Air Beat Magazine: March - April 2007


March - April 2007

Developing a Maintenance Checklist for Your Downlink Equipment

Digital Downlink:
The Future Of Airborne Video Surveillance

Downlinking Big Apple Style

Next Generation Video Downlink Topology

Taking Care of Your Machine:
The Keys to Progressive Maintenance

Heli-Expo Took Flight in Florida

Developing a Maintenance Checklist for Your Downlink Equipment

By Robert Murray
Senior Flight Mechanic
Pinellas County (FL) Sheriff’s Office Flight Section

Law enforcement helicopters have come a long way from the days of just carrying a searchlight and radio. Today’s law enforcement helicopters are valuable to the officers on the ground because they can get situational information to them in a real-time format. The interfacing of the thermal sensing unit, daytime camera and moving map with downlink capabilities makes this information available to those on the ground.

At the same time, downlink equipment requires the helicopter technician to have an understanding of how all this equipment must work together in order to troubleshoot a problem when one or more of the components are not operating properly. He or she must also understand how the downlink equipment is compatible with the aircraft and its systems. This equipment presents many new challenges for the technician in maintaining its operational capability and meeting the regulatory requirements of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Specifically, they must have a checklist describing all of the routine inspections that are required with the use of downlink equipment.

The Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs) require a technician to inspect all the miscellaneous equipment installed on an aircraft during a 100-hour or annual inspection. Whenever a technician performs an annual or 100-hour inspection, he or she must incorporate the miscellaneous equipment into the inspection checklist to ensure that the item continues to meet its airworthiness requirement. When inspecting the airframe or engine, the manufacturer provides an inspection checklist in the maintenance manual. However, much of the equipment installed on a law enforcement helicopter will not have an inspection checklist. That includes downlink equipment. The technician must personally develop a checklist for those components.

The FARs allow a technician to use a checklist that he or she designs. In designing this checklist, the technician needs to develop inspection criteria that will show that the downlink equipment continues to meet airworthiness requirements.

How does the technician determine the information to include in the inspection of the downlink equipment if the manufacturer does not provide an inspection checklist? First, the checklist must include the scope and details of the items in FAR Part 43 Appendix D that pertain to radio equipment and miscellaneous equipment. FAR Part 43 Appendix D lists the items an individual must inspect during a 100-hour or annual inspection. All applicable items listed in this appendix that pertain to the equipment are regulatory and must be on the inspection checklist.

The regulations also require that the owner/operator receive instructions for continued airworthiness (ICA) upon the installation of the equipment. This ICA provides information to the technician about the methods, inspections and procedures necessary to maintain the equipment in an airworthy condition. The FAA requires that the installer attach the ICA to FAA form 337 for major alterations.

FAA form 337 is documentation that a technician must fill out when he or she makes a major alteration to an aircraft. Upon completion of the equipment installation, the repair station or the individual will provide the owner a copy of the 337 and submit it to the local Flight Standards District Office where it becomes part of the permanent record of the aircraft in Oklahoma City. A technician can go to the FAA form 337 at any time to find the information that he or she needs to incorporate into the checklist.

Many times, the ICA will refer the individual back to the applicable manufacturer’s service manual for inspection information. The technician can use the information in the service manual and ICA to develop additional inspection criteria that will become part of the inspection checklist. In the event that the manufacturer’s service manual does not provide detailed information to perform the inspection, the technician can use FAA Advisory Circular 43-13-1B/2A Acceptable Methods, Techniques, and Practices to help in the development of a checklist. This advisory circular contains methods, techniques and practices that are acceptable to the FAA in the inspection and repair of non-pressurized aircraft.

When inspecting downlink equipment, the checklist will include inspection of the wiring, circuit breakers, switches, annunciator lights, clamps and racks for security at each inspection. In addition, the technician needs to pay particular attention to the antenna actuator assembly, transmitter and exposed wiring. The antenna actuator attaches to the skid tube and takes all the abuse from the elements. The passengers entering and exiting the helicopter can also step on the antenna actuator assembly, inflicting damage. Because of this abuse, the technician should devote a little extra time to this component. The attachment of the antenna and actuator to the skid tube is by stainless steel clamps. These clamps will wear on the concrete since they go around the skid tube. Take some time and inspect the bottom of the skid tubes to check the condition of the clamps. Check the condition and attachment of the safety cable that attaches to the actuator and bracket. Ensure that the transmission line and wiring for the actuator remain securely attached to the cross tubes and are still in good condition. Inspect the transmitter and formatter for security of attachment and the condition of the wiring up to the component. Also check the condition and security of the shelf or the attach point for the formatter and transmitter. The transmitter has a fan for cooling, so inspect the area around the fan and ensure it is free of obstructions.

Incorporating the downlink equipment in the helicopter’s routine inspection program will ensure that the equipment continues to meet the regulations requirements and catch potential problems before they arise.  

Digital Downlink:
The Future Of Airborne Video Surveillance

By Jacqueline Roy
MRC Marketing Communications Specialist

Microwave Radio Communications (MRC) has the largest share of video microwave systems in domestic and global broadcast markets today. MRC has an install base of over 100,000 microwave radios in more than 60 countries around the world. In addition to the broadcast community, MRC continues to provide mission-critical, real-time, encrypted standard and high definition live video in support of the law enforcement, fire, military and intelligence community.

In 1963, development of lightweight, solid-state microwave systems by Microwave Associates Communications Equipment Division (M/A) marked the beginning of live airborne video for the public safety and military community. NYPD installed M/A airborne transmitters in the late 1960s and broadcast live video to receive antennas on the 81st floor of the Empire State Building. The U.S. Marine Corps deployed M/A portable radios on helicopter drones in Vietnam, and U.S Navy helicopters broadcast the Mercury and Apollo recovery missions live using rugged M/A transmitters.

M/A Com was established in 1978, and a select group of M/A Com employees founded Microwave Radio Communications (MRC) in 1986. Over the course of 40 years, MRC has furthered downlink technology in conjunction with airframe manufacturers, integrators and suppliers of gyro-stabilized electro optical and infrared camera solutions.

Starting in 2000, with MRC’s introduction of digital Coded Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (COFDM) systems, the industry continued to expand its adoption of digital mobile solutions.

Before the development of COFDM, digital signals emerged as superior to analog. As illustrated on page 28, the straight black line denotes a direct path from the helicopter to the tactical receiver case, and the red colored lines represent indirect signal reflections off a mountain and nearby vehicle. Receive sites often are also blocked by buildings in urban environments when a mobile unit transmits to a static receiver, and the bounce or reflection is the only signal received. The combination of direct and indirect signals is commonly called multi-path. Prior to the development of digital transmission technology, multi-path was a constant problem for analog systems, as it results in severe distortion or blocking of the direct signal completely. The issue stems from the fact that analog devices use a single frequency carrier for all data transmitted, and the carrier is prone to distortion. An analog receiver must distinguish between inconsistent signals because of reflections and blockage, plus the receiver must compensate for the time delay associated with such reflections when the desired direct path signal arrives in advance of the reflected signal.

As illustrated in Figure 1, COFDM, which is a digital multi-carrier transmission technology, actually minimizes the effects of multi-path by spreading the information over a range of closely spaced carrier frequencies then processing for the time-based delay of reflections and lost data with forward error correction. To a certain degree, the multiple carriers and the associated reflections actually improve overall reception and signal quality in the presence of severe multi-path conditions.

The latest COFDM digital technology from MRC, Max Ratio Combining Diversity Reception, has greater range facilitated as a consequence of improved receiver threshold. Multiple receive antennae are employed in the application, and MRC combines the energy from all antenna inputs simultaneously and blends the individual carriers on a COFDM symbol basis to produce the best signal possible. The MRC Tactical Receiver Case Diversity can be deployed in less than one minute with extended range antennae and robust performance in support of persistent or tactical surveillance missions.

The solution was originally developed in conjunction with Mohawk Technologies in response to a Department of the Army Multi-National Forces Camp Victory Baghdad requirement for short-, medium- and long-range full motion live airborne video surveillance. The solution was designed for instant deployment and ease of use given untrained ground personnel and operation in harsh environments under extreme temperature ratings. The receiver was designed to complement the airborne components of the downlink, which significantly reduces aircraft payload.
In addition, there can be cost savings when one removes the need for a high-gain, pod-type aircraft antenna and a high-gain tracking antenna control system on the ground. Both are replaced with passive omni or sector antennae. There is also a potential security benefit when GPS data is neither broadcast nor tracked during covert applications.

The MRC solution includes a Strata DO-160D RTCA certified 128 bit AES encrypted transmitter and a simple omni antenna on the aircraft. The Tactical Receiver Case Diversity includes the digital MRC diversity receiver, plus a daylight-readable 700 nit TFT LCD monitor in a NEMA 6P/IP68 outdoor housing, plus a lithium ion 2590 rechargeable military battery and two omni antennae in a MIL-STD-810 (F) Hardigg Storm Case. The City of Baltimore has accepted delivery of five units for portable deployment throughout the downtown metropolitan area as a complement to the existing terrestrial-based downlink network.

The solution outlined above is part of MRC’s Mobile Network Centric Solutions (MNCS). MNCS provides deployable communications support for phone, video and internet connectivity. Included are self-sufficient network solutions that do not require existing infrastructure such as a power grid or communication network. MNCS is ideal for applications such as: airborne downlinks, body-worn video, central command, crowd control, GPS tracking, harbor security, mobile command, surveillance, tactical video and satellite uplink.

Downlinking Big Apple Style

Microwave downlink equipment has become more of a necessity than a luxury,
especially when policing an area like New York City.

By Kenneth J. Solosky
NYPD Aviation Unit

The infamous O.J. Simpson pursuit in 1994 was largely broadcast by news helicopters flying overhead. Numerous "reality shows" also have countless videos of police pursuits captured by helicopter. Currently in the New York City metropolitan area, there are at least six full time media helicopters. Many people are therefore familiar with live video images transmitted by helicopters. It was a natural progression for airborne police agencies to also begin to utilize the technology.

Only a few years ago, microwave downlink equipment was considered a luxury item that could only be afforded by the news media or very large police departments. Today, it seems that almost every agency is getting into the business of transmitting images to mobile receivers or command posts. It is a tool that can give ground commanders a unique perspective in a multitude of situations, including large crowd gatherings, protests, hazardous materials accidents and hostage situations. In those situations, live images of the scene can assist in intelligence gathering, evaluation, planning and response by ground personnel.

Policing a city with over eight million people and 324 square miles of land, including two rivers, the Long Island Sound, the Atlantic Ocean and two major airports, certainly presents challenges. Considering that New York City is one of the financial, media and tourist capitals of the world, coupled with numerous high profile events scheduled every year, such as the United Nations General Assembly every September and the annual Times Square New Year’s Eve celebration, it is easy to see the need and demand for high quality live video by NYPD commanders.

The NYPD Aviation Unit currently operates both the Bell 412EP and Agusta A119 Koala helicopters. One of the Bell 412s is dedicated to counterterrorism missions and utilizes the Wescam MX15 camera and FLIR system. The camera is operated by a specially trained police officer/technician from a console in the rear of the aircraft. In addition to the camera/FLIR capability, the officer also has a moving map and a wide array of computer databases that can be accessed, allowing investigative work to be conducted while airborne. The Bell 412 aircraft is an integral part of Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly’s larger counterterrorism strategy.

Operational considerations prohibit further detail, but suffice it to say that the aircraft is widely utilized in both observation and surveillance operations. This particular aircraft is routinely used for events such as the Republican National Convention, sporting events, the United Nations General Assembly, major parades and large protests. Usually, these events are planned months in advance, and there is ample time to prepare and schedule both the aircraft and crew. However, the Bell 412 also can be launched in minutes to respond to an impromptu protest, large emergency or disaster.

The MX15 provides face recognition from a considerable distance, which allows discreet surveillance and observation. It allows ground com-manders to develop and implement a response without having to put any responders in a dangerous situation.

Detective David Zschau, a maintenance technician in the aviation unit, also acts as camera operator from a specially designed console in the rear of the Bell 412. "The MX15 allows us to loiter a considerable distance away and still provide high quality video," he said. "We can also loiter at a higher altitude while our other aircraft operate below us. This all means a safer operation."

The Agusta A119 Koala is the daily patrol aircraft for the NYPD Aviation Unit. Staffed by a crew of two, a pilot and copilot, the aircraft is equipped with the Wescam MS12/DT200 camera/FLIR platform. The copilot operates the camera for downlink missions utilizing a joystick-type hand controller. In the dynamic and fast-paced environment of a police helicopter cockpit, it was felt that this controller provided the best operating platform versus the laptop keyboard-type controller.

"The A119 Koala gives us a lot more flexibility," said Deputy Inspector Joseph A. Gallucci, a 27-year NYPD veteran and rated commercial/instrument helicopter pilot who oversaw the transition to the Agusta A119 Koala and currently serves as commanding officer of the aviation unit. "Now, since every aircraft has the capability to downlink, it has been much easier to manage our resources."

Prior to the delivery of the Koalas, the unit had to lease a downlink system for any event for which it was deemed necessary. "Obviously, leasing the equipment meant installation and removal time and the associated FAA paperwork," said Gallucci. Because of the lead time needed to lease a system, the use of downlink equipment had to be planned months in advance. Due to the logistics of leasing, the downlink was used perhaps once or twice a year.

"The current setup allows for a much smoother operation, as well as continuous downlink capability at a moment’s notice," said Gallucci. With the other aircraft, a last-minute request for a downlink was impossible. The aviation unit now has seen a sharp increase in requests for the downlink capability. "Once ground commanders saw the value of the downlink and live video, they want it deployed at all events."

There is a downside to the increased use, as the unit has seen a sharp increase in flight time, largely related to downlink requests. Increased flight means more scheduled aircraft maintenance and more funding for the operational budget. Even with five downlink-equipped aircraft, resources can be spread thin. "In between scheduled and unscheduled maintenance, as well as our other assignments and missions, the challenge of managing all the aircraft requires a lot of attention," said Gallucci.

The current NYPD downlink system allows for transmission to several sites around the city, which then transmit the images to police headquarters via hard lines. The aviation unit has taken the necessary steps for a secure and encrypted transmission of the microwave signal. The unit has several portable receivers that are given to key ground personnel such as the Emergency Services Unit (SWAT). The portable receivers are intended for use in quickly developing tactical situations. The unique perspective from the air can allow ground tactical commanders to plan, evaluate and implement their plans based on live information.

Ground commanders are particularly impressed with the combination video/moving map split screen, which shows the exact location of the camera’s focus. This combination is so effective that it has almost become standard operating procedure. In addition to requests for live video, the department has also requested videotape from events in order to debrief incidents and evaluate the police response. This has led to all aircraft always being dispatched with a fresh tape in the recorder.

"In this city, you never know when and where the downlink will be needed, so we make sure that every aircraft launched can handle that request," said Lt. Wendell Sears, the current Director of Flight Operations.

In addition to being used for internal purposes, the video has also been used by the local media. "Of course, in a quick air-sea rescue, the media does not have time to respond, and therefore they sometimes ask us for, and use our video on the local news," said Sears.

During major events, the aviation unit tries to provide continuous downlink. This means carefully managing all the resources. For example, when the primary downlink aircraft needs to depart a scene for fuel or crew relief, a secondary aircraft must be assigned to provide the downlink. "Fortunately, our operations supervisors usually have a good sense of when an aircraft will need fuel or perhaps crew relief, and the signal is usually provided without interruption," said Sears.
The new technology does not come without its dangers. The police cockpit can be a very busy place, and it is not uncommon for the copilot to be handling three police radio frequencies, coordinating with ground units and operating the camera and FLIR. The copilot also must interact with the pilot-in-command, who is busy flying the aircraft and working with air traffic control. Crew resource management is absolutely essential to get the mission completed safely and effectively. PO Nate Jamison and Detective Timothy Hayes, two veteran pilots, agree that the workload can be daunting. "On some missions, the workload up front is intense," said Jamison. Hayes added: "However, no matter how important the specific mission is, we always focus on safety and constantly remind each other to fly the aircraft, and the downlink is secondary."

In order to maintain operational readiness, two downlink tests are conducted every day. These tests ensure that the system is working and operational by sending a signal to the various reception sites around the city and viewing the reception received at police headquarters. These tests, which are monitored by ground technicians, can quickly isolate and identify whether a problem is at the receive site or on the aircraft. This allows for quick discovery of any problems and gives the maintenance technicians a chance to troubleshoot and fix the equipment. The unit’s Chief Mechanic and line pilot, Detective Donald Gromling, said that overall, the maintenance technicians have become good at fixing any system problems. "The support from Wescam has been excellent, and we have found that the problem is often simply a switchology issue," he said. "Normally, we have the system back up and running in a matter of minutes."

The unit’s Chief Pilot, Detective Dennis DeRienzo, seemed pleased with the system overall. "The downlink has certainly enlarged the scope of our mission. It seems as word gets out about the capability, more and more commanders request it for their operations," he said.

At the end of the day, the microwave downlink is truly an asset that can help police officers on the street. "The bottom line is that the microwave downlink allows us to better support the cops on the ground and really, that is our mission, to make certain that everyone goes home to their families at the end of their tour," Gallucci said.

Next Generation Video Downlink Topology

The cedar fire in October 2003 was a watershed event for first responder agencies throughout San Diego County. The fast-moving wildfire stretched resources to the breaking point and revealed deficiencies in interagency telecommunications systems across jurisdictions. The aftermath of the fire brought intense scrutiny to the county’s telecommunications systems and resulted in a concerted effort to improve information sharing with respect to voice, video and data communications.

BY Christopher M. Durso
Pacific Microwave Research, Inc.

San Diego County (CA) was recognized in January 2007 as one of six national regions to improve interagency communications, validating the hard work and funds expended to upgrade the infrastructure.

A vital part of this improved telecommunications capacity is the Regional 3Cs project, which provides high-capacity, high-speed data communications throughout the region. The 3Cs stand for command, control and communications, connecting local, state and federal agencies to improve nformation sharing and facilitate interoperability.

The City of San Diego has developed an innovative use for the 3Cs project, supporting the transmission of real-time video from its police and fire airborne cameras to its Emergency Operations Center (EOC), as well as to police and fire stations anywhere in the city. Through the network, this real-time video may be shared with other agencies within the region. This is a significant force multiplier for public safety agencies that can benefit from tactical airborne imagery but do not have the resources to operate their own helicopters.

This innovative approach to airborne video information sharing employs a technical topology that is similar to an 800 MHz trunked repeater system. Instead of relying on one centrally placed tracking receiver, the San Diego County system design consists of a distributed network of receivers that provide coverage where it’s needed.

The San Diego region is particularly difficult to cover with a single microwave receiver system due to signal shading from the coastal cliffs, inland valleys and mountainous regions. To solve this issue, Dan Newland, Information Systems Administrator for the San Diego Police Department, suggested the concept of a distributed network of microwave video receivers throughout the city, interconnected to the EOC through the 3Cs digital backbone. This design approach eliminates the single point of failure scenario common to central receiver implementation and allows for multiple airborne platforms to utilize the system simultaneously in different geographic regions.

Microwave receiver locations represent a node on the network that may be easily added to expand the system coverage or fill in areas for special events as required. A Pacific Microwave Research (PMR) digital microwave video receiver, omni-directional antenna and video IP streamer are all that is required at the site to expand the coverage of the airborne video network. A telecommunications site constructed to facilitate 800 MHz mobile radio communications is likely to be included in an airborne digital video network. As such, the infrastructure is already in place (shelter, tower, utilities, microwave backbone, etc.), making installation and expansion simple and cost effective.

The use of a digital data network for interconnection and distribution means that the video product from any given receiver site is not limited to viewing at the EOC, as is the case with a conventional single site, central receiver design. For example, a captain at an outlying sub-station could see real-time helicopter video imagery from an aerial support helicopter and directly participate in the tactical situation unfolding in his area of responsibility. If a pursuit crossed into a new jurisdiction, the newly included agency can immediately view the imagery from the helicopter on their recorder to help make decisions, lend assistance and improve response effectiveness.

The distributed digital microwave receiving system designed by the City of San Diego is not limited to agencies directly connected to its ever-expanding network. The real time helicopter video can be made available to outside agencies through a secure internet server. This is useful for providing an on-demand feed to Sacramento, Washington, D.C., or any other ad-hoc users when required.

Currently, the San Diego Police Department has a total of four new American Eurocopter AS350B3s slated for use on the airborne video network. San Diego Fire-Rescue is operating a single Bell 212HP configured with a day/night thermal camera and a digital video downlink transmitter and power amplifier. Each ship was outfitted with the transmission hardware and a skid-mounted, deployable, omni-directional antenna.

The ground-based receiver sites also incorporate an omni-directional antenna, simplifying the system set-up and operation. Omni-directional transmitting and receiving antennas are feasible because the digital video transmission technique uses Coded Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplex (COFDM). As a result of the digital COFDM modulation waveform, multipath immunity is significantly enhanced, and performance far exceeds what may be achieved utilizing legacy analog transmission equipment. The digital COFDM system provides a robust transmission link, and digital security ensures that only the authorized party is able to decode the video from the helicopter.

A total of three receiver sites (mountain top, building top and tower site) are currently operational with an additional seven sites planned as part of the near-term system expansion designed to cover over 2,000 square miles. The digital network backbone consists of 6 and 11 GHz microwave paths, fiber optic cabling and free space optical paths. The distributed microwave downlink system will provide immediate service to the San Diego PD, San Diego Fire-Rescue, San Diego County Sheriff, California Department of Forestry, Imperial County Sheriff and Yuma County Sheriff in Phase I. Follow-on phases will add an additional 33 agencies throughout southern California to the video downlink network.

The backbone network provides interconnection to communications sites, administrative locations, police and fire stations and maintenance facilities. Anywhere the network has a presence is a potential site for a microwave downlink. As a result, coverage problems are easy to solve by simply placing a downlink system at the closest network point-of-presence to the problem area. The basic design philosophy assumes a microwave downlink node can provide coverage within eight miles of the site with a small omni-directional antenna. Of course, manmade and terrain obstacles will modify this coverage footprint, and sites located on high towers or buildings will have an even greater service area.

Temporary sites can even be established for special event coverage. Unlike a single central receiver topology, the distributed network approach can expand and contract to provide the required level of service.

Since the data network provides duplex digital communications, the PMR digital video receiver at each site may be remotely controlled over the 3Cs intranet to allow the user to select the operational frequency and monitor the signal strength and signal quality at each site. This feature facilitates real-time configurability of the system to allow it to adapt to the usage loading required at any given time. Supporting multiple downlink channels means that a number of assets can provide video feeds simultaneously.

Because of the geographic diversity afforded by numerous receiver sites, it is possible to reuse a frequency within the total coverage area to support simultaneous operations. For example, the Fire-Rescue ship could be sending video of a cliff rescue while the sheriff’s department ship is supporting border patrol operations 50 miles inland with both ships on the same microwave frequency but using different local receiver sites. This feature of a distributed microwave video receiver network adds considerable operational flexibility and increases the capacity of the system when compared to a single site, central receiver system. System capacity may be further leveraged by placing additional receivers at each of the downlink sites. The total number of individual receivers at a site is governed only by the available bandwidth of the digital backbone at that particular location.

The system design does not limit itself to airborne operations. A portable briefcase transmission system may be easily utilized as a rapid deployment package to provide video from a camera at the scene of an incident. This is useful for special events (parades, rallies, protests, etc.) or unplanned incidents where tactical video enhances the command and control structure. In this scenario, a site configured with multiple receivers could support a ground-based camera, as well as overhead imagery from an orbiting helicopter.

Taking Care of Your Machine:
The Keys to Progressive Maintenance

By Patrick Crippen, Bell Helicopter Training Academy Flight Instructor

People that are afflicted with "tamperitis" usually end up with aircraft problems they themselves have created. Conversely, lack of vigilance and attention to your aircraft can result in even greater problems.

The key to preventive maintenance is taking good care of your equipment by practicing constant vigilance. But, at the same time, don’t tamper with the merchandise. If your vigilance uncovers no evidence of impending defects, malfunctions or wearing parts, leave it alone.

The modern helicopter, with its improved design and maintenance features, will normally purr along with little attention and few or no problems in between scheduled maintenance. This tends to create a sense of false maintenance security on the part of the agency, which may decide not to incur the expense of qualified maintenance personnel when things are going great without them.

But like any piece of machinery not attended by qualified maintenance personnel, problems will appear. Downtime commences, missions become jeopardized and the agency screams for help at any cost.

It may seem that this situation can be tolerated, perhaps even justified, if the problems that have suddenly appeared can be rectified. But when a small item, such as a loose bolt – easily and quickly corrected in its early stages – reaches a magnitude that grounds the helicopter, it has then also affected associated parts and components. Repairs become costly and time consuming.

Mechanical problems that have been allowed to accumulate over a period of hours do not usually come to the surface at one time, but will intermittently appear as an endless chain of problems requiring constant corrective action. In other words, a continuous maintenance headache will commence from then on, resulting in high cost and downtime.

What is the answer? Simply put, do not sit and wait for problems to present themselves before taking corrective action. At that stage, it is too late to prevent the occurrence of associated problems, forced landings or accidents. Inexperienced or unsuspecting agencies become victims of lack of qualified maintenance surveillance. Qualified surveillance will, in practically all cases, be able to detect and correct minor defects and discrepancies before they break the surface and develop into full-fledged problems with the associated ramifications.

Conversely, unqualified surveillance conducted by persons not experienced in helicopter maintenance will not only fail to detect early stages of impending trouble, but the technician may have a tendency to suffer from tamperitis, thereby creating additional problems which ordinarily would not exist.

All helicopter mechanics can become experts in preventive maintenance simply by being alert and keeping their eyes and ears open for any hints, as small as they may be, that indicate trouble. In time, and with some practice, the mechanic will develop a sixth sense, automatically leading him or her to suspicious areas. He or she must then be qualified to analyze the situation, arrive at a judgment as to the type and degree of corrective action required or determine that there is really nothing wrong, in which case the suspected system, part or component should be left alone. The accuracy of the judgment, and the proficiency to successfully carry it through, are in direct proportion to proper schooling and experience of the personnel involved. It is in this area, more than any other, that the experienced helicopter mechanic proves his worth.

A baby whose needs are anticipated and taken care of by an experienced and attentive mother seldom cries or becomes ill. But if something is wrong, you can bet that attention will be obtained by long and loud crying. Unfortunately, a helicopter is incapable of crying. But in its own way, it tries its best to transmit warning signals whenever attention is required. However, if a receiver is not on hand, or even worse, if one is on hand but off of the proper frequency, these signals cannot be received and the helicopter will eventually become very "ill" and perhaps even "die."

The best way to get on the right frequency is by performing a thorough, daily pre- or post-flight inspection and developing a habit of exchanging comments with pilots at the end of each day’s flight. Signals will then come through loud and clear in the form of unusual noises or changes in noise level, changes in vibrations, loose bolts or rivets, paint cracks or chips which may indicate impending failure of base metal, abnormal heating of parts, gray or black smoke and other discolorations indicating loose or working joints.

Pilots should report to the ground crew any and all unusual occurrences noted in flight. These occurrences should, in all cases, be investigated to determine cause. In some cases, investigations reveal nothing wrong. But in the majority of cases, some defect or discrepancy is uncovered and corrected. Serious problems can develop, sometimes causing accidents or near accidents, when pilots do not report an occurrence or incident, or if the incident is not investigated.

If a conscientious effort is made to tune in and process these signals before they develop into sirens, operations free of major maintenance difficulties will result. This is money in the hand of the agency. Costly downtime, forced landings and accidents due to mechanical difficulties will virtually disappear, and repair costs will be kept to a minimum.

Because operational effectiveness and job accomplishment are an agency’s prime responsibilities, the burden of the preventive maintenance program must rest personally with it. However, because of the complexities of modern helicopters and the various environments in which they are being used, agencies must rely on the advice of their pilots, ground personnel and mechanics. It follows then, that preventive maintenance is not the responsibility of one person alone. It is the responsibility of every person connected in any way with the helicopter.

The ultimate aim of any maintenance program is the elimination of accidents and incidents. The personal tragedies, the wasteful loss of life, personal injuries and equipment losses inflict an unacceptable drain on the resources of any organization.

There are certain inherent hazards in law enforcement flying that sometimes must be accepted in the interest of job accomplishments. However, recognition of these hazards does not dictate their blind acceptance. Rather, their recognition should serve to indicate more clearly where the major preventive maintenance effort should be directed.

Heli-Expo Took Flight in Florida

By Lisa A. Wright

Among the tropical landscape and tourist attractions, the city of Orlando, Florida was host to the Helicopter Association International’s annual event, Heli-Expo 2007. Approximately 14,000 people walked through the tradeshow floor on day one where 500 exhibitors showcased their products and services at the Orange County Convention Center. By the end of the three-day event, it was reported that at least $732 million worth of aircraft were sold (18% more than last year), led by American Eurocopter and AgustaWestland. According to Honeywell’s annual outlook study of the rotorcraft industry released at Heli-Expo, the demand for these new helicopters is being driven primarily by the age of current aircraft and the operator’s desire for improved technology, more range, more power and lower operating costs. Honeywell predicts deliveries of more than 8,000 new helicopters in the period 2007 to 2017, "reflecting industry conditions that have never looked stronger in recent history."

To enhance new and used aircraft, mission equipment and service providers demonstrated their latest in camera systems, thermal imagers, cockpit displays, upgraded engines, communication devices, NVGs, aviation software, flight training, hoists, searchlights, mounts, and the list goes on to what you could find among the 50-plus aisles of products. Thirty-five helicopters were displayed throughout the showroom floor including the Suffolk County (NY) Police Department’s new EC145 and the Fairfax (VA) Police Department’s modified Bell 407. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police took delivery of a new AS 350B3 helicopter from Eurocopter Canada and the San Antonio (TX) Police Department accepted its fourth Schweizer 333.

APSA President Dan Schwarzbach, Secretary Martin L. Jackson, Southeast Region Director Ralph Groover, Executive Director Steve Ingley, Safety Program Manager Keith Johnson and Education Program Manager James DiGiovanna were available to answer police aviation questions and greet new and old APSA members at the Asssociation’s newly redesigned booth. "Law enforcement aviation, as witnessed by the number of public safety aircraft and mission-specific equipment on the exhibit hall floor, is a significant player in the helicopter market. The APSA’s participation in Heli-Expo as an exhibitor, a presenter in the Government Services Committee’s (GSC) Forum and Meeting, and in the Affiliate Symposium, all solidify the Association’s standing as the go to source on airborne law enforcement", reflected President Schwarzbach.

While sales were soaring, HAI President Matt Zuccaro stressed the goal of the International Helicopter Safety Team (IHST), which is to reduce the international helicopter accident rate by 80 percent over the next 10 years. The goal is "a cultural mindset change, so that everyone who’s involved in the decision-making process or operational control of the helicopter will have safety first, above all, in their mental outlook." Zuccaro will be a keynote speaker at APSA’s 37th Annual Conference & Exhibition to be held in July 2007, also in Orlando, where he will further explain the missions of IHST.

HAI members, exhibitors, and industry family and friends honored this year’s "Salute to Excellence" award winners with a video recognizing their tremendous achievements and contributions. Specific to law enforcement, the Agusta Community Service Award was presented to the New York City Police Department Aviation Unit and the MD Helicopters Law Enforcement Award was presented to Monica McIntyre of the City of Lakewood’s (CA) Skyknight Program.

One hundred years ago, the first vertical flight was made. Sergei Sikorsky, son of aviation pioneer Igor Sikorsky, related personal memories of his father during the days when helicopters were considered a revolutionary new technology. "If he were here today, my father would like to thank not only the many engineers and technicians who made the helicopter a reality, but the air crews who flew the helicopter and helped to create this great machine – may it continue another 100 years".

Heli-Expo 2008 will take place in Houston, Texas next year on February 24-26.