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Helicopter Association International (HAI) has announced that Boise, Idaho, resident Gary Wiltrout is the 2020 recipient of the Salute to Excellence Lifetime Achievement Award. This award, presented by Bell, salutes excellence in management and leadership and is given to an individual for long and significant service to the international helicopter community. It will be presented Jan. 29 at HAI’s Salute to Excellence Awards luncheon at HAI Heli-Expo 2020 in Anaheim, California.
Wiltrout has flown helicopters around the world during a 50-plus year career in aviation. He first flew for the U.S. Army, transporting troops in and out of battle in Vietnam in 1968 to 69. Afterward, he served as a flight instructor at Fort Rucker, Alabama.
After being honorably discharged from the army in 1971 having flown 2,000 accident-free hours, Wiltrout moved to Alaska and began flying firefighting missions, followed by assisting with the construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System. While living and working in the state, Wiltrout also conducted search-and-rescue missions, aircraft accident investigations, seismographic work, and power-line construction.
In 1999, Wiltrout became chief pilot for Salmon River Helicopters in Riggins, Idaho, where he worked 20 years before recently retiring. During his career with many different companies, he flew more than 26,500 flight hours in helicopters, more than 20,000 of them while conducting longline, external-load missions.
Wiltrout flew multiple models of helicopters during his career: the Bell 47; the Bell UH-1A/B/C/F/H models; the Bell 206A/B models; the Bell 204, 212, and 214B models; the Fairchild Hiller FH-1100; the Aérospatiale Alouette III and Lama; the Hiller Soloy UH12-E; and the Sikorsky S-61 and S-64E/F models.
Wiltrout contributed to a variety of projects worldwide during his distinguished career, including:
- TransAlaska pipeline construction, Alaska, 1971
- Lewiston-grade power-line crossing, Idaho, 1972
- Terror Lake Hydroelectric Project, Alaska, 1984-85
- Cranberry bog sanding, Oregon, the 1980s
- Training New Zealand pilots to log, Malaysia, 1993
- Rocky Mountain National Park rehab project, Colorado, 1993
- New Carissa wreck disaster assistance, Oregon, 1999
- Power-line work, Costa Rica, 2001
- Ferry flights across Brazil, the Amazon rain forest, and the Caribbean to the United States, 2008
- Ferry flights across Asia from Afghanistan to Australia, 2011
- Night-vision googles training and preparation, Port Alberni, BC, Canada, 2012
- Offshore flare-tip replacement projects, Australia, 2013, 2014, 2016.
Whatever the project or mission, Wiltrout is always ready to help, teach, and share his experiences, as is reflected in his personal motto, “We were all new once, so be kind, helpful, and understanding.” He never hesitates to share his techniques and skills with others.
Today, Wiltrout remains a mentor to many, especially new pilots. Many of the pilots he’s coached are operating safely and competently today because of his selflessness. In early 2018, Wiltrout made another generous gesture when he donated a kidney on behalf of a friend’s husband.
Wiltrout has survived three aircraft accidents — including two catastrophic engine failures — and the death of his pilot brother Timothy Wiltrout in 1990. In each case, with his family’s support, he has persevered and continued working in the industry.
Those who have worked with Wiltrout cite his many admirable qualities. “His contributions to this industry are endless, and many who have worked with him will miss his extreme professionalism, positive attitude, integrity, humble spirit, and wealth of helicopter knowledge,” said Cindy Carlson, president, Salmon River Helicopters. “He’s given back to our industry many times over.”
The Lifetime Achievement Award will be presented at the Salute to Excellence Awards luncheon during HAI Heli-Expo 2020. HAI Heli-Expo, the world’s largest helicopter trade show and exhibition, will be held at the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, California, Jan. 27 to 30, with the exhibit hall open Jan. 28 to 30.