Lifetimes of Achievement, Crew Heroics Mark 2014 HAI Salute to Excellence Awards

Alan Nowak, Joshua Ricciardi, Gabriel Meza, and Nathan Rathe of AAR will receive the Excellence in Helicopter Maintenance Award. The awards will be presented at the 53rd annual Salute to Excellence dinner on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014 during the 2014 HAI...


Alexandria, Va. (January 10, 2014) – The Helicopter Association International  (HAI) today announced the winners of the 2014 Salute to Excellence Awards, which recognize those who, through either a single act or a lifetime of service and dedication, have exemplified the best the helicopter industry has to offer during the previous year.

As helicopters serve the needs of society around the world, there are those in our industry who go above and beyond. “We are honored to be able to recognize their achievements,” said HAI President Matt Zuccaro.

Bell Helicopter Lifetime Achievement Award

The winner of the 2014 Bell Helicopter Lifetime Achievement Award is Archie Gray, Sr. V.P. of Aviation Services for Air Methods Corp., of Denver, Colorado. As such, Gray is responsible for operations and maintenance for the largest air medical operator in the United States. But Gray’s passion for ensuring the reliability and safety of the helicopters Air Methods’ pilots fly has benefited the entire industry. As a regular participant in customer advisory forums for two airframe original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), an engine manufacturer, and numerous parts suppliers, Gray has pressed the OEMs to improve both products and processes, developing systems to benchmark and score the supply chain.

It speaks volumes about Gray that the CEOs of two rival airframe manufacturers — Bell and American Eurocopter — each wrote letters in support of his nomination for the award.

Pilot of the Year Award

Few, if any, individual helicopter pilots are doing more to raise awareness of helicopters and excite the general public about what they can do than Chuck Aaron, the 2014 Salute to Excellence Pilot of the Year.

As the only pilot authorized by the FAA to fly helicopter aerobatic routines in the United States, Aaron thrills audiences throughout the country. Although Aaron is best known as a helicopter aerobatic performer, he is also a lifelong helicopter safety advocate and evangelist for the industry. As one person noted in his nomination, “His devotion to ‘intelligent risk-taking’ has made possible helicopter dynamic demonstrations that were previously thought unattainable, and as a result, has become an ambassador to the world for the potential of helicopter aviation."

Aaron is also an accomplished test pilot, having — among other things — test-flown a new tracking system for the U.S. military’s AH-64 Apache helicopter, which involved flight in brownout conditions to test a new infrared vision system.

He is also an FAA-certificated airframe and powerplant (A&P) mechanic.

Aaron’s stated goal for his aerobatic routines is to excite young people about aviation, and show them that they, too, can do things not thought possible.

Sikorsky Humanitarian Award

On the night of February 9th last year, the crew of Rescue 912, 103 Search and Rescue Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force, launched into the teeth of a raging winter gale, to search for three hunters whose small open boat had become trapped by ice and who, by then, had been out in the storm for 20 hours. After reaching the hunters’ approximate location, the crew began their search, attempting to ease forward at five knots — a feat made nearly impossible by a 40+ knot tailwind. As their fuel level approached critical, the crew came up with an unorthodox solution to their weather challenges. The flight crew turned the aircraft 180° into the wind and conducted the search tail-first. They located the hunters and despite the high winds, rotorwash, and static electricity shocks from the aircraft, successfully hoisted all three hypothermic men and returned them to Gander airport in Newfoundland, where there were adequate medical facilities.

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