AIN Blog: Impressions from Heli-Expo 2016

 - March 7, 2016, 6:44 PM
The satisfied author after an hour of dual instruction in a Revolution Aviation Robinson R22. (Photo: Jordy Barrymore)

Last week the rotary-wing set descended on Louisville, Ky., for the annual HAI Heli-Expo show, to share information, discuss safety issues, learn about and buy and sell products and, in general, celebrate their love of all things helicopter.

As I did last year, I called up my friend Mark Robinson (no relation to the eponymous and prolific helicopter manufacturer) to schedule an hour of flying in a Robinson R22 at his Revolution Aviation flight school in Santa Ana, Calif. I like to charge up my helicopter batteries before Heli-Expo every year, and there’s no better way than an hour at the controls of a helicopter.

This year, I flew with talented instructor Jordy Barrymore on a gorgeous sunny Southern California afternoon. After departing the John Wayne Class D airspace, I motored south along the coast over Laguna Beach, then we headed back to the airport for some autorotations and hovering. I’m not sure I did much on the controls during the autorotations, but I did feel like I was getting better at hovering the twitchy R22. Barrymore expertly guided my view outside toward a distant hangar, urging me not to peer at the ground just in front of the helicopter, and that helped a lot, especially while I landed and picked up the R22 a couple of times. 

I’m definitely starting to feel more comfortable at the controls, and one of these days I know that I’m going to want to plunk down the money to get my private helicopter add-on. Flying a helicopter is incredibly fun, and I recommend giving it a try sometime; it will paint a big grin on your face and make you remember why you like to fly.

At Heli-Expo, it was interesting to see growing attention being paid to unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). It seems as though the helicopter industry recognizes that UAS are here to stay, and that they'd better join in because helicopters may lose some business to these relatively inexpensive devices. Actually, I don’t think of it as losing business because UAS are going to offer many new ways to serve customers with devices that happen to fly. These will be tasks that helicopters currently can’t do, either because of noise, cost or safety, but having experienced helicopter operators at the UAS’s controls will bring enormous benefits.

Among exhibitors, there was the usual response when asked about what they thought of this year’s Heli-Expo. Some were happy with the venue and the number of visitors, while others complained of low traffic, especially from outside the U.S. because apparently some visitors found it too difficult to make the trek to Louisville instead of nonstop to a larger city. I don’t have a way to measure the quantity of Heli-Expo exhibit hall and conference attendees and will have to wait for HAI to release some post-show numbers. 

Overall, it was an enjoyable Heli-Expo. Some helicopters were sold, manufacturers are making progress on new models, the drop in oil prices, while harmful, hasn’t killed the helicopter industry and everyone involved is seriously dedicated to improving the helicopter safety record. See you next year in Dallas.