Photo courtesy of Amaury Murgado
My service in the Army gave me a great many tools for my career in law enforcement. Not everything that I learned crossed over well, but there were some core principles that did. One principle in particular applies to training; all types of training. I learned that how we train is how we fight—or more broadly, how we perform under pressure. There is no truer statement, and it's bolstered by the fact that my training has gotten me out of more crap than I care to remember. This also applies to helicopter pilots; how they train versus how they are expected to fly.
My job as special operations lieutenant includes managing my agency's aviation section. The Osceola County (Fla.) Sheriff's Office has four OH-58 light observation/attack helicopters that we keep flying through the Federal 1033 Program. I am not a pilot but I have maintained a love of helicopters since the days I used to jump out of them. In other words, it wasn't a hard decision for me to attend our bi-annual emergency procedures training. I couldn't think of a better way to observe and evaluate how my pilots performed than by flying with them and seeing firsthand how they react under emergency conditions.
From a trainer's perspective, what I found out after two days of intense flying surprised me. Apparently, if you're taking standard helicopter training, how you train is not how you fly. The current set of emergency procedures training leaves a lot to be desired for law enforcement aviation. They take pilots through only a cursory routine that leaves them on their own in a real-world emergency. In my mind, the principle of "how you train is how you fight" surely applies to more than just firearms and tactics.
Every helicopter pilot receives emergency procedures training that includes flying with stuck tail rotor pedals, a loss of hydraulics, and demonstrating how to safely autorotate down. Autorotation is an exercise in the energy management of a spinning rotor to cushion your touchdown. The pilot must ensure the continued rotation of the rotor blades to support a controlled descent to the ground. That's a fancy way of saying if the engine fails, you have so many seconds to make a controlled landing or you turn into a lawn dart.
Typically, autorotation training involves an airport so you can do your emergency procedures on a runway. Because we have special skids on our OH-58s, we get to train better than most by performing an autorotation that glides forward toward the runway, touches down, and then skids to a stop. In a real emergency, it makes perfect sense if you are near a runway. My problem with this technique is that in the real world, there never seems to be a runway around when you need one.
Sgt. Harold Standridge is a former Army Blackhawk helicopter pilot and the aviation unit sergeant for the Marion County (Fla.) Sheriff's Office. Through an off-duty gig, he conducted my agency’s emergency procedures training. He started out with the typical set and then took my pilots to the next level. The premise for his training is that forward movement kills. He made a very convincing argument while using examples of recent helicopter crashes.