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By Compiled by R&W Staff | April 1, 2006
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Vortex Helicopters Recovers, Relocates

Its battering by Hurricane Katrina last year helped convince Vortex Helicopters to relocate from Long Beach, Miss. to New Iberia, La.

The flight school's decision was made easier by tax breaks and other incentives from New Iberia's economic development agency, which had been wooing owners Joe and Mary Sheeran, and by the new site's collocation with Air Logistics, which Vortex feeds pilots.


Flight instructors flew most of Vortex's 13 Robinson R22s to safety before Katrina hit Aug. 29, 2005; the three lost were in maintenance when the storm hit. But its Long Beach facility was decimated. The Sheerans expected their hangar might be damaged, but it and the school's 17-apartment dormitory were wiped out. Only the concrete slabs on which they'd been built were left. "I never expected to come back to slabs," Joe Sheeran said.

Despite the damage, almost all of the school's 107 students at the time stayed--15 of them at the Sheerans' home, which had been damaged. It took the school about a month to get running again.

The Sheerans had been thinking about moving to New Iberia for about two years. Katrina "kind of just made the decision for us," he said.

The school got a lot of help in the move from Air Logistics in dealing with the local airport board and Louisiana state officials. For three years, the offshore operator has been getting pilots from Vortex's Professional Pilot Program. Under it, students can apply for an Air Log internship after earning commercial and instrument ratings, get a job interview with the company and visit its bases and pilots and offshore facilities. Sheeran said Air Log has hired nearly all the students he has sent them and he will continue to expand the program with the move to New Iberia, where Air Log has its headquarters.

The move will net Vortex a 128-bed dorm, a three-classroom facility (versus one in Long Beach), a new hangar and an affiliation with Louisiana Technical College, which should open up training funding for some students. Vortex is in temporary quarters at New Iberia and expects to move into the new facilities by the end of next month.

Companies Team On Heli-Basket Simulator

Precision Lift, Inc. is working with a British simulation firm to incorporate its Heli-Basket transport and rescue system into a virtual-reality helicopter training system.

The Virtalis Group, the Manchester, U.K.-based firm, originally developed a Virtual Reality Voice Marshalling simulator for Royal Air Force Griffin crews. As part of it, Virtalis just completed what it claims is the world's only virtual winching simulator.

The system is aimed at helping military services and civil rescue and hoist operators keep crew skills honed without having to rely on costly live-aircraft training.

Virtalis recently made the system a portable product to make it available to a much greater number of organizations and companies. It expects to increase the system's utility by incorporating training for the Heli-Basket, since external loads extend the range of where supplies, equipment, and emergency personnel can be transported.

Monarch, Mont.-based Precision Lift developed the Heli-Basket for quick transport of equipment, supplies, emergency workers, military personnel, disaster victims and livestock as under-slung loads. It says it has sold 180, most of them to the U.S. Army National Guard.

With Heli-Basket models, the Virtalis simulator is to feature a fully or semi-immersive headset combined with a tracking system driven from a high-end PC workstation. The company said the system price would start from �140,000 in the UK and Europe and $275,000 in the rest of the world.

FlightSafety to Host Helicopter Safety Forum

FlightSafety International plans to host a Helicopter Safety Forum at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport early next month.

The forum is the second hosted by the simulation and training company. Last May, it organized a meeting at its DFW training center of emergency medical service operators, manufacturers, FAA officials, insurers and accident investigators to focus for a daylong discussion of helicopter EMS-related safety and training issues. That led to development of new FlightSafety courses focused on specific types of operations. These include what FlightSafety says is the industry's first Air Medical Resource Management course. Designed for all members of the EMS air medical team, the course uses simulator scenarios patterned after real-world flight incidents.

This year's meeting will focus on safety and training issues across the helicopter industry. It is scheduled for May 4-5 at the Marriott DFW South Hotel in Fort Worth, Texas. According to FlightSafety, the forum is open to all helicopter operators and will address issues relevant to EMS, law enforcement, fire, offshore, corporate and other commercial operations.

Presentations and discussion topics are to include safety management systems, transition from military to civilian operations, human factors, crew resource management, decision making, fatigue and stress.

Topics also will cover FAA guidelines and initiatives, National Transportation Safety Board recommendations, accreditation by the Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport Services, Airborne Law Enforcement Assn. standards, insurance recommendations, automation and new technologies.

For more information or to register, contact Terry Palmer, manager of rotorcraft special programs for FlightSafety, at

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