Bakersfield, Calif.-based specialized response and flight training company SRT Helicopters (Booth No. 6808) is justifiably proud of its student practical examination record. According to company owner Christian Gadbois, SRT Helicopters boasts a 100-percent first-time pass rate for all students taking all levels of FAA practical flight exams over the eight years of the Part 61 flight school’s existence.
“Our pass record is huge for us,” Gadbois told AIN. “We don’t have an [FAA] examiner on staff, so our students take their checkrides with various examiners, and all of them have passed their practical exams on the first try, even up through ATP [airline transport pilot].”
SRT Helicopters’ exemplary pass record may be due in part to its owner’s experience and unique spin on helicopter training. A full-time contract EMS and fire department pilot with more than 30 years of aviation experience, including 20 years in U.S. Army aviation and Special Operations divisions, Gadbois transfers real-world experience to his students and hires instructors with the same kind of background so they can do the same. The result: whether they are teaching seasoned aviation professionals the finer points of technical rescue or a new pilot how to hover, the instructors ensure the students receive enough practical training to excel in real-world situations.
One nonintuitive, but effective, example of providing real-world experience is SRT Helicopters’ philosophy of encouraging new private helicopter pilots to immediately earn a fixed-wing rating and perform all instrument training in the airplane before moving on to the advanced rotorcraft ratings.
For a fixed-wing platform, SRT Helicopters keeps a Cessna 172 in its fleet, which also includes Schweizer 300 and a variety of Bell utility helicopters.
“One of the reasons for [this philosophy] is that there is not a training helicopter made that you can go out and get actual instrument time in,” said Gadbois. “It’s all under the hood. Whereas with the Cessna, we will do a bunch of cross-country trips to San Francisco or Oakland, not only getting [the students] in really busy airspace but they’ll end up having 20 to 30 hours of actual instrument time in their logbooks.”
Gadbois said most of his students opt for this unorthodox training regimen, especially when they learn about the cost-effectiveness (approximately $50,000 to $60,000 for a dual-rated CFII) and the higher marketability of being dual-rated.
A current member of HAI’s Flight Training Committee, Gadbois said he prefers to train new helicopter pilots in the Schweizer 300 rather than the ubiquitous Robinson R22. He describes the Schweizer as a “very stable platform,” and said he sleeps better at night knowing that his students are flying Schweizers.
“A student can get behind in a 300 and the 300 will give him plenty of time to catch up,” Gadbois said. “The R22 is not a forgiving aircraft. I think there are some bad habits in the way [students flying Robinsons] are taught, such as autorotation. Every autorotation you practice should be done with the thought that you’re going to do it all the way to the ground. Most of the Robinson students who come to us transfer a bad habit of leveling off at 30 to 50 feet; if they were to do that in the real world, they would probably be dead.”
Disaster Preparedness Training
In addition to primary flight training, Gadbois and his instructors offer training in disaster preparedness and response, technical rescue, water operations and tactical operations through SRT Helicopters’ sister company, Specialized Response and Training (SRT), also owned by Gadbois. On this technical training side, the SRT staff transfer their honed skills and decades of EMS, firefighting, rescue and Special Operations experience to other aviation professionals.
“We’re not retraining them about how to fly,” said Gadbois. “We set up an advanced team to assess the client and identify issues that could cause them grief in an actual incident. We’re training them for the way they are going to work or fight.”
SRT’s specialized training courses are generally conducted in the customers’ aircraft and in their own environment. For example, SRT recently conducted advanced search-and-rescue training for 24 helicopter pilots in various regions of China for the country’s Ministry of Transportation.
“Approximately 35 to 40 percent of our specialized training work is overseas,” said Gadbois. “We can watch them fly in their home environment, give them suggestions about how to improve the way they do things now. Obviously they have been flying for a while, we just give them tools to put in their toolbox.”