Celebrating the Best in Vertical Aviation

For more than 80 years, the vertical lift community has used the unique abilities of our aircraft to make a difference in lives, communities, and businesses around the world. Our achievements are the result of an exceptional level of dedication to professionalism and safety by aviation professionals.

Every year, through its Salute to Excellence Awards,  HAI strives to recognize a handful of these outstanding members of the vertical lift community who went above and beyond in their work. Whether in a single instance or throughout a career, it is these pilots, maintenance technicians, flight instructors, safety professionals, operators, and industry leaders from around the globe who remind us to strive for excellence.

For 2021, HAI recognizes the remarkable achievements of the following honorees across our industry. We congratulate them and celebrate their extraordinary contributions to aviation and their example to the vertical flight community.

Nominations for the 2022 Salute to Excellence Awards, to be celebrated at HAI HELI‑EXPO 2022 in Dallas, will be accepted beginning Jun. 4, 2021. Visit rotor.org/salute for more information.

Excellence in Communications

For creative distinction in disseminating information about the helicopter industry
Award sponsored by Lightspeed Aviation

Jeanette Eaton

Vice President, Worldwide Strategy & Business Development
Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin Company, Bethesda, Maryland, USA

The daughter of a US Army helicopter pilot, Jeanette Eaton grew up around aircraft and often attended air shows with her father. Yet, her parents didn’t suggest she pursue an aviation career. Her mother inspired her to attend college, while her father emphasized the benefits of a career in engineering.

Jeanette Eaton

Jeanette Eaton

Aviation had other ideas. The defining moment in Eaton’s career path came shortly after she received her electrical engineering degree, on the day she interviewed with Sikorsky and toured a CH-53E Super Stallion.

“I was maybe 21, and I was so overwhelmed and impressed with the helicopter,” she recalls. “The engineering, the power, the missions this aircraft could do—it was all so inspiring. I knew then I wanted to work for Sikorsky and work on helicopters.”

Eaton spent the first 17 years of her career at Sikorsky. Participating in the company’s leadership development program, she steadily obtained skills, knowledge, and expertise across a variety of positions while earning a master’s degree in manufacturing engineering, an MBA with a focus on manufacturing management, and a master’s in executive management.

As she gained knowledge and experience, her passion continued to evolve. Through Sikorsky’s leadership development program, she discovered she enjoyed sales. She loved working with, getting to know, and sharing the stories of her customers. She was a natural communicator and thrived on sharing her passion.

Her mentor encouraged her to obtain her FAA ratings to increase her credibility and marketability as an aircraft sales representative. Eaton earned her commercial instrument single-engine land certificate and landed a job at Bell Helicopter as a sales manager. Bell helped her add on her commercial helicopter certificate, and that’s when Eaton really hit her stride.

“Some of my most treasured experiences have come from cross-country trips across the United States in helicopters,” she says. “Those experiences are truly the source of my passion, working with customers and flying. We all need to be ambassadors to aviation.”

Ten years later, Sikorsky recruited her back as director of marketing, and she was soon promoted into commercial sales. Today, Eaton is responsible for strategy and business development for Sikorsky products worldwide, supporting customers while also finding ways to grow the customer base. At the same time, she’s focused on giving back.

“Part of my job, one of the things I love to do, is to celebrate and recognize our customers and help share their stories,” she says. “As a salesperson, I also feel we have to give back to the community.”

Eaton is very active in volunteer activities that promote aviation and expose the next generation to aviation careers. She volunteers with the Eastern Regional Helicopter Council and the Whirly-Girls and also donates her time to the Girl Scouts, Junior Achievement, Civil Air Patrol, local schools, and other organizations, talking to youths about STEM and aviation careers.

“When I think back to my past, I am thankful for those who inspired me,” she says. “I feel if you’re not exposed to something, you don’t know it exists or is possible for you. It’s important to teach [children] to open themselves to new opportunities. Looking back, the things that made the biggest impact and helped me find my passion were when I said yes to opportunities, even when I was a little afraid to do it.”

Humanitarian Service

For outstanding service in using helicopters to provide aid to those in need
Award sponsored by Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin Company

California Army National Guard 40th CAB Ch-47 & UH-60 Helicopter Crews

Fresno, California, USA

CH-47 Chinook crew (from left): CW2 Brady Hlebain, Sgt. Cameron Powell, Sgt. George Esquivel, and CW5 Joseph Rosamond. US Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Ryan Sheldon

On the evening of Sep. 5, 2020, the rapidly growing Creek Fire in the Sierra Nevada Forest northeast of Fresno, California, had surrounded a large group of campers, hikers, and residents. Without assets to reach the stranded, the Madera County Sheriff’s Office called the California Army National Guard 40th Combat Aviation Brigade (CAB) for help. The most deployed unit of Cal Guard, the 40th CAB also provides considerable support to Cal Fire (a department of the California Natural Resources Agency) during the state’s fire seasons, employing its CH-47 Chinook and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters for transport and water drops.

Chief Warrant Officer 5 (CW5) Kipp Goding was at home when he got the call for help from his brigade commander. Goding, a Black Hawk pilot-in-command (PIC) based out of Fresno, quickly put together a crew that included pilot Chief Warrant Officer 2 (CW2) Irvin Hernandez and crew chief Warrant Officer 1 (WO1) Ge Xiong. Meanwhile, the brigade commander reached Chinook PIC CW5 Joseph Rosamond, who pulled together his Stockton, California–based crew: pilot CW2 Brady Hlebain, flight engineer Sgt. George Esquivel, and flight engineer Sgt. Cameron Powell.

What followed was a harrowing night that tested the limits of crews and aircraft alike. An inferno fueled by bone-dry vegetation, bark beetle–killed trees, and strong winds, the Creek Fire was unpredictable, creating so much smoke that the pilots couldn’t see to fly through it.

UH-60 Black Hawk crew (from left): WO1 Ge Xiong, CW2 Irvin Hernandez, and CW5 Kipp Goding. US Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Eddie Siguenza

After navigating Cal Fire airspace closed due to active tanker drops, the helicopters were forced to wait an hour until sunset, when night-vision goggles enabled them to see through the smoke. Rosamond’s Chinook arrived first and landed on a concrete boat ramp at the reservoir’s edge. The two helicopters each flew three flights, rescuing a total of 242 people and a significant number of pets from the blaze.

“It was really brutal,” Goding says. “We’d return to Fresno, refuel, and head back. In that time, the fire was in a new position. During the day, the wind made it jump over vegetation, leaving green spots. After sunset, the wind died down a bit, and the fire started burning those previously unburned areas. As a result, we were forced to find a new route to the reservoir each time we returned. No two trips were the same route.”

The crews pushed the limits of the aircraft in the high altitude and fire-fueled temperatures. Each helicopter reached maximum weight during the night, yet mechanics back at Fresno inspected the aircraft and were able to give the green light to continue.

“In many ways, this was much worse than flying in combat,” Goding recalls. “In combat, you don’t see people shooting at you. You focus on the job. In the Creek Fire, you saw the wall of smoke and flames. You were flying into it and seeing the terror on people’s faces. We did the job, just as any of our Guard members would. I really want to emphasize that. We may be the ones who did this job, but we’re all doing these jobs every day.”

W.A. “Dub” Blessing Flight Instructor of the Year

For upholding high standards of excellence in flight instruction
Award sponsored by Hill Air

Nobuyuki Kosuge

Pilot / Flight Instructor
HeliStream, Costa Mesa, California, USA

Nobuyuki Kosuge’s soft-spoken demeanor and dedication to safe, skilled helicopter flight have had an immense impact on countless pilots over the past two decades.

Nobuyuki Kosuge

Nobuyuki Kosuge

Born in Japan, Kosuge grew up near a Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force air base, sparking his lifelong interest in aviation. He received a bachelor’s degree in English from Kanda Gaigo University in Chiba, Japan, but never lost sight of his dream of flying.

Not long after college, Kosuge visited Southern California on vacation and took his first helicopter flight. He was hooked. In 2001, he enrolled in the HeliStream helicopter flight training school in Costa Mesa, California, and began a six-year journey of obtaining visas, changing schools (and transferring a visa) when one went bankrupt, and applying for a green card.

His hard work, along with the support of those around him, paid off. By 2007, Kosuge had his private and commercial certificates, and instrument and flight instructor ratings, as well as flight instructor experience in the United States, ground instruction experience in Japan, and green card sponsorship by HeliStream.

Kosuge began at HeliStream as a primary instructor. His professionalism and work ethic soon led to a promotion to instruct for HeliStream’s Customs and Border Protection Rotor Wing Qualification Course, a program he now manages along with many initial qualification courses for other agencies, including the sheriff’s departments for Orange County and Riverside County and the Ontario and Anaheim police departments. He has qualified dozens of law enforcement pilots through these programs.

Today, Kosuge serves as HeliStream’s assistant chief flight instructor and FAA Part 135 check pilot. He has more than 10,600 flight hours in 11 aircraft models, with more than 9,000 hours of instruction given. While he no longer provides initial flight instruction, he remains very active with HeliStream’s students, providing stage checks and sharing his knowledge as students progress.

“To see our students progress is very satisfying,” Kosuge says. “I enjoy seeing them through each stage as they build their skills and transform into professional pilots.”

Kosuge also runs the company’s transition and recurrent training in the MD 500 and AS350, allowing him to provide instrument proficiency checks for many of HeliStream’s law enforcement customers.

One of the company’s Part 135 line pilots since 2008, Kosuge also flies a number of utility, photography, charter, and tour flights and serves as a maintenance check pilot. He was also instrumental in developing HeliStream’s safety management system.

While many flight instructors may have moved on to different careers by the time they accumulate as much experience as Kosuge, he’s happy to stay in the training arena.

“I really enjoy HeliStream itself as a multiple-mission company,” he says. “I started with initial instruction, but as they get more missions and support work in utility, firefighting, and other commercial work, I get to expand my skills and still instruct. The variety makes this a very attractive company.”

HeliStream sees Kosuge as one of its biggest assets due to his work ethic and the skills he can share with students.

“Nobu’s abilities as a professional flight instructor are exemplary,” says HeliStream CFO Barbara Perrin. “He teaches by example, holding himself to the highest standards of professionalism. His students naturally learn from his well-developed and safe habit patterns.”

Law Enforcement

For contributions to the promotion and advancement of helicopters in support of law enforcement activities
Award sponsored by MD Helicopters

John Cooper

Safety and Training Officer
Columbus Division of Police, Helicopter Unit, Columbus, Ohio, USA

While John Cooper earned his private pilot single-engine land rating in his teens, it was helicopters that truly captured his imagination.

Using money from his full-time paper route and a second job helping scrap Army surplus helicopters for a helicopter operator in Maryland, Cooper earned his private helicopter add-on certificate in an Enstrom in the late 1970s. His training then came to a halt as he sought the funds and a path to a helicopter pilot career.

John Coooper

John Cooper

Cooper’s big break came in 1988 when he was hired by the Columbus (Ohio) Division of Police—the division’s robust helicopter aviation unit trained officers to fly. Cooper served as a street officer until he was accepted into the aviation unit in 1991. There, he earned his commercial helicopter certificate and flew as a helicopter tactical pilot. A few years later, he earned his certificated flight instructor rating. In 1996, he became the unit’s safety and training officer.

Today, at 57, Cooper is the Columbus Police Division’s longest-serving pilot in the aviation unit and its longest-serving safety and training officer. He has 5,900 hours in helicopters, with 3,500 hours in instruction, and is an FAA helicopter designated pilot examiner. During his 30-year career with the unit, Cooper has also built and strengthened the unit’s safety programs.

In his position as safety and training officer, Cooper has two main responsibilities. The first is maintaining and overseeing safety standards for the department’s heliport. The second is overseeing all pilot training for the unit.

In 1999, Cooper helped the Columbus Police Division become the first police department in the United States to achieve Public Safety Aviation Accreditation Commission (PSAAC) accreditation. He also led the effort to achieve reaccreditation of the unit in 2012. Columbus Police awarded him its Medal of Merit for both efforts.

The Columbus Police Division employs 21 pilots who fly the unit’s five aircraft, one Bell 407GXi and four MD 530F helicopters. Cooper provides primary, recurrent, and transition training, ensuring that every pilot meets rigorous FAA and departmental standards, including two checkrides a year.

New recruits to the Columbus Police aviation unit come with everything from no flight experience to full certificates. Cooper helps each of the officers gain the experience needed to obtain pilot-in-command status on the aircraft, placing particular emphasis on safety.

“I’m big on safety,” he says. “I put a lot of emphasis on emergency procedures, too. We’ve had four engine failures, and the pilots put the aircraft down safely in some very confined areas. I’ve had pilots come to me afterward and thank me for the training. That’s emphasized for me how important emergency procedures are.”

To increase safety, Cooper established an integrated training system for the department, something for which he again received the department’s Medal of Merit. He applied for a grant and added a helicopter aviation training device to his training equipment to conduct training for inadvertent entry into instrument meteorological conditions (IIMC). He also developed aeronautical decision-making models based on realistic scenarios and put all pilots through that training. To enhance realism, Cooper invites local air traffic controllers to participate in instrument and IIMC training.

“I love training,” he says. “I love getting into people’s minds and bringing that understanding. I like taking something complex, breaking it down, and making it easily digestible. That’s what any instructor should be doing.”

Golden Hour

For distinguished and outstanding service utilizing helicopters in air medical transport

University of Maryland UAS Test Site and University of Maryland, Baltimore

College Park and Baltimore, Maryland, USA

On the night of Apr. 19, 2019, 44-year-old nursing assistant Trina Glispy waited at the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC), preparing for kidney transplant surgery. In her eighth year of dialysis for kidney failure, she had begun to lose hope. Destiny had another plan.

Dr. Joseph Scalea and Matt Scassero with their innovative drone

Dr. Joseph Scalea (left) and Matt Scassero with their innovative drone.

When Glispy learned she had a match, she was offered a very special opportunity—the kidney could be delivered to the hospital by drone, a medical first that would pave the way for faster organ delivery. Excited by the chance to make a difference, Glispy agreed to the delivery.

As Glispy was prepped, an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) team, led by University of Maryland UAS Test Site Director Matt Scassero and UMMC’s Dr. Joseph Scalea, awaited the arrival of the kidney from the Living Legacy Foundation, Maryland’s organ procurement organization. Once secured, the kidney was launched in a custom UAS, complete with real-time monitoring equipment.

The drone flew 2.8 miles in 9.52 minutes at 300 ft. to the rooftop helipad at UMMC, faster than a car could have made the trip in Baltimore traffic. It landed smoothly with all organ-monitoring readings in the green. The kidney was soon on its way to the operating room where Glispy waited.

The idea of organ transport by UAS was born two and a half years earlier. Scalea approached Scassero after hearing about a fixed-wing drone test his team had conducted carrying medical equipment across the Chesapeake Bay and asked if the same could be done for an organ.

“I was excited about the idea and challenge,” Scassero recalls. “This project was a lot more than a drone flight. We needed to develop a drone with redundancies, to reduce risk, and identify how to track the state of the organ while it was in transit.”

Scassero’s team embraced the challenge. The drone was built from scratch with multiple redundancies, all the way down to a parachute that could be deployed automatically or manually to protect the organ. The team also designed the first-ever organ-monitoring system that tracks an organ’s condition in transport in real time, recording and uploading to the cloud temperature, pressure, and vibrations for live monitoring. Medical staff can later remove the onboard SD memory card to review the same data.

“Nothing like this had ever been developed before,” Scassero says. “Currently, an organ is tested after harvest and then tested again after arrival to ensure it’s still viable. With our monitoring system, we discovered the kidney we flew remained well within the parameters; I’d even say better than it would have in a car or helicopter. The hope is one day this monitoring technology will replace the need for that second biopsy.”

Glispy is doing very well and has returned to many of her former activities. The technology that made her recovery possible has also flourished. Members of the original team partnered with an investor to found MissionGO, a company that’s developing and expanding this technology and increasing organ donation efficiency through a new software product.


For outstanding contributions to the promotion of helicopter safety and safety awareness
Award sponsored by BLR Aerospace

Neo Aik Sia

Certified International Safety Manager
Kahului, Hawaii, USA

Neo Aik Sia was destined for aviation from an early age. Fascinated with aircraft, he joined the Junior Flying Club in 1972 in his native Singapore before he could even drive a car. He later earned his private pilot airplane rating six months after graduating from high school.

Neo was conscripted into the Singapore National Service shortly after school. Seeing an opportunity to stay in aviation, he opted to leave the service three months later to enlist full time with the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) as a pilot officer. Once in the RSAF, he found his calling in safety.

Neo Aik Sia

Neo Aik Sia

Throughout his 29-year career at the RSAF, Neo progressively advanced through the ranks in areas where he could champion safety culture and implement safety programs. Throughout his service, he held multiple positions, including head of accident prevention, senior staff director and lecturer, director of operational development, senior pilot, and squadron commander.

Neo was eventually charged with responsibility for all RSAF aircraft, maintenance, and ground safety and accident prevention programs. He developed and implemented a safety management system (SMS) in 2000 that has since proven its effectiveness through reduced accidents and incidents. Now retired from the RSAF, he uses his experience to help develop and refine SMS programs for civilian organizations.

After emigrating to the United States in the early 2000s, Neo obtained his FAA airline transport pilot, ground instructor, and advanced instrument ground instructor certificates. He later worked with Air Methods, flying air ambulance, search-and-rescue, and maintenance test-flight missions in multiple locations across the United States.

In 2016, Neo was hired as the safety, quality, and standards manager for the Vision Technologies Aerospace subsidiary Aviation Academy of America, a national and international airline flight training academy in San Antonio, Texas. While there, he developed and implemented SMS and quality-assurance system programs aimed at achieving and sustaining a zero-accident record. When an incident occurred, he conducted investigations and used the findings to develop and implement changes in maintenance, operations, and training.

Most recently, Neo served as regional safety director at Blue Hawaiian Helicopters. In this role, he was responsible for promoting safety and implementing an SMS program and the FAA’s Aviation Safety Action Program across Blue Hawaiian companies. He was also appointed as an FAA Safety Team (FAASTeam) representative. Neo concurrently prepared the companies for external audits by the Tour Operators Program of Safety (TOPS) and by Starr Aviation’s loss-control consultant.

Throughout his career, Neo has been recognized for promoting safety culture while developing effective safety programs that identify and analyze hazards and mitigate the associated risks to safeguard operations.

Neo’s passion is driven by the belief that all accidents are preventable. He mentors members of the industry in the need to understand accident causation, human factors, SMS, and the importance of adopting safety excellence and safety culture as a way of life to eliminate accidents.

“Building a positive safety culture by changing mindset, attitude, and behavior is the biggest challenge of implementing a safety program,” Neo says. “Without a positive culture, the program is often implemented robotically with minimal effort. I emphasize the need to embrace safety at all levels. With total safety as a lifestyle, we all benefit—ourselves, our families, and our organizations.”

Maintenance Excellence

For significant and distinct contributions to helicopter maintenance
Award sponsored by Rolls-Royce

David Wayne Fox

Maintenance Instructor
Bell Training Academy, Fort Worth, Texas, USA

David Fox has been around aircraft since he was old enough to toddle. Some of his most cherished memories are accompanying his mechanic father to the airport. His father was his inspiration as they built kit airplanes together and performed maintenance work on Bell 47s.

David Fox

David Fox

As a teen in 1970, David landed his first paying aviation job as a mechanic’s helper working on Bell 47 helicopters. Three years later, he joined the US Army and worked as a crew chief, maintaining OH-58, UH-1, and AH-1G helicopters while serving a tour in Korea.

When he returned from Korea, David relied on his on-the-job training and self-study to obtain his airframe and power plant certificate. Not long after, he earned his private and commercial helicopter certificates.

In 1980, he and a friend founded Helitrans Co. Inc., a Part 135 operator and Part 145 repair station supporting the oil-and-gas industry off the Gulf Coast of Texas. He served as both the director of maintenance and chief inspector, having received his inspection authorization from the FAA.

For 20 years, Helitrans operated with a perfect safety record. The company had no accidents, incidents, violations, or forced landings.

“My proudest accomplishment is Helitrans’s record,” David says. “Having good people working for you and maintaining and operating the aircraft properly to manufacturer recommendations are to credit for that. I was very serious about following the rules and not cutting corners. Money isn’t everything. Sometimes people lose sight of that.”

David sold Helitrans in 2000. He enjoyed semiretirement, doing a little maintenance and consulting work, before Bell in 2001 invited him to be a ground school and simulator instructor for its light helicopters at the Bell Training Academy. For that position, he earned his certificated flight instructor rating.

David became a fixture at Bell, not just at the training center, but also within the accident investigation and legal departments. He was also the go-to expert for Bell owners and operators around the world on all things related to their aircraft’s operation, performance, and maintenance. He taught every system on the aircraft, sharing his stories and anecdotes to help solidify student knowledge while engaging them to learn. David also taught the simulator portion of students’ aircraft transition training. He developed an exhaustive list of connections and still gets calls from people around the world when they’re stuck on a maintenance challenge.

“I’ve been doing this so long, chances are I’ve seen some of the more obscure or unique issues with these aircraft and may have a way to help,” he says.

While at Bell, David was instrumental in developing the Bell 407GX and GXi initial pilot transition courses as well as leading and standardizing pilot instruction for light helicopters.

David retired from Bell in 2020 and now works part time for the Helicopter Institute in Fort Worth, Texas, providing pilot training. He also still moonlights as a mechanic, providing maintenance services for select clients.

These days, David’s most rewarding work is mentoring young mechanics, believing it’s essential for the older generation to share its wealth of knowledge as well as its experience and values.

“It’s important to mentor these younger people,” he says. “This is what my dad did with me. He mentored me on how to do things correctly to ensure that when you send an aircraft out, it will come back. Part of that is emphasizing the importance of following the manufacturers manuals and maintenance recommendations and developing a good working relationship with your local FAA inspectors.”

Pilot of the Year

For outstanding achievement as a helicopter pilot

Lt. Cdr. Robert McCabe

US Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod, Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts, USA

US Coast Guard (USCG) Lt. Cdr. Robert McCabe didn’t set out to be a helicopter pilot. He joined the Coast Guard with a desire to be actively involved in humanitarian and search-and-rescue work. While assigned to a ship in Astoria, Oregon, he was inspired watching the MH-60T Jayhawks perform multiple harrowing rescues. He changed his focus and attended flight school after his first USCG tour.

Lt. Cdr. Robert McCabe

Lt. Cdr. Robert McCabe

McCabe returned to Astoria in 2012 as an MH-60T pilot. After that tour, he was stationed in Sitka, Alaska, before his current assignment at USCG Air Station Cape Cod.

Today, McCabe conducts missions across New England, having accumulated more than 2,700 helicopter hours and countless successful rescue missions. In addition to being a pilot-in-command, he is an instructor pilot and flight examiner.

On the evening of Nov. 24, 2019, his skills and experience were put to the test. The fishing vessel Leonardo had suddenly and unexpectedly capsized 24 miles southwest of Martha’s Vineyard, throwing all four crew members into the 50-degree water.

Once on scene, McCabe’s crew found a lone survivor in a life raft among the debris field in 10-ft. waves and 30-kt winds. The severely hypothermic survivor was hoisted aboard and successfully stabilized. During the rescue, the sun set and a squall with sleet came in, reducing visibility to a quarter mile and raising the seas to 15-ft. waves.

Rather than a typical search altitude of 300 ft., McCabe directed the other pilot to fly a low, 80-ft. air taxi to continue searching the debris field for remaining Leonardo crew members. With their focus mostly outside the aircraft, searching the rough water with spotlights in flying sleet, both pilots became disoriented. The aircraft started to bank 40 degrees, simultaneously pitching more than 14 degrees nose up and rapidly slowing while descending.

“The visual inputs we were getting were inconsistent,” McCabe says. “The sleet gave that Star Wars warp-speed illusion in the searchlight beam, making us feel like we were flying at 50 kt. The waves gave us the sensation we were drifting right. Neither was right. I soon realized we had ‘the leans.’ ”

Within 10 seconds of becoming disoriented, McCabe announced the aircraft’s state and coached the flying pilot through an instrument transition to stable flight. McCabe’s situational awareness and decisiveness were crucial to avoiding a near-catastrophe. “Admitting disorientation, then transitioning to correction is very, very difficult,” he recalls. “It’s extremely difficult to convince yourself to trust your instruments and make the correct inputs. That experience really brought home that we as a community need to fess up and do everything we can to learn from our mistakes.”

Upon his return, McCabe described the event in detail to the air station’s safety department, and information from the flight data monitoring system was used to create an animation of the flight for training. This effort resulted in USCG-wide policy recommendations, including standardizing training in night-vision goggle illusions, developing a manual addressing aeromedical factors of flight, and adding a discussion of spatial disorientation to every annual checkride.

Lifetime Achievement

For long and significant service to the international helicopter community
Award sponsored by Bell

Michael K. Hynes

President, Hynes Aviation Services
Branson, Missouri, USA

It all started with a $5 airplane ride. It was that ride almost 80 years ago that ignited a fire in Michael Hynes’s belly and led to a very successful, 65-year aviation career.

At 17, he joined the US Air Force to become an aircraft mechanic. He was stationed at Palm Beach Air Force Base after graduation and eventually earned his airplane commercial certificate with a flight instructor rating.

Michael K. Hynes

Michael K. Hynes

In the first few years after leaving the Air Force, Hynes and a partner established a thriving airplane flight school, and Hynes started a fixed-base operation, aircraft maintenance shop, and charter service, which was one of the first Learjet corporate operators. He then earned his airline transport pilot certificate in 1959.

In the 1960s, after hearing about a Bell helicopter that achieved a top speed of over 150 kt, Hynes saw potential in adding helicopters to his school. Unable to find rotary-wing instruction in Florida, he built three hours of helicopter time at schools around the country. He acquired a Brantly B-2 helicopter in 1967 and taught himself to fly it, earning his commercial and flight instructor certificates in 1968. Using the Brantly and a Bell 47 helicopter, Hynes then formed one of Florida’s first GI Bill helicopter flight schools.

Frustrated with limited access to parts for the aircraft, he also formed Brantly Operators, a maintenance and parts resource for the more than 350 Brantly helicopters in use. Hynes’s ties to Brantly soon led to him securing ownership of the two Brantly type certificates, a vast parts inventory, and full production tooling in 1971 when Learjet filed for bankruptcy. Hynes moved his Brantly operation to Frederick, Oklahoma, and created a new company, Hynes Aviation Industries. During those years, he received FAA production certification for the redeveloped helicopter, now called the Brantly-Hynes B-2. He also designed and tested fly-by-wire artificial intelligence systems for drones and remotely piloted vehicles. At the same time, Hynes operated his now Oklahoma-based flight school, assisting former Vietnamese-military helicopter pilots to transition to successful piloting careers in the United States using Hynes aircraft. He was appointed as a designated pilot examiner to support the training and has since administered more than 800 airplane and helicopter flight exams to pilots from 38 countries.

Aviation has had its ups and downs for Hynes. He had backed a production loan for his US Army contract himself, and when payments from the Army fell behind, he was forced into bankruptcy and had to sell his Hynes Aviation Industries assets. Undaunted, he changed course and attended college, achieving his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees. In addition to teaching high school and adult career and technical education courses, he has taught at Western Oklahoma State College and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Altus Air Force Base campus. Hynes was appointed director of aviation education programs at the College of the Ozarks in 2003. He has built 16,500 flight hours in 314 types of aircraft and is one of the few individuals to be awarded both the FAA’s Charles Taylor Master Mechanic Award and its Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award.

Now semiretired, Hynes, who turns 85 this year, currently oversees a $450,000 trust fund that provides annual scholarships for students interested in aviation. When he talks to the next generation of aviation professionals about careers in the field, he also shares an underlying message about his secret to success.

“I tell kids to find that thing that gives them a fire in their belly,” he says. “I tell them that when they find it and follow it, they’ve found what will make them successful.”


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