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Advanced Helicopter Training with FlightSafety International

Posted 14 years 15 days ago ago by Admin

Written & Video Feature: By Lyn Burks - Having been in the helicopter industry for a little while, I have been fortunate enough to experience many levels of training. While recently attending an S76C++ transition course at FlightSafety International (FlightSafety), I am reminded of the stark differences between the "haves" and the "have nots."

Justhelicopters.TV Video

My reference to "haves" and "have nots" is not meant to be deprecating to those who offer or attend helicopter training at traditional facilities. It’s really more of an analogy which notes the difference in the level of training provided by FlightSafety as compared to other training providers I have experienced. The present model of our training industry is what it is, and this article will not change it.

My goals here are twofold:

  • Give helicopter pilots who have not yet climbed the helicopter pilot ladder to the level of flying complex twins a peek into what training is like at FlightSafety. They have very much to look forward to!
  • Give traditional training providers a glimpse into the FlightSafety training model and if they can pull anything out of it that might improve their own operations, then we SCORED!

As a point of reference for which I draw my experiences, over the years I have received helicopter training from several mom and pop flight schools as well as OEM training courses. The OEM courses were provided by Robinson, Bell, Agusta and Sikorsky (FlightSafety International). In this pilot’s opinion, FlightSafety has FlightSafety International Sim Bayprovided me the highest all around quality of helicopter training that I have experienced in my career.

Background on FlightSafety

Most people may not know that FlightSafety has been around since 1951 and is owned by parent company Berkshire Hathaway, Inc. If that name seems vaguely familiar, ever hear of Warren Buffet? You know, the third richest guy on the planet? Well, Mr. Buffet is Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, so basically he owns FlightSafety. Worldwide, the company has 40 learning centers which mostly cater to the fixed wing world; however, they do have five helicopter specific training centers which are located in TX, FL, LA, AZ and the UK. In the helicopter world, they offer pilot and maintenance courses for various types of Bell, Eurocopter and Sikorsky helicopters.

The Mission

As I indicated earlier, I was attending a Sikorsky S76C++ transition course at the West Palm Beach Learning Center which was six days in length. Having attended S76C+ initial and recurrent classes many times in my former EMS pilot life, the "transition" course was the perfect re-introduction to the aircraft.

The Schedule

Day 1: 0800 – 1700 Aircraft Systems and Systems Integration

Day 2: 0800 – 1700 Aircraft Systems and Systems Integration

Day 3: 0800 – 1700 Aircraft Systems and Systems Integration

Day 4: 0800 – 1200 Sim Brief and Simulator Training (Start up, general flying, engine failures) 1300 – 1600 General Subjects & CRM

Day 5: 0900 – 1230 Sim Brief and Simulator Training (EP’s and Tail Rotor Malfunctions 1330 – 1600 Aircraft Systems

Day 6: 0900 – 1300 Aircraft Systems, General Subjects, Written Exam 1530 – 1830 Sim Brief and Simulator Training (IFR day)

Training Highlights

Aircraft systems training both in and out of the class was intense, in-depth and covered all of the usual suspects which included fuel, hydraulics, power plant, avionics, autopilots, drive train, as well as the brain drainer of all classes, the S76 electrical system. With 2 DC generators, 1 AC generator, 2 inverters, 4 DC buses, 5 AC buses and a circuit breaker panel as big as a Pachinko board, a cold beer at the end of the day is the only thing that can relieve the stress and pain of that complicated topic! Despite the complexity of the S76 systems, FlightSafety instructors masterfully integrate their personal experience with physical aircraft components and computer technology to give the client a well rounded and simplified view of the systems.

The creative use of technology is really what makes FlightSafety training stand out from the rest of the mortal flight training world. Four distinct areas which were most noticeable were in dynamic PowerPoint presentations, computers in the classroom, state of the art full motion flight simulators, and last but not least, the Graphical Flight Simulator, aka GFS.

The GFS is an amazing new procedures training aid which allows clients to sit in a computer generated cockpit environment and perform many procedures from start up to emergencies. Additionally, the GFS can be used to practice instrument flying procedures. The convenient aspect of the GFS is there does not need to be an instructor present. Clients who wish to spend extra time outside of the actual flight simulator can schedule one of several GFS stations and spend extra hours learning their way around the cockpit either alone or with a classmate.

Flight Simulators are one of the most valuable training tools available to pilots. They allow us to put students into situations which cannot be replicated in the real aircraft. They also allow pilots to receive training at a fraction of the cost of flying the real aircraft. Unfortunately for much of the helicopter industry, simulators are under-utilized, used incorrectly, or non-existent. From light helicopters to larger complex twins, simulator technology has grown by leaps and bounds in the last 10 years. At the Learning Center I attended, FlightSafety uses full motion Level D simulators for the Sikorsky S76, S92, and the S70 Blackhawk. At 30+ million dollars per sim, the technology involved is staggering, but the level of realism from the cockpit is equally as valuable when you are the one receiving the training.

Character Quality – It’s really about the people!

I am always amazed by the quality of the training as well as the instructors. My two primary instructors for the week were Robert Cline (classroom) and Robert "Bobby" Johnson (simulator). Mr. Cline came from that old Northeast clique of "corporate 76 drivers." He had been flying the S76 for what seemed to be a jillion years. He spoke of the helicopter like a proud dad talks of his kids, and I am sure he knew the Morse code identifier for the NDB at Teterboro by heart, which is actually kind of scary. The point being, this fast talking "Northeasterner" had been there and done that and as a client in training, I received much more information than what was in the manual or on the PowerPoint slides! My favorite line from Mr. Cline was when he would every so often ask a question to a perplexed, unresponsive class and out of the blue would yell "mayday, mayday"…….just prior to un-befuddling us with the answer to the question.

Before every sim session, clients get a thirty minute brief to cover the maneuvers and procedures to be flown in the simulator. Bobby Johnson made these briefs entertaining and painless with his no nonsense euphemisms and slightly detectable sense of sarcasm. As an experienced helicopter instructor myself, I thought he applied the perfect amount of carrot and stick to push us to new levels of performance and understanding of the aircraft.

During one practice missed approach and go-around procedure, I incorrectly used the flight director and did not apply appropriate power to maintain climb airspeed. I did not recognize this simple mistake until I was about 600 feet AGL in the soup with airspeed bleeding off through 40 kts. For those who are not familiar, most helicopters like to quit flying themselves somewhere below 50 – 60 kts. In the name of learning, Bobby was perfectly happy to sit back and watch me barrel down the road to unusual attitudes-ville. After I punched off the flight director and got the aircraft back under control by hand flying, Bobby politely said, "thanks for creating your own unusual attitude and recovery session; we can check that maneuver off the list. Now let’s shoot another approach and get it right this time!"

It dawned on me that FlightSafety Helicopter Instructors at this facility were much more than just teachers in the subject matter of all things pertaining to the S76. They were real characters as well as seasoned veterans of our industry.


Having the experience of starting a flight school, owning a helicopter, and Flyit Simulator myself, I am very familiar with the slim profit margins in the world of mom and pop helicopter flight training, Margins no doubt too thin to afford high end simulators and a world class building to house them. There are, however, many parallels to the product lines provided by mom and pops and FlightSafety. This means there are specific line items that a lesser financed operation can focus attention if they would like to move their organization toward world class. None of these items require a significant financial investment which would not pay for themselves over time.

  • Hire instructors who do not just hold a CFII Certificate. Hire really good teachers who are true characters.
  • Focus on standardization of curriculum.
  • Integrate simulator training into your program and learn to use it properly. The biggest mistake I’ve seen is when schools typically just let students "fly" the simulator and do not use it as a proper training tool to the advantage of the client.
  • Keep your aircraft and classroom areas as neat, clean and as professional looking as you can afford. The first impression of professionalism can make a significant impact on would be clients.

World Class Facility and Customer Service

From the moment you walk through the doors of FlightSafety there is one word that sumsFlightSafety International Entrance up the atmosphere: "professional" with a capital "P". It is not opulent, overstated, or over the top. It is clean, neat, and very inviting to pilots. Some might say it’s the customer oriented staff, navy blue color scheme and helicopter photos on the walls from around the world that makes it so inviting to pilots. Personally, I believe it is the all you can eat muffins, donuts and coffee in the break room at the end of the hall that makes it so inviting and as one FlightSafety instructor would say, "that’s all I have to say about that!"


If you would like to get a closer look into the world of advanced helicopter training and my experience while at FlightSafety International, watch the VIDEO

Justhelicopters.TV Video