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Editor’s Notebook: Year-End Bonus

By James T. McKenna | December 1, 2007

WE’RE EXCITED THIS MONTH AT Rotor & Wing, for a number of reasons.

Our cover gives some hints of that, but just hints. There, for instance, you see a "blurb," as we call that text, about our 2007 Customer Satisfaction Survey. Those four words don’t do justice to our enthusiasm. We’re pretty confident that the material we present in the survey report beginning on page 20 offers everyone in rotorcraft — owners, operators, pilots, mechanics, manufacturers, and vendors — a new, unique set of measures for how helicopters and the people who build and support them are doing out in the field.

We do this with R&W’s Excellence Ratings. As a new approach to presenting the data in our Customer Satisfaction Surveys, these are tallies of how well individual airframe makers are doing. They differ in two key ways. First, they focus on the select group of people who know and operate the specific manufacturers’ aircraft and do so at the facility at which they work. These people have direct, daily experience with the aircraft about which they opine in our survey. Second, we concentrate on the percentage of survey respondents who consider a manufacturer’s performance in critical areas to be between "above average" and "excellent" on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being "excellent"). This is why we call them the Excellence Ratings. As such, we believe, they measure rotorcraft customer satisfaction in a way that hasn’t been done before. If we’re right, our annual Excellence Ratings will become the standard by which rotorcraft customer satisfaction is measured. We think you’ll find the survey results intriguing. We know the manufacturers will.

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We’ll be presenting other portions of the 2007 Customer Satisfaction Survey throughout the coming year in the magazine and on our Web site, www.rotorandwing.com. The complete survey also will be available for sale on the Web site.

Returning to the cover, you’ll note the curious aircraft that dominates it. Our Military Spin columnist, Steve Colby, got to know the Piasecki Aircraft X-49A Speedhawk in 1999, when it was considered for what was then the U.S. Air Force Personnel Recovery Vehicle competition. A seasoned combat search and rescue pilot (and former commander of the USAF school that trains those pilots), Steve has a unique appreciation of that aircraft’s promise of vertical lift and high cruise speed. So he jumped at the chance to get an exclusive rundown on the program from John Piasecki.

R&W Excellence Ratings measure rotorcraft customer satisfaction in a way that hasn’t been done before.

Steve has been friends with photographer Shannon Bower, Ron Bower’s son, since the two met at R&W’s 2003 Emergency Response Conference in Jacksonville, Fla. They collaborated on last year’s "Have Guns, Will Travel," cover story (November 2006, page 24). It didn’t take much persuading for Shannon to meet up with Steve at the Piasecki base of operations at Boeing’s flight test center in Wilmington, Del. When they arrived, they feared they were in for just a briefing. "We got there Thursday a.m. to heavy fog and predictions for rain," Steve said, which threatened to scotch the planned flight. But the fog burned off and the rain didn’t fall, so the X-49A flew flight test mission No. 21, which Steve observed and Shannon photographed. (The flight suits each brought didn’t help; they didn’t get to fly the Speedhawk. Yet, that is.) You can read their report on the aircraft and Piasecki’s plans for it starting on page 46.

In the back of the book, we welcome two new columnists this month.

Pat Gray is an old hand in Gulf of Mexico helicopter operations. Retired now, he missed the camaraderie of pilots. He also had an urge to write, of which he informed me several months ago. We always welcome experienced insight on helicopter operations, particularly those offshore. So it seemed a natural fit for Pat to join us as a contributor to the Offshore Notebook column. He begins this month with a discussion of satellite tracking in the GOM; he’ll pursue that discussion, focusing on specific systems and uses, in his next column, which should run in March 2008.

Our June Operators’ Report on the Eurocopter AS350 caught reader Keith Cianfrani’s eye ("The AS350 — Versatility and Power," June 2007, page A1). He has a bit of experience in that aircraft — including, unfortunately, two incidents that brought the NTSB out — and others. He’s a retired U.S. Army master aviator, instructor pilot, and safety investigator, and rated in rotary- and fixed-wing. He’s also a risk-management instructor. After reading the Operators’ Report, he e-mailed me to say he’d be interested in writing for us. That coincided with the departure of Tim McAdams, who had done such a fine job of helping us get the Safety Watch column off the ground before he went off to work for Eurocopter. Someone qualified to contribute to our Safety Watch column, and interested in doing so, fit the bill nicely. Keith wants to do so "to share my knowledge and experience with safety and risk management in general aviation, with the ultimate goal of reducing accidents." He gets his start this month with a column about a 2004 Black Hawk crash in Texas that he helped investigate for the Army.

So I think you’d agree there is plenty to be excited about this month — and we haven’t even gotten to what’s ahead for 2008.

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