Search-and-rescue training focus of helicopter center

July 26, 2010 at 10:53 pm

*published Jul. 26, 2010

Simulator instructor Lenny Smith watches and assists pilots David Beaulieu, left, and John Scanlon, both of LifeFlight of Maine, in the flight simulator at Era Helicopter’s search-and-rescue training center. BY BRAD PUCKETT

Era Helicopters, along with sister company Priority 1 Air Rescue, has opened a search-and-rescue training center in Lake Charles.

Paul White, general manager of the training center, said Era has been training third-party helicopter pilots, such as those of emergency rescue companies, law enforcement agencies and some foreign military, and saw a demand for search-and-rescue training.

“There is a very real need around the world for search-and-rescue services. I think the Deepwater Horizon shined a light on that,” White said. “If you’re 200 miles off shore and there’s a problem, the response time needs to be quick.”

One Era rescue helicopter, the AgustaWestland AW139, has a cruising speed of about 180 mph, White said.

Paul White, the general manager of the Era LLC training center, talks about the hoisting device on the helicopter used for air rescue. BY BRAD PUCKETT

White said companies and national governments are operating more often in dangerous areas, like the North Slope of Alaska and far off the Brazilian coast.

“We train our pilots in many different areas, so we know it can get very costly. This is just another training service we can offer to those other companies,” White said.

The course typically lasts two or three weeks, depending on an individual student’s qualifications before training.

Areas of training include offshore vessel, mountain and swift-water rescue and advanced rescue swimmer training.

White said Era has 180 aircraft and 300 pilots worldwide. About half of their pilots are based along the Gulf Coast.

The training center has two flight simulators, which is where pilots-in-training spend the majority of their time.

White said the simulator has software to recreate the terrain and layout of about 5,000 airports throughout the world.

A developer and graphic designer create cityscapes and urban terrain, when needed. After the simulator flights, instructors can go to a debrief station that has a recording of all flight simulations. The pilot is debriefed and given a copy of the footage as a study aid.

“The value of simulation is that the instructor doesn’t have to interject,” White said. “In a real aircraft, I may have to intervene to correct a trainee’s mistake.”

During a recent tour of the facilities, two pilots from LifeFlight of Maine were using the AC135 p2 plus helicopter simulator for a flight rules refresher course. On the classroom side, a small group of pilots was taking part in a haz-mat training class.

Over the past year, the Lake Charles Era training center has held more than 500 classes that trained about 2,400 operators.


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