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Written & Video Feature: By Lyn Burks - Having been in the helicopter industry for a little while, I have been fortunate enough to experience many levels of training. While recently attending an S76C++ transition course at FlightSafety International (FlightSafety), I am reminded of the stark differences between the "haves" and the "have nots."

Justhelicopters.TV Video

My reference to "haves" and "have nots" is not meant to be deprecating to those who offer or attend helicopter training at traditional facilities. It’s really more of an analogy which notes the difference in the level of training provided by FlightSafety as compared to other training providers I have experienced. The present model of our training industry is what it is, and this article will not change it.

My goals here are twofold:

  • Give helicopter pilots who have not yet climbed the helicopter pilot ladder to the level of flying complex twins a peek into what training is like at FlightSafety. They have very much to look forward to!
  • Give traditional training providers a glimpse into the FlightSafety training model and if they can pull anything out of it that might improve their own operations, then we SCORED!

As a point of reference for which I draw my experiences, over the years I have received helicopter training from several mom and pop flight schools as well as OEM training courses. The OEM courses were provided by Robinson, Bell, Agusta and Sikorsky (FlightSafety International). In this pilot’s opinion, FlightSafety has FlightSafety International Sim Bayprovided me the highest all around quality of helicopter training that I have experienced in my career.

Background on FlightSafety

Most people may not know that FlightSafety has been around since 1951 and is owned by parent company Berkshire Hathaway, Inc. If that name seems vaguely familiar, ever hear of Warren Buffet? You know, the third richest guy on the planet? Well, Mr. Buffet is Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, so basically he owns FlightSafety. Worldwide, the company has 40 learning centers which mostly cater to the fixed wing world; however, they do have five helicopter specific training centers which are located in TX, FL, LA, AZ and the UK. In the helicopter world, they offer pilot and maintenance courses for various types of Bell, Eurocopter and Sikorsky helicopters.

The Mission

As I indicated earlier, I was attending a Sikorsky S76C++ transition course at the West Palm Beach Learning Center which was six days in length. Having attended S76C+ initial and recurrent classes many times in my former EMS pilot life, the "transition" course was the perfect re-introduction to the aircraft.

The Schedule

Day 1: 0800 – 1700 Aircraft Systems and Systems Integration

Day 2: 0800 – 1700 Aircraft Systems and Systems Integration

Day 3: 0800 – 1700 Aircraft Systems and Systems Integration

Day 4: 0800 – 1200 Sim Brief and Simulator Training (Start up, general flying, engine failures) 1300 – 1600 General Subjects & CRM

Day 5: 0900 – 1230 Sim Brief and Simulator Training (EP’s and Tail Rotor Malfunctions 1330 – 1600 Aircraft Systems

Day 6: 0900 – 1300 Aircraft Systems, General Subjects, Written Exam 1530 – 1830 Sim Brief and Simulator Training (IFR day)

Training Highlights

Aircraft systems training both in and out of the class was intense, in-depth and covered all of the usual suspects which included fuel, hydraulics, power plant, avionics, autopilots, drive train, as well as the brain drainer of all classes, the S76 electrical system. With 2 DC generators, 1 AC generator, 2 inverters, 4 DC buses, 5 AC buses and a circuit breaker panel as big as a Pachinko board, a cold beer at the end of the day is the only thing that can relieve the stress and pain of that complicated topic! Despite the complexity of the S76 systems, FlightSafety instructors masterfully integrate their personal experience with physical aircraft components and computer technology to give the client a well rounded and simplified view of the systems.

The creative use of technology is really what makes FlightSafety training stand out from the rest of the mortal flight training world. Four distinct areas which were most noticeable were in dynamic PowerPoint presentations, computers in the classroom, state of the art full motion flight simulators, and last but not least, the Graphical Flight Simulator, aka GFS.

The GFS is an amazing new procedures training aid which allows clients to sit in a computer generated cockpit environment and perform many procedures from start up to emergencies. Additionally, the GFS can be used to practice instrument flying procedures. The convenient aspect of the GFS is there does not need to be an instructor present. Clients who wish to spend extra time outside of the actual flight simulator can schedule one of several GFS stations and spend extra hours learning their way around the cockpit either alone or with a classmate.

Flight Simulators are one of the most valuable training tools available to pilots. They allow us to put students into situations which cannot be replicated in the real aircraft. They also allow pilots to receive training at a fraction of the cost of flying the real aircraft. Unfortunately for much of the helicopter industry, simulators are under-utilized, used incorrectly, or non-existent. From light helicopters to larger complex twins, simulator technology has grown by leaps and bounds in the last 10 years. At the Learning Center I attended, FlightSafety uses full motion Level D simulators for the Sikorsky S76, S92, and the S70 Blackhawk. At 30+ million dollars per sim, the technology involved is staggering, but the level of realism from the cockpit is equally as valuable when you are the one receiving the training.

Character Quality – It’s really about the people!

I am always amazed by the quality of the training as well as the instructors. My two primary instructors for the week were Robert Cline (classroom) and Robert "Bobby" Johnson (simulator). Mr. Cline came from that old Northeast clique of "corporate 76 drivers." He had been flying the S76 for what seemed to be a jillion years. He spoke of the helicopter like a proud dad talks of his kids, and I am sure he knew the Morse code identifier for the NDB at Teterboro by heart, which is actually kind of scary. The point being, this fast talking "Northeasterner" had been there and done that and as a client in training, I received much more information than what was in the manual or on the PowerPoint slides! My favorite line from Mr. Cline was when he would every so often ask a question to a perplexed, unresponsive class and out of the blue would yell "mayday, mayday"…….just prior to un-befuddling us with the answer to the question.

Before every sim session, clients get a thirty minute brief to cover the maneuvers and procedures to be flown in the simulator. Bobby Johnson made these briefs entertaining and painless with his no nonsense euphemisms and slightly detectable sense of sarcasm. As an experienced helicopter instructor myself, I thought he applied the perfect amount of carrot and stick to push us to new levels of performance and understanding of the aircraft.

During one practice missed approach and go-around procedure, I incorrectly used the flight director and did not apply appropriate power to maintain climb airspeed. I did not recognize this simple mistake until I was about 600 feet AGL in the soup with airspeed bleeding off through 40 kts. For those who are not familiar, most helicopters like to quit flying themselves somewhere below 50 – 60 kts. In the name of learning, Bobby was perfectly happy to sit back and watch me barrel down the road to unusual attitudes-ville. After I punched off the flight director and got the aircraft back under control by hand flying, Bobby politely said, "thanks for creating your own unusual attitude and recovery session; we can check that maneuver off the list. Now let’s shoot another approach and get it right this time!"

It dawned on me that FlightSafety Helicopter Instructors at this facility were much more than just teachers in the subject matter of all things pertaining to the S76. They were real characters as well as seasoned veterans of our industry.


Having the experience of starting a flight school, owning a helicopter, and Flyit Simulator myself, I am very familiar with the slim profit margins in the world of mom and pop helicopter flight training, Margins no doubt too thin to afford high end simulators and a world class building to house them. There are, however, many parallels to the product lines provided by mom and pops and FlightSafety. This means there are specific line items that a lesser financed operation can focus attention if they would like to move their organization toward world class. None of these items require a significant financial investment which would not pay for themselves over time.

  • Hire instructors who do not just hold a CFII Certificate. Hire really good teachers who are true characters.
  • Focus on standardization of curriculum.
  • Integrate simulator training into your program and learn to use it properly. The biggest mistake I’ve seen is when schools typically just let students "fly" the simulator and do not use it as a proper training tool to the advantage of the client.
  • Keep your aircraft and classroom areas as neat, clean and as professional looking as you can afford. The first impression of professionalism can make a significant impact on would be clients.

World Class Facility and Customer Service

From the moment you walk through the doors of FlightSafety there is one word that sumsFlightSafety International Entrance up the atmosphere: "professional" with a capital "P". It is not opulent, overstated, or over the top. It is clean, neat, and very inviting to pilots. Some might say it’s the customer oriented staff, navy blue color scheme and helicopter photos on the walls from around the world that makes it so inviting to pilots. Personally, I believe it is the all you can eat muffins, donuts and coffee in the break room at the end of the hall that makes it so inviting and as one FlightSafety instructor would say, "that’s all I have to say about that!"


If you would like to get a closer look into the world of advanced helicopter training and my experience while at FlightSafety International, watch the VIDEO

Justhelicopters.TV Video



Captain John M. Anderson
# Captain John M. Anderson
Wednesday, April 14, 2010 12:51 AM
As a Professional and Highly Skilled Helicopter Pilot with thirty-five (35) plus years, and Total Flight Log Hours (TFLH) 82.581.25 in both Fixed-Wing and Rotary-Wing aircraft.
Having provided numerous years in Air to Ground Fire Support with Helicopters, and having had my own Aviation Company providing Aerial Fire Supoort, Training, as-well-as Advanced Research and Development in Aerial Fire Support Techniques.
Have found that the four (4) Pilots I had hired, and trained for Aerial Fire Support, whom were so-called Graduates of FlightSafety International, were by far the WORST of the WORST Pilots, that I have ever come across within the Helicopter Industry.
Not one of these Pilots made it through the Fire Season, before I had to Terminate them for numerous reasons, and base those decisions on the FACTS that these individuals couldn't master the needed Concepts and Skills to provide Aerial Fire Support!!!
As far as I am concern, any Applications that cross my desk of those Pilots whom claimed to have Graduated from the FlightSafety International program, are IMMEDIATELY placed into my File 13 container a.k.a., (TRASH BASKET)!!!
FlightSafety International may indeed look good on the outside, but in all reality they haven't CLUE!!!
My advice to those individuals whom are seeking to become Professional Helicopters Pilots will be better Trained by that of the U.S. Army Aviation Programs, and/or other military organizations!!!
So, it's "THUMBS DOWN" for FlightSafety International!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
# jhadmin
Wednesday, April 14, 2010 5:54 AM

Devils advocate and trying to be objective........

I would be curious to know what FlightSafety helicopter course or courses these 4 pilots had graduated from that would prepare them to become helicopter aerial firefighter support pilots? In the helicopter industry, Flight Safety International traditionally does not train people to BE pilots, but teaches them about systems and procedures for a specific air frame. You are talking rotary wing right?

Where were they trained to BECOME helicopter pilots? What was their flying experience in the lead up to you training them to become helicopter firefighting aerial support pilots? Instructors, News Gathering, Tours, Gulf of Mexico, EMS?

Other questions: You hired them right? What was the pre-employment process? You flew with them and evaluated their skills prior to hire, right? After hire, you indicated that you trained them. Certainly there was a lot of interaction and evaluation during their training, right?

According to your comment, after training, you sent them out into the field and apparently they worked part of fire season, only to be let go early because they "could not master the needed concepts and skills to provide aerial support". Wouldn't they be required to "master the needed concepts and skills to provide aerial support" in training prior to being sent out into the field to do the job in the first place?

Since you say so, I do not doubt that they were bad and you had to let them go. But is it fair to lay the blame on one company who probably spent 7 - 10 days out of these pilot's careers training them and label every future pilot who has FlightSafety on their resume into the same category?

All due respect Captain, I am not connecting the dots here.

Ps. 82,500+ flying hours......wow! That is an average of nearly 2300 hours per year, 6.3 hours per day, 365 days per year. How did you hold up to that for 35 years?

# goflyhelo
Wednesday, April 14, 2010 9:25 AM
I for one have attended the FlightSafety International in Hurst, (Fort Worth) Texas for their initial B430 IFR Part 135 training (14 days) and in my opinion, they are truly a 1st class outfit. My intructors, both in classroom and simulator were top notch.

George Ferito
Wednesday, April 14, 2010 9:39 AM
Thanks to Lyn Burks for the comments on his recent experience at FlightSafety's West Palm Beach facility. One correction.....please add Tucson, AZ to our helicopter training locations. We have recently added the world's 1st Level 7 FTD for the AS350 to our offerings in TUS. The Lafayette, LA facility has also added a Bell 206 Level 7 FTD and will soon take delivery of a Level 7 FTD for the Bell 407.
I also second Lyn's remarks in response to Mr. Anderson's comments.
# jhadmin
Wednesday, April 14, 2010 10:04 AM

Mr. Ferito,

Thanks for pointing out that a new helicopter training location in AZ, USA has been established with a Eurocopter AS350 simulator. Back when I produced this piece and researched locations, I do not think that info was on the FlightSafety website. We can modify the print and web articles to reflect this addition no problem. Unfortunately, we cannot modify the video to show that extra location. Perhaps I can create an annotation in the video, which is fed by youtube, to reflect that point. Thanks again!

Lyn Burks - Online Editor
Tim Larsen
# Tim Larsen
Tuesday, June 01, 2010 7:15 AM
As a helicopter pilot that was trained in the military (Army), and flew operationally for about 3000 hours before I ever attended FSI, I would like to say that I agree 100% with Lyn's comments about the Fire Pilots that were let go. You don't go to FSI to become a good helicopter pilot. That takes years of training and experience. You go to FSI to get qualified (or refreshed, in case of recurrent training) in a particular airframe, and with any luck improve on some of your pilot skills and CRM techniques. I have personally attended 3 different initial aircraft qualification courses at FSI, and the helicopter pilot skill set I brought with me there was already with me when I attended. The specific airframe knowledge I learned at FSI is second to none, and the scenario based training I received there that further improved my Aeronautical Decision Making and Crew Resource Management skills was second to none (including the military training I received over the years). Great article and video Lyn.
Captain John M. Anderson
# Captain John M. Anderson
Friday, June 11, 2010 2:30 PM
Mr. Lyn Burks,
Connect as many DOTS as you wish!!!
The FACTS remain the same!!!
As far as names of these Pilots; well, we both the LEGALITY of such ADVERSE REFERENCES...
It is my recent understanding, that these so-called Pilots have NEW positions, noting that two (2) apparently returned for REMEDIAL FLIGHT TRAINING...
I have since SOLD my Aviation Company, and have joined the 'Jet Jockey Community' as an 'International Executive A.T.P. & P.I.C.', Piloting the Gulfstream G450, G550, and pending G650 series of Executive Jets...
This has brought me into the 'Golden Years' of my noted Professional Aviation Career!!!
"Up, Up, and Away, into the Wild Blue Yonder, I'll stay!!!"
Donald B. Stoneking
# Donald B. Stoneking
Saturday, September 25, 2010 4:21 PM
As a retired helicopter pilot with a S76 Type Rating, experience in the North East, FSI training at Weat Palm Beach, and I know Robert (Bob) Cline - I loved the article.

I had the good fortune, as a Marine, to have been trained as a Naval Aviator, to have worked professionally for Bristow Helicopters Limited for nine years, and finishing my career as a corporate pilot in the North East spaning thirty-nine years.

Capt. John M Anderson's creditbility is questionable. I do not know who holds the record for most flight time in an aviation career. However, I doubt it is equal to 82,581.25 hours. In the day there was P51 flight time. This was Parker 51 pen time in a log book by low time pilots seeking avaition employment. I suspect Capt. Anderson is a qualified P51 pilot!!
Ralph Chappell
# Ralph Chappell
Saturday, September 25, 2010 5:42 PM
82.581.25 in both Fixed-Wing and Rotary-Wing aircraft.

Sky King himself did not have that many hours!

Let's do some checking and see if those hours were done in Florida flying Hawks.....and we might be able to sort out a bit of the truth.

Having been in all of the seats of a Simulator....in front and the back....FSI has made remarkable progress in the quality of their product and is simply the industry leader when it comes to helicopter simulator training.
Tuesday, November 02, 2010 2:40 PM
ATTN: goflyhelo, George Ferito, jhadmin, Tim Larsen, Donald B. Stoneking, Ralph Chappell,

"FUTUO VOS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
Yachtcharter Griechenland
Tuesday, November 09, 2010 10:58 PM
Great work dude, u gave nice post to us. Thanks for spending the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about it and love learning more on this topic.

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