  • Be Calm and Confident. If you experience IIMC, remain calm and trust your instruments and your IFR/IIMC training. It will pay off.

Further Resources

The guidance available on dealing with IIMC is much too extensive to cover completely in this article. I strongly encourage all pilots to refer to the 2019 release of the FAA’s Helicopter Flying Handbook, FAA‑H‑8083‑21B. Chapter 11, pages 24–26, includes several updates that address how best to avoid and respond to VFR flight into IMC.

Additionally, the US Helicopter Safety Team has identified several helicopter safety enhancements focused on addressing the primary causes of fatal helicopter accidents, including IIMC. Visit