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Cherish your Wingman

Posted 3 years 148 days ago ago by Admin

I’ve observed, from 9 years speaking at Helisuccess in Las Vegas, Nevada, that most if not all attendees have had that special someone at their side acting as their ‘wingman’.  In the context here, wingman is the person who knows your back story, knows the struggles you’ve made, someone who not only believes in you, but actively cheers you on in private and in public; a close confidant, someone who lends a sympathetic ear and encouragement during times of your self-doubt.  A wingman may help you study your emergency checklist and will very often make numerous personal sacrifices in doing so, be it financially or gladly give you their personal time so that your career may progress.  A wingman unselfishly does this as a way to boost you up so that you may someday accomplish your dream, whatever your dream may be.

My self-professed wingman is my wife, Kaye.  That’s how she introduces herself at conferences and my CRM classes and CRM instructor classes saying, “Hi, I’m Randy’s wingman.” 

Kaye’s demonstration of loyalty entered a new impetus in August 2010.  At the time, I was flying offshore in the oil patch for Abu Dhabi Aviation and operating the Level D Bell 214 flight simulator in Dubai, training and examining over 20 nationalities of airline transport pilots.  It was August 31st 2010 that I learned of yet ANOTHER helicopter air ambulance accident, this one in Arkansas claiming another 3 lives.  That’s when I became an activist for change back home.

My heart was still in the helicopter air medical concept back in America as I had flown at Hermann Hospital in Houston in January 1979, as we 6 pilots strove to prove the concept with 3 machines.  As I was the first recipient of the annual Golden Hour Award in 1982, given every year recognizing an individual’s efforts to promote the concept, I still carried a strong attachment to those still in it.

After I learned about that crash in Arkansas, I told Kaye that I had the answer as to how to bring down the terrible accident rate in helicopter air ambulance back home from what I’d seen while flying overseas for the past 26 years.  I told her I wanted to embark on the journey to return to America to try and spread that safety message as a way to save lives. Kaye didn’t flinch or protest.  Instead, she offered full support knowing from past conversations that my message would not be popular back home because, if adopted, would cause an extra financial hardship to the smaller operators.

My message was to advocate mandating all aircraft be twin engine, two crew, or at minimum install an autopilot if single pilot.  Pilots should be instrument rated and proficient, mandate NVG’s, no landing to unprepared landing sites that hadn’t been recced during the day, (as is done in Canada) and keep the medical influence out of the cockpit, that is, aviation-type decisions made by program directors, or non-aviation personnel.

Thirteen-months after making that pronouncement to Kaye, I found myself standing on the stage at the air medical conference, held that year in St. Louis, preparing to speak to an audience of 700 medical professionals, as Kaye sat anxiously awaiting in the front row.  We knew what I had to propose would most likely be very unpopular to anyone unwilling to spend more money on their fleet of aircraft or a medical director unwilling to pay for the needed upgrades.

Kaye had been flown to St. Louis from Canada.  I had been flown from Abu Dhabi.  When I arrived, she met me at the door or our hotel room with a smile, a hug and a kiss thrusting and a glass of whiskey into my hand.  She’d unpacked, ironed my dress pants and dress shirt in preparation for the next morning when I would speak.  

Before turning out the light, we talked about the very real possibility, in our minds anyway, of needing a police escort back to the airport offering us protection from the lynch mob who may not be happy with my safety recommendations if implemented by the FAA because of the financial burden it would put upon them.  I told Kaye only half-jokingly, “We may find out where Jimmy Hoffa’s buried.”

In preparation for the event several weeks prior, while in Abu Dhabi, I spent over 6 hours cutting out the names from my list of those who had died in an air medical helicopter crash since I wrote my first book entitled The Golden Hour, a book  I began writing in 1985 to act as a wake-up call to an industry with a deadly accident rate.  I carefully placed each individual name of each person who had lost their life in an air medical helicopter, into a white business envelope and sealed it.  I took 358 envelopes to St. Louis which Kaye and several members of the National EMS Pilot’s Association passed out to people as they filed into the cavernous conference hall prior to giving my speech. 

The last lines of my 50-minute speech, I asked those who held an envelope to please stand up.  Those who stood, totaled half the audience.  When they were standing I continued, “There is the name inside each envelope of an individual who died in an air medical helicopter since I wrote The Golden Hour. Look around, this is how many people who’ve died.  This is how many people we’ve lost.”  I paused to let them survey the room then continued “So if you don’t want to see any more people die, please remember the gift I am giving you today that will significantly reduce the accident rate in your industry.”

As you can imagine, it was a moment.

Still concerned my message would not be well received, Kaye and I were relieved when afterward, many people came up to the stage as I stepped down, many with tears in their eyes and said, “Thank you for saying what has needed to be said for more than 20 years!”  One chief flight nurse said, “Your speech changed my life.”

Rather than Kaye or I needing a police escort out of St. Louis, I was surprised to be invited to be a keynote speaker the following year in Seattle to talk about my training to become a CRM Instructor through Global Air Training in Cheshire, England, a course sanctioned by the European Aviation Safety Agency and required in Europe and the U.K. to teach and facilitate CRM there.

The following year, in 2013, I had the unexpected honor to be awarded the Jim Charlson Safety Award, an award not given every year which recognizes an individual for their safety efforts in the air medical industry.  A wonderful moment came at the awards ceremony, as Kaye, my loyal and supportive wingman was able to share the stage with me that night with an audience of over 1000 people in attendance.  

Since the 31st of August, 2010, until the current Covid-19 pandemic abruptly curtailed my classes and our travel, Kaye would often accompany me whenever I gave a CRM class or CRM instructor’s course or at my side whenever I spoke at a conference in the States, Canada, or internationally speaking in Australia or Rome, Italy.  

I would not have wanted to have embarked on that ten-year journey without her, my trusted wingman.  It just would not have been the same.

About Randy:
Randy Mains is an author, public speaker, and a CRM/AMRM consultant who works in the helicopter industry after a long career of aviation adventure. He currently serves as chief CRM/AMRM instructor for Oregon Aero. He may be contacted at [email protected].