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By Lyn Burks
Photos: Dana Maxfield
Video: Lyn Burks

The fuselage was made partly of plywood beams. The tail cone was made of riveted magnesium. The rotor blades were a composite of fir and balsa wood, with a steel reinforcement bar down the leading edge. Powered by a vertically mounted 165-hp Franklin engine, Bell’s first helicopter, the Model 30, first flew in 1942.

By 1947, the Bell Aircraft Corporation in Buffalo, NY was essentially the only place a person could get helicopter training. All training was done in a Bell Model 47 and given by renowned helicopter pioneers like Floyd Carlson, Joe Mashman, Arthur Young and Dick Stansbury. This marked the birth of a helicopter training facility that would grow for more than a half century, into what has become the Bell Helicopter Training Academy (BTA). In 1951, the newly created Helicopter Division of the Bell Aircraft Corporation moved to Fort Worth, Texas.

bell training academy

Since then, the BTA has operated from Saginaw, TX (1951-1970), Hurst, TX (1970-2005), and the Fort Worth Alliance Airport (2005-Present). In 1996, the Bell Helicopter Training Academy opened an 18,000 square-foot wing, providing much-needed additional office and classroom space to handle the heavy customer load. From a mere trickle when Bell began training in Buffalo in the 40's, the BTA saw its 90,000th customer complete training in 2003.

The Bell Helicopter training facility, currently located at Fort Worth Alliance Airport, is moving to the new global headquarters to bring Bell Helicopter's products closer to its people. Bell Helicopter's future headquarters will be home to administration, support functions, program offices, a customer center and an integrated training facility. Bell Helicopter plans to invest $230 million in new and upgraded facilities as part of a comprehensive revitalization effort. Bell Helicopter is revitalizing its facilities to provide its more than 6,000 North Texas-based employees with a better, safer, more comfortable work environment, and to attract and retain the talented workforce needed to grow its business in Texas.
 
TECHNOLOGY AT THE CONTROLS

Advancing technology is the double-edged sword in aviation. On one hand, technology improvements make us more efficient and situationally aware. On the other hand, just when you thought you were proficient using one technology, it changes. This tension is a boon for training providers, as they are always in demand to provide initial and recurrent training programs.

The old classroom is dead!  With actual aircraft parts/models, computer based training, PowerPoint, video, and 3D modeling, the BTA provides both pilots and mechanics some of the most in-depth and interactive training available. With a team of programmers, instructional designers, multimedia artists and subject matter experts, Bell Helicopter designs, develops, and implements its own instructional programs. Teaming cutting edge learning theories and strategies with innovative instructional technologies, they create Interactive Multimedia Instruction (IMI).

The use of 2D and 3D graphics and animations enhances the learning experience by allowing interactivity with students on various learning levels. Flash is also used to create interactive content.  Interactive Computer Based Training (CBT) allows the student to learn at their own pace and on their own schedule. Because CBT can be delivered on user workstations, CD-ROM, corporate Intranets, or the Web, it is an effective way to reduce travel costs and educate a geographically dispersed student base.

Naturally, advances in high speed Internet are opening entirely new opportunities for the BTA to reach its customers. Online training courses will allow customers to spend less time traveling while training, thereby saving the operator money. It may also allow clients to do a certain amount of pre-learning prior to arriving at the BTA, thereby making their training experience more efficient and effective. Online courses can cover virtually any topic whether related to pilot, mechanic, or specialty training. Take for example the Law Enforcement, Tactical Flight Officer (TFO) Program. This new course is intended to give law enforcement officials the knowledge and skills necessary to perform TFO tasks, and operate under supervision, tactical flight operations equipment. A large portion of this course can be delivered to the customer online, thereby saving the law enforcement agency time and money.

AN FTD FOR EVERY HELICOPTER


Through continuous development and improvement, the new generations of flight training devices (FTD) are highly sophisticated full mission training devices.  Operators can prepare for any type of mission, in any environment, before ever attempting it live. Emergency and contingency training can be considered, and mistakes can be identified and corrected. Situational awareness and crew resource management can be honed without the risk of injury or damage to anything but ego and pride.

As flight training device technology has progressed, so has the BTA in its desire to provide quality FTD training in every current model aircraft. Presently the BTA can provide FTD training as part of initial and recurrent pilot training courses in the B206, B407, B412, B427, and B429.

MORE THAN JUST PILOT TRAINING

Initial and recurrent pilot training is only one facet of the course offerings at the BTA. Mechanics and crewmembers can benefit from many types of training offered as well. Although not all inclusive, here is a sample of other courses that may be of interest:

P3 Pro Pilot Program
Fundamentals of Instruction
NVG Ground and Flight
Bell 407 Law Enforcement
Tactical Flight Officer
Human Factors
Make/Model Field Maintenance Courses
Make/Model Component Overhaul
Make/Model Electrical / AFCS Repair
Composite Repair
Engine Maintenance
Non-Destructive Inspection

GLOBAL CHALLENGES - TAKING IT TO THE STREETS


In keeping with the theme of saving customers money, the BTA finds itself with clients on six continents in over 130 countries. In a post 9-11 era, where international travel is expensive and laws surrounding flight training are more complicated, the BTA is leveraging its international experience to reach more customers.  When possible, the BTA takes the training directly to the customer, rather than have the customer fly to the U.S. In fact, the BTA is aggressively pursuing the establishment of remote training centers worldwide. Says Marty Wright, Master Flight Instructor with the BTA, "These strategic training locations can involve both flight and mechanical/technical training. Our goal is to provide quality training to the exact same standards as one would receive at the BTA in the U.S. To do so, we will have a small team of U.S. expatriates to provide standardization as well as a local workforce that understand the culture.”"

A ROLE IN IMPROVING SAFETY

It was clear to me the BTA understands, that as a training institution, it can play a real role and have an impact on reducing accidents in the helicopter industry. In order to do that, every employee from the top down, and every client who walks through the door, must be indoctrinated in the concept of “safety first.” Now, having been a pilot for 20-plus years, I know that safety is an easy word to throw around in casual settings, but it takes much more effort to walk the walk than it does to talk the talk.

With some honest reflection on the past, Mr. Wright indicated that there has been a major shift in culture and attitude at the BTA over the last decade. In the decades past, aircraft “dinged” in the process of flight training might be seen as acceptable and a normal by-product of advanced flight training maneuvers. As the pendulum often does, it has swung in the opposite direction and the BTA endeavors for a goal of zero tolerance when it comes to incidents in flight training. Wright expanded on that thought by remarking, “Through standardization and creating a culture of safety, from the moment a customer comes to the BTA, all we are concerned about is how they can more safely operate and/or maintain the piece of equipment that they have purchased from Bell Helicopter.”

Posted in: Company Profiles

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