Photo courtesy of FlightSafety
Air Methods' use of Denver-based FlightSafety Level D simulators to train pilots has paid off in increased safety during emergency medical service (EMS) runs by providing pilots with greater instrument recognition and proficiency, according to Raj Helweg, chief pilot for Air Methods and co-chairman of the U.S. Helicopter Safety Team.
"We really spare no expense when it comes to safety in terms of being an industry leader in night-vision goggles, for [helicopter terrain awareness and warning systems], insulation of the aircraft, any safety enhancement we can do," Helweg said in an interview with R&WI at the Air Medical Transport Conference in Phoenix Oct. 23. "As the industry becomes more intelligent with what items will be effective for us, we get on board, the latest one being an investment in Level D simulation training for our pilots."
This year is the first full-up implementation of Level D simulation training for Air Methods, as 85 percent of the company's 1,300 pilots have received the training, which Helweg said "most accurately represents the actual aircraft" and leads to increased proficiency in flying the aircraft.
"The best demonstration of it has been how they fly their instruments," he said. "Flying instruments whether you're in an IFR platform with an autopilot or a VFR platform where you're hand flying, it is a perishable skill. You have to practice it. In a simulator, we can take all visual reference away, and they have to function solely by reference to the instruments. We can train them to that to be successful so it increases their confidence."
Helweg said that he has received reports from pilots about the value of the simulators, including one EMS pilot who told Helweg that he experienced an engine roll back to idle, but nevertheless was able to land his aircraft "without a scratch."
"We've added all these safety enhancements to the aircraft, night-vision goggles, terrain awareness," Helweg said. "What we need to focus on now is the human, to make sure they're set up for success in the aircraft. We can take a two-hour block of training and through drills and repetition and a scenario-based approach, we can really consolidate a lot of training — stop, rewind and go; stop, rewind and go — to the point where it becomes muscle memory for people."