Airbus Helicopters

Helicopter Upset Recognition & Recovery Training – Taking Training to the Next Level

Chuck Aaron & Kevin Bredenbeck are two of the most well known names in helicopters, the two recently teamed up to design some of the most innovative and challenging training courses in the industry that they hope will save many lives.

Retirement is not in the vocabulary of Chuck Aaron or Kevin Bredenbeck. For two of helicopter aviation’s most well-known names, it was more a case of “what’s next.” That answer came during a conversation between Bredenbeck, Aaron, HAI’s President Matt Zuccaro and Tony Burson, previous HAI Chairman of the Board while discussing recent air medical and law enforcement incidents involving controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) and Inadvertent Instrument meteorological conditions (IIMC.) The consensus of the conversation being that something was lacking in training. All thought that while pilots trained to meet the practical test standards, that when relating crashes involving CFIT and IIMC, that current training just wasn’t enough to teach pilots how to fly themselves out of dangerous conditions that can often and has numerous times resulted in fatal crashes.

Chuck Aaron & Kevin Bredenbeck, arguably two of the most experienced helicopter pilots in the business when it comes to non standard flying decided that there wasn't enough real world training opportunities to deal with IIMC, so they set about solving that problem themselves. Photo by Ryan Mason
Chuck Aaron & Kevin Bredenbeck, arguably two of the most experienced helicopter pilots in the business when it comes to non standard flying decided that there wasn’t enough real world training opportunities to deal with IIMC, so they set about solving that problem themselves. Photo by Ryan Mason

The Idea

Aaron in his many years as a stunt pilot for Red Bull, performing aerobatics around the world stated “When flying the way I have done for many years, unlike most pilots, who are taught to scan gauges and always keep their head outside the cockpit.  I was flying inverted a great deal, so my eyes were more on the cockpit instruments to tell me that everything was going to be fine coming out of a loop or an S turn, looking outside would have been of little help with how I was flying.”

Bredenbeck, having a similar experience with his years as a test pilot said “Sometimes we would routinely be doing 60, or 80 degree turns, testing high G-rates and many other complicated maneuvers that your average pilot would not be doing. Along with many other maneuvers to test the integrity of an aircraft, So the flying that Chuck and I have done over our careers is very similar, relying a lot on our gauges, just like you do when flying IFR.”

The common factor between the two, despite the differences in the flying each did being for different purposes, was each knowing through thousands of hours of flying and repeating many maneuvers over and over and making mistakes, was how to recover, and do so gently mostly by using instruments.

It was shortly after that meeting that the two put their heads together and decided that it was time that someone in the industry started teaching beyond the practical test standards (PTS.) Teaching the methods on how to perform upset recovery or how to fly your way out of a situation, to recover from a helicopter in an out of control situation. It was then that the two sat down to make a list of items they thought lacked in the PTS as it related to the recovery of an aircraft and even setting down gently in zero visibility situations where there was no other option if returning to base or continuing was no longer an option.

Training where no one has taught before

Longtime friends Bredenbeck and Aaron spent several months designing and developing the three day course students would take. Photo by Chuck Aaron
Longtime friends Bredenbeck and Aaron spent several months designing and developing the three day course students would take. Photo by Chuck Aaron

The first thing the pair wanted to tackle was addressing the issue of “currency versus proficiency,” Bredenbeck stating “You might do your six takeoffs and landings each year with a hood on to continue maintaining your IFR proficiency, but that teaches you nothing about having to do a set down in an unfamiliar environment. Everyone is out there doing initial IFR and ongoing training for proficiency, but not in the conditions needed. Sims are great, but it is not real. In the back of your head, you always know you can hit a pause or a reset button.”

One of the things that both knew from training others over the years is that many pilots are reliant on an attitude indicator when things get bad. Should that instrument fail, around 90% of pilots would fail to be able to do much more than hope for the best as they slowly lost control of an aircraft. Most if asked, couldn’t tell you the turn radius of their aircraft, let alone multiple airframes if they fly more than one type.

Bredenbeck, who joined Aaron’s company FX LLC as a partner to teach the course they named Helicopter Upset Recognition Recovery Training (HURRT). Aaron originally started his company FX LLC with son Charles. Bredenbeck stated “Pilots can get into an IIMC situation and not have a plan for what happens if things go wrong. This is where the PTS is inadequate and where we need to do more as an industry. If you take off heading from point A to point B and all of a sudden find yourself in an IIMC situation, and the weather has closed in around you, what do you do? The PTS does not teach you what to do in this situation, and not many have a plan in their head that is ready for exactly this situation. Trying to perform a controlled descent in 0/0 visibility with no training on it or a plan in place is where many failures occur, maneuvering stability is where people fail in these situations, and why we wanted to impact the industry by starting this type of training.”

“People are startled when they find themselves in IIMC. Our training teaches them how to recover the aircraft and develop a comfortability factor in teaching pilots that it is not something that is impossible and that with the right training, that anyone can fly his or her way out of a situation like this, or make a controlled landing in unfamiliar terrain comfortably” he added.

Three days of intensity

The upset recovery course put on by these two industry heavy-hitters, starts around nine thirty, lasting around seven hours each day and consists of classroom facilitation from both Aaron and Bredenbeck. The two compiling their training material from two hundred pages of documentation that the two prepared on what they wanted to teach. This information then had to be paired down into something manageable within the three day class time frame as well as fitting in three to three and a half hours of flying for each student over the duration of the course. This allows for students to implement the knowledge gained in a practical application where students can make mistakes with a seasoned professional beside them, hopefully developing the skills to perform comfortably and confront some of the most challenging flying conditions possible in real aircraft versus a simulator.

While no one has come out of the training course yet saying it was “cool,” that is not what Aaron and Bredenbeck were looking for. Some of the feedback that the two have received, though, is exactly what they were looking for. Attendees in the courses beta group test came away with comments like “that was the most stressful, but most useful training I have ever had.”

“This is not the kind of course that you can show up, sit in the back of the class and warm a seat and expect a certificate at the end,” says Aaron. The course is designed to take a pilot to the limits of their skills and beyond. The upset recovery course is also the first of its kind in the world that uses a real helicopter to teach students how it feels, versus a simulator, using a proprietary shield over the student’s portion of the cockpit. Unlike the old fashioned goggles approach,

Bredenbeck, spent many years testing Sikorsky Aircraft as their Chief Test Pilot, including the X2, which flew in excess of 250 knots and recently, the S-97 Raider. Photo courtesy Sikorsky Aircraft.
Bredenbeck, spent many years testing Sikorsky Aircraft as their Chief Test Pilot, including the X2, which flew in excess of 250 knots and recently, the S-97 Raider. Photo courtesy Sikorsky Aircraft.

Bredenbeck and Aaron want their students to know the actual feeling as an aircraft gets into an out of control situation and how to bring it back gently into trim. Another aspect taught along with much more throughout the course is how to land in unfamiliar areas in zero visibility, all skills that are outside the PTS, yet needed in the industry to take training to the next level. The team’s proprietary method of a completely blacked out cockpit for the pilot training, while either Aaron or Bredenbeck rides alongside with their view completely open to step in as needed.

Initial feedback from the first course was that students had the opinion that they were overconfident in what they thought they could achieve without this training. After an exhausting three days with Aaron and Bredenbeck, that view had changed, and the overconfidence evaporated quickly when put into an upset recovery scenario. One thing that Aaron and Bredenbeck found in their first group was that each pilot took away was the confidence to know how to perform a multitude of new skills that would help them in the event that they were ever challenged in the real world with similar circumstances. “That is what we want to teach them in this course, that these situations are recoverable and we want them to come away with the confidence to do it in the real world” said Aaron.

The Goal

Aaron and Bredebeck considered many things on what the two wanted people to walk away with from the world’s first HURRT course, the biggest point; that those who took the course, walked away with a view to changing how they personally or their company approaches IIMC and upset recovery type situations. Hoping that by conducting this kind of training that it opens people’s eyes to the fact that the PTS is not enough on its own and that people need to train for situations like the ones covered in this course.

The Aircraft

It should be a surprise to no one that Chuck Aaron is partial to the BO-105, which is incidentally the aircraft that is being used to conduct the course. The BO-105 offering the stability of having both a twin engine redundancy in addition to a rigid rotor system that is more forgiving. The helicopter is essentially a “mini Blackhawk” said Bredenbeck. The helicopter also requires the pilots attention a lot, which is exactly what the two want, along with the added safety that type of aircraft offers for the safety of students and instructors for the flying portion of the course. Aaron also mentioned that the course is available using both a steam gauge BO-105 or the team’s full digital cockpit BO-105 LS model, equipped with a G-500, that features synthetic vision (albeit at a slightly higher cost for the course using this helicopter).

Planning for the future

Both Bredenbeck and Aaron were apprehensive about starting a course that no one had ever attempted before. Also being that the course they were attempting, had a high danger potential. However, after meeting with representatives from their insurance company, the FAA and their first group of beta testers to sit through the course, who were pilots from a local California Sheriff’s office, the two know that their new training course has support from all that have seen it. The first group of pilots to attend the course already asking when a follow-up one-day refresher course can be held. This has since been planned by the FX team and will be starting shortly and providing even more complicated scenario’s for pilots who have attended the first course. “The refresher will be a whole new experience for people that have already been through the three-day course,” said Aaron. “They may come prepared to ace the stuff we have already taught them, but what they will get is an entirely new set of scenarios that will further challenge their skills” he added.

Growth

With interest in the course growing from word of mouth as news of the upset recovery training has spread around the industry, Bredenbeck and Aaron have already begun the search for additional instructors that meet their high standards that will assist in opening more course slots for interested pilots. Currently, the pair only accepts two pilots per course. Which, beginning March 15th, 2017, will be held each week, every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, but if demands continue to be as high as they have been just with word of mouth, their need for instructors and aircraft to meet demand may rise in the future.

Students that participate in the HRRT course put on by Aaron and Bredenbeck can choose between two BO-105 helicopters in analog or digital configured cockpits (digital for an additional cost)
Students that participate in the HRRT course put on by Aaron and Bredenbeck can choose between two BO-105 helicopters in analog or digital configured cockpits (digital for an additional cost.) Photo provided by Chuck Aaron

Upset Recovery: What you need to know

Where: Courses are held at Camarillo Airport in California

When: Starting March 15th, 2017, classes will be held weekly, each Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday with a maximum of two students for each course.

Cost: $12,500 per student for three day class/$15,000 per student for glass cockpit version

Accommodation: Can be provided at a hotel close to Camarillo Airport as part of training package

To Book: Contact the FX LLC office: 805-444-0811 or www.fx-llc.com

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