Honoring the best in vertical aviation.
For more than 80 years, vertical lift aircraft have made differences in lives, communities, and businesses worldwide. Our industry’s 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 flight 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 always aim for excellence.
For 2022, HAI recognizes the remarkable achievements of the following honorees across our industry, including the recipient of the inaugural Matthew S. Zuccaro Land & LIVE Award. We congratulate all of them and celebrate their extraordinary contributions to aviation and their example for the vertical flight community.
Nominations for the 2023 Salute to Excellence Awards, to be celebrated at HAI HELI‑EXPO 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia, will be accepted beginning Jun. 1, 2022. Visit rotor.org/salute for more information.
AET2, US Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod, Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts, USA
Matthew S. Zuccaro Land & LIVE Award, sponsored by Helicopter Association International, for outstanding aeronautical decision-making, crew resource management, and/or coordinated actions
US Coast Guard Avionics Electrical Technician Second Class Andrew Champagne joined the Coast Guard with a desire to save lives. Since joining the service in 2011, he’s made a lasting impact on countless lives, including those of his own crew.
Stationed at Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod in Massachusetts, Champagne is responsible for maintaining the electrical systems of all the station’s Sikorsky MH-60T Jayhawk aircraft. As a part of his training, he attended vibration-analysis school for the aircraft’s systems. For rescues, Champagne serves as a flight mechanic and as a member of the flight crew working the hoist and with the rescue swimmer and pilots.
Early in the pre-dawn morning of June 8, 2021, Champagne’s rescue crew was dispatched to support a search near Boothbay Harbor, Maine, more than 175 miles away. Local conditions were 300 ft. with visibility down to half a mile with mist. Due to the distance and IFR conditions, the crew chose to load the full 5,800 lb. of fuel on board, filling all three of the aircraft’s external tanks.
Shortly after takeoff, Champagne began to feel a vibration in his seat, but it wasn’t immediately obvious where the vibration originated. After ruling out his seat, he announced an abnormal vibration. No other crew member felt it, yet the aircraft commander immediately asked if Champagne thought the flight should be aborted.
“I could barely see the runway lights, so I knew we were close to where the clouds were starting,” Champagne recalls. “If we waited any longer, we’d need to climb and follow IFR procedures to return to the airport. That would put us over densely populated areas and extend the flight, increasing the chances something could go wrong.”
Champagne called for the abort without hesitation. Once back at the hangar, he inspected the aircraft. When he reached the left inboard external tank, he was able to move it back and forth. It was loose and, with a full load of fuel, could have easily come off the aircraft. He and his crew immediately realized the potentially catastrophic situation they’d narrowly avoided. Had the 120-gallon tank come loose in flight, it would have landed over a populated area and could even have caused the aircraft to crash.
“The biggest thing we’ve all taken from this experience is no matter what you feel, see, or smell, it’s so important to speak up,” Champagne says. “A lot of people will second-guess themselves or are afraid to speak up, and that’s when accidents happen. We’re fortunate to have a culture in the Coast Guard where any of us can decide to abort a flight and it’s never questioned. Maybe it’s nothing. But what if it was something?”
Thanks to Champagne’s bold and concise actions and directions during takeoff, the crew averted a potentially deadly situation. His actions and the culture of the US Coast Guard to trust and follow any crew member’s call to abort illustrate the value of former HAI President Matt Zuccaro’s initiative Land & LIVE.
Editor, Helicopter Life Magazine, Chichester, West Sussex, England
Communications Award, sponsored by Lightspeed Aviation, for creative distinction in disseminating information about the helicopter industry
For more than 35 years, UK resident and Helicopter Life editor Georgina Hunter-Jones has highlighted the importance of helicopters in our everyday lives.
Hunter-Jones’s passion for rotorcraft began early. She remembers writing creative stories as a little girl. While in university, she discovered her second passion in a most uncommon way. She wanted to work a summer in Kenya, but her mother offered her a different adventure: If Hunter-Jones stayed in the United Kingdom, her mother would pay for her private-pilot single-engine land airplane license. Hunter-Jones took her mother up on the offer, a decision that changed her life.
Hunter-Jones was hooked. She went on to earn additional airplane ratings, including flight instructor, before receiving similar ratings in helicopters. Since earning that first license, she’s flown around the world in a variety of helicopters and airplanes, accumulating more than 8,500 hours of flight time. She’s competed in the World Helicopter Championships, set a world altitude record in a helicopter, and gained UK CAA examiner authorization for both aircraft categories.
While she had difficulty finding paid writing opportunities before she stepped into aviation, Hunter-Jones found the helicopter journalism industry fertile ground. Not long after she started flying, she began writing about aviation in a variety of publications, including Rotor and Wing, Flight International, Air Pictorial, Helicopter World, 4 Rotors, and Flyer Magazine. In 1997, she became the editor of the Helicopter Club of Great Britain’s periodical, Rotor Torque, turning it into a full-color magazine and expanding its content. In 2004, she developed her own publication, Helicopter Life, dedicated to educating and inspiring those in the helicopter industry.
Hunter-Jones’s aim has always been to promote and drive an interest in helicopters. Her magazine has covered a diverse selection of subjects, including firefighting, helicopter safaris, film work, international air ambulance work, and charter flying, to illustrate how helicopters are utilized by civilian and commercial operators worldwide. She has also written regular flight-test reports for the magazine for aircraft ranging from the piston Bell 47 to the S-64 Skycrane.
Hunter-Jones focuses particularly on promoting alternate technologies in the aviation world and has championed small start-up helicopter companies looking to make helicopter flying accessible to everyone.
Hunter-Jones also dedicates her time to mentoring and inspiring the next generation through her writing. Her children’s book Biscuit and Oscar Learn to Fly opens the world of flight to young minds. She’s also written two nonfiction books about her aviation experiences, one about her flight across the Atlantic and the other about her flight across Russia.
A member of the Whirly-Girls, she often mentors the next generation of female helicopter pilots and volunteers as a member of The Skinners’ Co., a London charitable organization dating to the 15th century that supports educating youths.
Navajo Nation COVID Relief Missions, Mesa, Arizona, USA
Humanitarian Service Award, sponsored by Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin Company, for outstanding service in using helicopters to provide aid to those in need
When the coronavirus pandemic began sweeping across the United States in 2020, the Navajo Nation quickly experienced the country’s highest per-capita rate of infections and deaths. Located mainly in Northeast Arizona, the reservation also expands into the high desert of Southeastern Utah and Northwestern New Mexico.
The Navajo Nation’s nearly 300,000-member population is spread throughout the 27,000-square-mile reservation. Many members lack utilities and live in communal groups far from modern medical facilities. It can take hours to reach some members of the tribe by vehicle. As the pandemic raged, the Navajo Nation was forced to close its borders to outsiders, including supply trucks, to reduce spread.
“Early on, we wanted to do something to help,” MD Helicopters COO Chris Jaran says. “We had helicopters, and the unanimous support from our leadership board, to volunteer our time, pilots, fuel, and maintenance to fly supplies into the Navajo Nation.”
Jaran began reaching out to organizations offering helicopter support. The Veterans Medical Leadership Council (VMLC) was one of the few with permission to enter the Navajo Nation. The VMLC immediately took MD up on the offer.
“We thought we’d be flying out PPE [personal protective equipment] and such, but there was a more dire need initially,” Jaran says. “Winter temperatures drop into the 30s there, and many tribal members rely on wood for heating and cooking. Usually, it’s delivered to them. Without the supply trucks, they needed to collect their own wood. The first load of supplies we flew was chainsaws.”
VMLC brought supplies to MD Helicopters’ factory in Mesa, Arizona, that were then flown to the Nation in an MD 902 helicopter. The first flight, filled with chainsaws to the helicopter’s maximum cargo weight of 900 lb., was to Winslow, Arizona, where the aircraft was topped off with enough fuel to reach any corner of the Nation. For more than a year, MD Helicopters provided nearly weekly deliveries of everything from chainsaws to PPE.
While almost every flight delivered critical supplies, one brought pure joy. In December 2020, most tribal members were sequestered in their homes, missing out on Christmas. So, for its final relief flight, on Jun. 25, 2021, MD Helicopters participated in a Christmas-in-summer operation.
“One of the veterans dressed as Santa, and we stuffed that helicopter with toys and gifts for all the kids,” Jaran says. “We landed at a reservation airstrip, and a long line of cars was waiting. We handed out gifts and left the rest to be distributed to kids who couldn’t be there. It was a really special day.”
To date, MD Helicopters has flown 52 volunteer supply missions to the Navajo Nation, delivering more than 40,000 lb. of supplies and equipment.
Flight Instructor and Experimental Test Pilot, The Boeing Co., Gilbert, Arizona, USA
W.A. “Dub” Blessing Flight Instructor of the Year Award, sponsored by Hill Air, for upholding high standards of excellence in flight instruction
Flight instructor and experimental test pilot Scott Tinnesand got to where his is today thanks to mentors who supported him along his journey. A pilot with 33 accident-free years of flying experience, he’s dedicated to giving back whenever possible.
Tinnesand remembers wanting to be a pilot but questioning the feasibility of achieving his dream. When he discovered the US Army ROTC program at the University of North Dakota (UND), the dream became possible. He enrolled at UND in the ROTC program, earning his private, commercial, and instrument helicopter ratings. Upon graduation, he attended Army flight school to become an AH-1 Cobra and AH-64 Apache pilot.
After eight years of service, ending with the Army’s 101st Airborne Division, he entered the civilian world as an instructor pilot and test pilot for gyroplane manufacturer Groen Brothers Aviation. Tinnesand thrived at Groen, gaining gyroplane commercial and instructor ratings and mentoring by coworker and fellow pilot Terry Brant. Tinnesand returned the favor by, in turn, mentoring customers who were learning to fly.
After leaving Groen, Tinnesand took a helicopter air ambulance position that grew into an opportunity to earn his helicopter CFI and mentor, train, and support his fellow company pilots. Then, in 2011, he landed what has been his dream job.
Today, Tinnesand is a lead flight instructor and experimental test pilot for The Boeing Co.’s Vertical Lift division. He trains domestic and international pilots as well as conducting experimental test flights in the AH-64E Apache, A/MH-6M, and AH-6 Little Bird.
His experience at Boeing wouldn’t be the same without his own mentor in the organization, Rich Lee, chief developmental test pilot for rotorcraft. Lee took Tinnesand under his wing and supported his rise in the company. He also encouraged him to become a designated pilot examiner (DPE) in the region. All he asked in return was that Tinnesand pay it forward.
When not working, Tinnesand continues to mentor others. He spends extra time after practical test examinations to teach and guide pilots. He encourages female pilots to apply for Whirly-Girls scholarships and offers free SFAR 73 checkouts for new CFIs to help them save money as they begin their careers. He shares his contact information with pilots and responds to numerous phone calls and texts every week from prior students, air mission applicants, flight instructors, and professional pilots requesting assistance.
Tinnesand also donates his time to the Arizona DPE Advisory Group and the Phoenix Airspace Users Work Group and has participated as a speaker in HAI’s HFI Pilot Mentoring Panel, HAI’s Military-to-Civilian Transition Workshop, the US Helicopter Safety Team Annual Meeting, and several other local and national training and safety seminars.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today without the great people who supported and mentored me every step of the way,” Tinnesand shares. “There truly isn’t anything more satisfying than helping remove an obstacle keeping someone from achieving their dream. I am so lucky to have the life I live. It gives me such satisfaction to help others reach their dreams.”
Sergeant, Michigan State Police Aviation Unit, Lansing, Michigan, USA
Law Enforcement Award, sponsored by MD Helicopters, for contributions to the promotion and advancement of helicopters in support of law enforcement activities
Growing up, Matt Rogers dreamt of being a state trooper like his dad. As he got older, his interests turned to his grandfather’s profession, aviation. He earned his airplane private pilot license in high school and, after graduation, enrolled in Western Michigan University’s aviation technology program. Yet, Rogers couldn’t shake his police-work dreams. So he left college and enrolled in Michigan State Police Recruit School in 1995. During the next 19 years, Rogers worked assignments including road patrol, narcotics, training academy, drive track, and desk sergeant. Then, in 2014, an opportunity came to blend his two passions.
That year, Rogers was selected to join the aviation unit as the police department’s first tactical flight officer (TFO). Until this time, the Michigan State Police (MSP) had operated its fleet of helicopters and airplanes with two pilots. In his new position, Rogers would help develop the MSP’s TFO program from the ground up. After attending the Los Angeles Police Department’s TFO school, he came back home to help establish an extensive curriculum to train all incoming MSP TFOs.
Rogers then focused on building the MSP’s UAS program. While the aviation unit had already purchased an Aeryon SkyRanger, the UAS program had yet to be created. Through the work of Rogers and his team, the MSP became the country’s first police agency to receive a statewide certificate of authorization for UAS operations in uncontrolled airspace. He soon added to the authorization approvals for day and night operations in controlled airspace, including emergency exceptions into Class B airspace.
Again, Rogers built the program from the ground up, creating a framework that would not only ensure unit and personal growth, but also create opportunities for a diverse UAS mission set. As the program grew, additional UAS platforms and personnel were added and the missions were expanded from crime and crash-scene documentation to tactical overwatch and building searches.
“The big thing for our unit is being able to deploy the best tool for the job,” Rogers explains. “If someone calls for an aerial search, by having helicopters, airplanes, and UASs in our unit, we can present the best tool for that specific mission. Having UASs in the aviation unit has been instrumental in providing that service. That isn’t something that’s necessarily done in other agencies.”
Rogers meticulously developed processes and procedures for the UAS program that exceeded all FAA and legal requirements while ensuring full privacy protection for the citizens the agency serves. He also became a founding member of the National Council on Public Safety UAS and held a governor-appointed position on Michigan’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Task Force. Along with this work, he has spoken at conferences and given demonstrations to help other agencies use UAS effectively.
“Our team’s training sessions and seminars give us the chance to talk about policies and procedures, share what worked and what didn’t, and explain how to implement this new technology in a way that [honors] a person’s constitutional rights,” Rogers says. “We as law enforcement don’t want to create bad case law that could make manned aircraft police work more difficult. I’m always eager to emphasize the importance of that.”
Children’s Health Neonatal/Pediatric Transport Team
Dallas, Texas, USA
Golden Hour Award, sponsored by ROTOR Media, for distinguished and outstanding service utilizing helicopters in air medical transport
In the early morning of Aug. 10, 2021, a vehicle carrying two adults and five unrestrained children was traveling 65 miles northeast of Dallas, Texas, when it was struck by a semi-truck. The vehicle rolled, severely injuring all occupants and ejecting at least one of the children.
First responders on the scene alerted the local community hospital of multiple casualties and five pediatric patients with significant traumatic injuries. Unequipped for such a large patient load, especially children, the hospital’s emergency-room staff called Children’s Health Access Center to request support. Children’s Health operates 12 neonatal/pediatric-equipped ambulances, one Citation Encore jet, and one Sikorsky S-76 C++ helicopter.
Children’s Health critical care nurse Brandon Gardner, RN, was standing by at the hospital’s airbase at Dallas Love Field (KDAL) when the Access Center’s team called. Gardner, his pilots, and medical crew at the station sprang into action to devise a plan to transport all the children to Children’s Health, a Level I trauma center. It was agreed that Children’s Health would send an ambulance, helicopter, and pediatric medical specialists to help assess, treat, and transport the children to Dallas.
Gardner and a paramedic immediately left in an ambulance with the intention of providing support in advance of the helicopter’s arrival. Before launching, the rest of the crew—medics, respiratory therapists, and the two pilots—quickly reconfigured the helicopter to transport two patients.
Gardner and the paramedic arrived on scene first and promptly triaged, assessed, and helped stabilize the children. Two children were identified as critical enough to require helicopter transportation, and Gardner coordinated with the receiving ER physicians at Children’s Health. The helicopter landed within 20 minutes of the ambulance’s arrival and the two most critical patients were loaded onto the aircraft.
The Children’s Health ambulance transported a third child while the other two children were transported by local EMS services. In the end, all five children were safely and quickly transported to Children’s Health, where they eventually made full recoveries.
Children’s Health, based in Dallas, Texas, is the eighth-largest pediatric health system in the United States, transporting more than 5,000 children in 2021 alone. The transport team attributes its success to a philosophy of maintaining a variety of highly equipped transportation vehicles. All the hospital’s ground vehicles and aircraft are equipped to support critical needs. Onboard equipment includes nitric oxide, high-frequency ventilation, extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), and TeleCooling and TeleTransport for NICU/PICU.
Safety Department, US Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod
Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts, USA
Safety Award, sponsored by BLR Aerospace, for outstanding contributions to the promotion of helicopter safety and safety awareness
Initiatives in the safety department at Air Station Cape Cod, the US Coast Guard’s only New England–based aviation unit, have not only increased safety at the air station but have had far-reaching effects across the service branch, as well.
Fostering a strong reporting culture, the air station’s safety department conducts in-depth analyses following unit mishaps. The department’s expertise was leveraged on at least 70 occasions during the past fiscal year alone, capturing lessons learned in the wake of mishaps and making recommendations for both unit- and fleetwide change. In the process, the safety department accounted for more than $390,000 worth of malfunctioning or damaged equipment that ultimately led to a reportable event.
Historically, the department flags potentially catastrophic aircraft malfunctions. For instance, when erroneous radar altimeter readings of 70 to 100 ft. above true altitude were observed while crews were practicing instrument approaches to water at night, the safety department investigated. Upon contacting the USCG Aviation Logistics Center, the department learned that the anomaly was known and occurred around electromagnetic interference (EMI).
Though engineering solutions had been implemented to mitigate the effects of EMI, the experience of Cape Cod’s crew proved the hazard had not been entirely eliminated. Understanding that this remedy may have been widely overlooked, Air Station Cape Cod’s safety department led an effort to increase awareness across the entire Coast Guard rotary-wing fleet. This invaluable exchange of information following a near catastrophic mishap is one of many examples in which sharing lessons learned and potential equipment vulnerabilities has sparked training and safety-related discussions within Coast Guard units across the country.
The air station also strives to maintain a high state of readiness for potential mishaps with frequent, realistic drills and a tiered approach to training that begins with traditional classroom-style presentations, progresses to a tabletop mishap exercise, and culminates in full-scale drills.
The safety department extends its work beyond air operations to include the overall safety of all personnel. When trace amounts of hexavalent chromium were identified in rotary-wing shop spaces, for example, the air station’s safety department rapidly developed a plan to conduct both in-house and contractor-led cleanings to address the concern. Similarly, during lead-abatement efforts on the unit’s aging hangar floor, safety department personnel observed flaws in the contractor’s containment system and issued on-the-spot corrective actions for those conducting the work. These actions prevented lead-dust contamination, which could have posed a significant health hazard for unit personnel.
Mechanic, Panther Helicopters, Picayune, Mississippi, USA
Maintenance Award, sponsored by Rolls-Royce, for significant and distinct contributions to helicopter maintenance
For more than 25 years, aircraft and powerplant mechanic Jeffrey Donnell has ensured that helicopters are safely and properly maintained while providing superior customer service.
Donnell began developing his mechanical prowess when he was only seven years old, working in his stepfather’s auto shop and gas station in Maine.
“If it ran on gasoline, we worked on it,” Donnell recalls. “Cars, trucks, outboard engines, boats, tractors, motorcycles, lawn mowers—you name it. I worked there [starting at age] seven, but after high school, I wanted to work for the airlines.”
Donnell enrolled in East Coast Aero Technical School in Bedford, Massachusetts, receiving his airframe and powerplant license in 1976. While he planned to work for the airlines, it was the helicopter industry that was hiring at the time. He landed his first mechanic job at Petroleum Helicopters Inc. (PHI) in the fall of 1976 with no helicopter experience.
“The position at PHI was the best job I could have taken because of the incredible amount of experience I received while I was there,” he shares. “That job set me up for my career, giving me the opportunity to gain experience on numerous aircraft and attend Bell factory training.”
In time, Donnell’s reputation preceded him. He was dedicated, focused on doing the job right the first time, and had a special skill at getting along with everyone he encountered. It wasn’t long before he was offered other positions.
In the early 1980s, Donnell took a lead mechanic job that soon led to a director of maintenance position in Houston maintaining Bell 222s operated within a helicopter airline. When the airline lost a major client, Donnell accepted a position at Helitrans Co., where he worked as a mechanic maintaining a fleet of Bell 206 and 206L helicopters.
Eight years later, he was recruited away again, this time by Dallas Airmotive as a regional sales manager and field service technician for the Rolls-Royce 250. While he had no sales experience, Donnell’s expert maintenance skills and customer-support focus quickly won over customers. In 2001, he was recruited by StandardAero, only to be laid off 13 years later due to budget cuts.
“I took a year to decide what to do next and was approached by Panther Helicopters, a customer I’d known for 20 years, to be a mechanic,” Donnell recalls. “The happiest time of my life is when I’m a mechanic. The pilots are like family, and I really enjoy making sure the aircraft operate properly and keeping them, my family, safe.”
Now in the industry more than 45 years, Donnell is a mechanic at Panther, based in Picayune, Mississippi. He plans to retire in the next two years to enjoy reflecting on a career that made a difference.
Joe Patrick, a program manager at StandardAero, sums up what most everyone who’s worked with Donnell says: “From his early days as a hands-on mechanic, through his time as DOM of a Houston-based operator, to his days as a salesman for an engine MRO, and now back as a hands-on mechanic (his true love), Jeff has shown himself to be unwavering in his dedication to excellence in maintaining these complicated machines.”
LCDR, US Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod, Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts, USA
Pilot of the Year Award, sponsored by ROTOR Media, for outstanding achievement as a helicopter pilot
Travis Christy joined the US Coast Guard (USCG) out of a desire to help people. While attending the Coast Guard Academy, he chose to serve in the aviation community, receiving his wings in 2013. He has since helped save numerous lives at sea, inland, and in post-disaster support efforts.
One such day came on Mar. 2, 2021. At 8 pm, a call came in to USCG Air Station Cape Cod in Massachusetts. Atlantic Destiny, a 140-ft. fishing vessel with 31 onboard, had caught fire and was taking on water more than 200 nautical miles east of Cape Cod.
Facing darkness, freezing cloud layers, and turbulent winds, Christy set out for the disabled vessel. Shortly after his aircraft arrived on scene, the decision was made to evacuate most of the boat’s crew. After a Royal Canadian Air Force helicopter hoisted six crew members, Christy maneuvered his helicopter into position to begin rescuing survivors. Battling 40- to 60-kt. winds and 33-ft. waves, Christy and his crew lifted eight survivors from the dark, pitching vessel. With a full cabin, Christy departed and flew 125 miles through pockets of unidentified precipitation to Yarmouth International Airport (CYQI) in Nova Scotia, Canada, where the survivors were transferred to awaiting rescue personnel.
Christy rose to the occasion again on May 30, 2021, when he and his crew responded to rescue an injured skier at 4,000 ft. on Mount Washington in New Hampshire. The skier had fallen 400 ft. and suffered severe head trauma and a spinal injury. No other aircraft in the area could support the mission due to the patient’s high-altitude location and reported visibility of 1/16 to 0 statute mile.
Christy flew under an IFR flight plan to Eastern Slope Regional Airport (KIZG) near the injured skier. From there, he identified a safe route and briefed his team on how they would transit the remaining 20 nautical miles to the injured skier, including an inadvertent-IMC plan. The aircraft followed the road, navigating around clouds and mountainous terrain at 40 to 70 kt. and altitudes of 100 to 200 ft. agl.
Once on scene, Christy used the aircraft’s direction finder to pinpoint the injured skier’s position. As the helicopter hovered near its maximum available power, Christy served as the safety pilot while the skier was hoisted via litter and secured safely on board.
In August 2021, Christy was also instrumental in discovering and rescuing eight people and two pets from a severely damaged beach hotel on Grand Isle, Louisiana, while supporting post-hurricane rescue efforts in the wake of Hurricane Ida.
Throughout his years with the Coast Guard, Christy has found himself in the midst of seemingly insurmountable challenges. Yet, by exercising careful judgment, aviation skills, and trusted leadership capabilities, he has benefited countless lives.
Pilot, Aero Dynamix, Euless, Texas, USA
Lifetime Achievement Award, sponsored by Bell, for long and significant service to the international helicopter community
Dwayne Williams has enjoyed a long and storied career in the helicopter industry. Since learning to fly in 1965 with the US Army, he’s accrued more than 16,000 hours of accident-free flight time and 57 years of experience flying combat, offshore oil-support, flight-training, and test-pilot operations.
Williams’s career began with a tour in Vietnam, followed by two years as an instructor pilot at Fort Wolters, Texas. After leaving the army, he joined Petroleum Helicopters Inc. (PHI), where he flew offshore in the Gulf of Mexico for almost five years.
In 1974, Williams was offered the opportunity to train Iranian Army pilots in Isfahan, Iran, for Bell Helicopter International. There, he put his military-standardization and instructor-pilot skills to strong use, soon becoming the chief pilot for the advanced flight training program, a position he held until the program ended in 1979.
Upon returning to the United States, Williams joined Bell Helicopter Textron as a production test pilot, demonstration pilot, and international delivery pilot. During this period, he traveled to virtually every corner of the globe promoting Bell and its products. He later joined Bell’s experimental test-pilot staff at Bell’s Flight Research Center and in 2000 became Bell’s chief pilot.
Williams was the first person to fly several Bell aircraft, including the 206L-3, 400, AH-4BW SuperCobra, and 230. He was also a test pilot on the first Bell/Agusta Model 609 commercial tiltrotor flight.
Williams also served as a test pilot for flights on the Bell XV-15 tiltrotor, the forerunner of the Marines’ V-22 tiltrotor aircraft. During this time, Williams was appointed a designated engineering representative (DER) flight test pilot by the FAA.
Not long after retiring from Bell in 2005, Williams accepted the position of chief pilot, director of flight operations, at MD Helicopters, where he directed helicopter production and delivery flights as well as pilot and maintenance training. While there, he served on Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s advisory council, where he developed an annual MD 530 transition scholarship for the school’s top helicopter student-pilot graduate.
In 2013, Williams became chief test-pilot at Marenco, designer, developer, and producer of the first Swiss-made helicopter, the SH09. There, he had the honor of performing the aircraft’s first test flight. In 2015, he received the FAA’s highest honor for a pilot, the Wright Brothers Master Pilot award, which recognizes 50 years of safe flight with no accidents on a pilot’s record.Today, Williams serves as chief test pilot and certification pilot for Aero Dynamix, a company that designs cockpits that are night-vision goggles (NVG) compatible.
Through all his positions and experiences, Williams has left his mark across the industry.
“I’ve always thought of myself as just a pilot,” Williams says. “I’ve taken this very seriously. In the world of test flying, you’re responsible for everyone who flies in that aircraft after you. It’s a big responsibility, and it’s difficult. I have a strong work ethic and always aimed to do my very best. I always told the engineers the truth, whether they’d like it or not.”