First-time Heli-Expo exhibitor SRT Helicopters (Booth No. 454) has brought nearly a dozen rescue professionals to the show to discuss real-world training topics–including total resource management, hoist operations, night-vision goggles (NVG), “blue water” operations and fast roping–for helicopter operators of all types.
Founded by former U.S. Army Special Forces member and helicopter pilot Chris Gadbois in 1989, California-based SRT Helicopters provides customized on-site pilot and crewmember training at the customer’s facility. Going beyond simple recurrency training, SRT requires the operator to fill out a 50-question pre-bid questionnaire to determine the crew’s training needs. Three to four days before the scheduled training begins, SRT sends an advance team to inspect the customer’s helicopters and other equipment, interview crewmembers about their operational environment and review maintenance logs. This advance preparation allows SRT to tweak the training plan to address individual safety concerns and operational deficiencies.
“We take a consultant’s approach to training,” said Gadbois. “When we arrive onsite, we ask the client to name the most vocal malcontent on their crew, and that’s who we interview first. Nine times out of 10, [the malcontent’s] complaints match our assessment of the areas that need the most help.”
But Gadbois and his crew aren’t traditional classroom suit-and-tie consultants. Every SRT instructor is a current helicopter professional, with most holding full-time public safety jobs as helicopter pilots, paramedics, rescue personnel or maintenance crew. Besides running SRT, Gadbois is a 3,000-hour helicopter pilot for a local police force and a fire captain/paramedic for another local jurisdiction.
“SRT was born out of a little side job providing training on issues that were out of my hands at work,” Gadbois said. “We talk about real-world scenarios, including politics, funding and deployment issues that can affect the success of the mission.”
An SRT mobile training team usually involves six or more instructors, including two or more pilots, a crew chief, rescue personnel and maintenance personnel. While one set of SRT instructors is up in the air training student crews on hoist operations, technical rescue, personnel recovery, NVG and other specific operational techniques, other SRT personnel may be conducting classroom training in topics such as human factors or total resource management. When one crew ends its two-hour training session, fresh SRT instructors take the next crew up.
“Normal recurrency training segregates the pilots from the crewmembers in back,” Gadbois said. “The pilots go off to some facility to do their training, and rescue personnel do their training at a separate time and place. We let the entire crew train together.” Training together allows the crew to practice resource-management, situational-awareness and critical-thinking techniques.
“If someone’s not used to thinking outside the box, we need to address that,” Gadbois said. “We take the students out of their comfort zone and make them think about what they’d do if such-and-such happened.
“We’ve had students cry,” he continued. “And that’s good. If you can get that stressed out in training, when you encounter that situation in real life, you’ll have gone through it once already and be a little more equipped to handle it.”
Training costs vary by contract, but average between $750 and $1,250 per instructor per day. In addition to providing mobile training teams, SRT also operates a fleet of its own helicopters for flight training and contract operations from its Bakersfield, Calif. facility.