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A Florida entrepreneur is aiming to help bring an end to preventable deaths of those trapped underwater in an aircraft, through the use of a custom-designed and -built mobile training device.
The issue was recently thrown into sharp focus when all five passengers on board a Liberty Helicopters Airbus AS350 B2, operated on behalf of FlyNYON, drowned after the aircraft crashed into New York City’s East River on March 11.
Barbara Kaiser believes helicopter safety training standards have changed little over the last three decades, so she designed and built a helicopter underwater egress trainer (HUET) that can provide water crash safety training on a wide scale. According to Kaiser, it’s “the only truly mobile advanced training simulator in the world that is capable of providing open water training.” It’s also designed to be cost effective and certified to meet international survival training standards for aviation.
Working in her shop, Kaiser began with the fuselage of an old military MBB Bo 105 helicopter. She handcrafted a variety of elements to enable the device to provide a realistic simulation, maintaining the look and feel of being in a full-sized, operable helicopter.
Kaiser spent a decade as a crash rescue specialist, operating a fleet of heavy fire crash rescue tanker trucks. Working with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and Bureau of Indian Affairs, she became intimately familiar with helicopter crash conditions.
Training accessibility is one of the keys to lowering crash fatalities, according to Kaiser. The device’s portability makes it easily accessible, deploying from a trailer and utilizing hydraulic ramps to tilt and control the launch angle. “The lift is adjustable and can be raised or lowered depending on the deployment terrain and the student’s level of competency,” Kaiser said.
She has taken the HUET overseas, providing advanced training to both U.S. and foreign special forces. Her training team includes former Navy SEALs and Kennedy Space Center firefighters and astronaut rescue divers.
She’s also partnered with the International Survival Standards of Aviation (ISSA), a U.S.-based, internationally recognized organization that works closely with leading aviation educators, safety experts and simulator manufacturer engineers to develop industry standards that improve safety and survivability rates. And she is currently lobbying the U.S. Congress to implement standardized, mandatory safety training throughout the industry. She envisions a regulated, universal approach to water crash response.
Because of the simulator’s ease of use and cost, it can quickly perform repeated deployments into the water, helping trainees achieve rote muscle memory, which Kaiser views as a key ingredient to surviving a water crash. “Muscle memory can only be obtained by repeated actions, doing the same maneuver over and over until a person does not have to think, it all comes naturally,” she said. “No one gains muscle memory performing a skill once every four years.”