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When I was younger, I walked uphill, in snow, and barefooted
By Lyn Burks


It was getting late in the afternoon and I had just finished a days flying in Key West, Florida. It had been one of those strange, hazy gray, overcast, blustery days, with the wind steady out of the east at 15 – 20 knots. It looked like it wanted to storm any minute, but never really did with the exception of an occasional spit of rain here and there.

The Bell 206B Jetranger I was flying was based 175 miles away at Palm Beach County Airpark (KLNA). After topping off and paying for the over priced, “we have you by the short hairs”, jet fuel at KEYW, I was determined that I would get back to base as quickly as I could. I had three choices before me: The Long Way - Follow U.S. 1 along the island chain until it reached mainland Florida. The Short Way - Head directly N-NE from KEYW across the 56 mile open water gulf toward the southern tip of Florida. The Fun Way - Leave the Jetranger on the ramp for the night, get a room, and soak up some local game at the Hog’s Breath down on Front St.



After a quick phone call to Flight Service, I determined the weather enroute was going to be 5 –  10 miles visibility and the ceilings would be about 2000 OVC. Back in those days, there was no internet, smart phones, or iPads with up to the minute weather apps, ergo the “uphill” part of my title. Although 2000/5 was not the best weather conditions for an over water leg, I felt good because I was armed with my flight plan, fuel, floatation, and a high end navigation system called LORAN C…….the “snow”.

As I launched into the wild blue yonder on a 045’ish heading, I climbed to FL1.2 (1200’).  During climb out I programmed the Loran to show me the way to KLNA, centered the CDI, and settled in for the flight. I made note of the course and added a few degrees right to account for the hard right crosswind. It did not take long before I lost sight of land. Unless you are a former Coast Guard Pilot, that is typically when your gut tightens and you begin hearing odd noises in the helicopter that you had not heard only moments before.

As “Murphy’ would have it, the ceiling came down a little bit and pushed me down to about 800’, but the vis was still pretty good. As I reached the halfway point, the one piece of equipment I was hanging my hat on to take me the shortest route, decided to stop participating. Actually, the Apollo LORAN C receiver was not broken, but the ground base tower in my LORAN chain that I needed to send me signals (GRI 7980) went offline……..now I am “barefooted”.

Due to ceilings, I can’t get high enough to pick up a VOR or an NDB, so what now? No big deal, back to dead reckoning. Florida is a big state, all I have to do is hit the south end of it, keep heading N-NE across the Everglades until I recognize some part of it’s east coast urban sprawl, and I am home free. I did run into one big rain cell that popped up, which pushed me even further west, but I still felt good about my course. At that moment however, the only thing I was sure of was that I was south of the FL coast, but exactly where I would make landfall, I had no idea.  My mind did race for a few minutes and ran all the “what if” scenarios. What if my rain deviation and this stiff crosswind pushed me so far off course that I missed the coast? I quickly ruled out that possibility, and would soon be confirmed when I hit the beach according to my time/distance calculations. This would not be the first time, or the last, I would lose the GRI 7980 loran signal and had to go barefooted. There were many other factors that could effect the reliability of LORAN such as weather and geographic location..

Fast-forward to today, I reflect back on that experience and just how low my situational awareness was. The only thing I knew at that moment was that I was at 800’, over the ocean, and somewhere south of the tip of mainland FL. I could not touch my screen, and at a glance, see what airports are VFR or IFR. Nor could I pull up the current metars at every airport within 100 miles of me to see if trending weather minimums were getting lower. I definitely did not have my course line painted on an aeronautical chart with color weather nexrad radar overlaid on top of it all. I also did not have the reliability of an entire group of satellites feeding me this information.

I am glad to have seen the progression of navigation systems from NDB to VOR to LORAN to GPS. The functionality and broad range of information available to the modern day multi-function display is astounding.

At the forefront of this technology revolution is Garmin. In the last several years, it has created high tech multi-function flight display designed specifically with helicopters in mind. Over the years, I have personally had the opportunity to fly the Garmin 396, 496, 430, 530, and the MX20 MFD.  As the years go by, these systems keep getting smaller, lighter, more cost effective, and can exponentially raise the situational awareness of helicopter pilots. Take for example the Garmin G500H Flight Display.

Engineered for safety and reliability in today’s helicopter environment, Garmin’s G500H “glass cockpit” suite provides an integrated flight solution to significantly enhance situational awareness. AHRS attitude/heading reference delivers high-precision spatial sensing for the G500H digital instrumentation – replacing old-style gyros. And dual 6.5-inch LCD screens, mounted side-by-side in a single bezel, put Primary Flight Display (PFD) and Multi-Function Display (MFD) capabilities right in front of the pilot for easy scanning and interpretation. The PFD screen on the right side shows attitude, airspeed, climb rate, altitude and course/ heading information – while the left side MFD provides detailed moving-map graphics depicting the helicopter’s current position in relation to ground features, chart data, navaids, and flight plan routings. Other information that can be viewed on the MFD are:
 

  • HTAWS alerting and voice callouts of altitude when descending below 500 feet
  • XM WX™ Satellite Weather with NEXRAD imagery
  • HSVT™ synthetic vision technology that renders terrain-alerting data into a realistic 3-D “virtual reality” landscape
  • Traffic targets can be displayed on the G500H MFD when combined with GTS  traffic systems.

      
The G500H is a glass cockpit upgrade for VFR, Part 27 helicopters. It’s currently certified for installation in the Bell 206, Bell 407, Eurocopter AS350, Eurocopter EC130 and Robinson R44 as well as others. Garmin believes that all sectors of the helicopter industry can benefit from G500H because of the way it enhances safety and situational awareness with features like HSVT Helicopter Synthetic Vision Technology. Their research of FAA reports indicated that the three main areas of operational risks for helicopters are inadvertent flight into IMC, night operations and controlled flight into terrain. Their goal with the design of the G500H was to proactively address these issues and help reduce situational risk and the challenges that come from a busier airspace.

So far, Garmin indicates that the response to the G500H has been very favorable and has been receiving a tremendous amount of interest from law enforcement, EMS, helicopter tourism, and private owners. I know that for me personally, I have enjoyed the benefits of technology progression in my cockpit. I cannot wait to see what the future has in store. What will they think of next?

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