On the top of an Alpine peak at slightly below 11,000 ft (three,300 meters), it’s chilly, calm and quiet; apparently a paradise for bird-watchers. That is till the arrival of a Fuchs Helikopter Robinson R66, introduced by a cloud of recirculating snow and the whine and clatter of a turbine-driven teetering rotor. You won’t look forward to finding such a helicopter up to its stomach in snow on prime of a Swiss glacier, however it’s extra widespread than you’d assume. What is uncommon is that this isn’t a business pilot delivering a load, or the rescue of a stranded hiker. It’s a routine coaching flight for a personal pilot.
Excessive terrain poses myriad hazards to aviation and it requires expertise and coaching to function an plane there safely. These elements alone deter nearly all of PPL (Personal Pilot License) holders. Nevertheless, given that the majority recreation in Switzerland occurs in the mountains, that is the place anybody with the means to fly a helicopter for fun is more likely to need to go.
Nearly all of the Swiss population lives on a relatively slender plateau sandwiched between the rocky partitions of the Jura mountains in the north of the nation and the jagged peaks of the Alps that dominate the south. A 20-minute flight in any path from any a part of the country will doubtless require a mountain transit. Because of this, the Swiss government has designed a selected mountain flying qualification (often known as an MOU extension). “In Switzerland, if you want to be a professional pilot, it’s pretty much a necessity to have [the MOU extension],” defined Philippe Gaillet, a pilot and dispatcher at Fuchs Helikopter.
The corporate’s founder, Robert Fuchs, started his helicopter operation in 1974 at his manufacturing unit in Schindellegi, not far from Zürich. In the identical yr he set up a flight faculty there as a way to make the plane worthwhile, but coaching shouldn’t be the one thing the corporate does.
Fuchs Helikopter’s MD Helicopters MD 530 and one among its Airbus H125s maintain a hover excessive up in the Swiss mountains during a photoshoot. Lloyd Horgan Photograph
“We started with the flight school,” stated Robert Stokmaier, Robert’s grandson and now CEO of Fuchs Helikopter. “Everything was built up by 1974 and the helipad at the factory was approved. We had the MD 500, then a [Schweizer] 300 and in the ’80s we started the utility work. At that time the utility work was not how we do things now. Everything was directly hooked in to the helicopter. It wasn’t so safety-focused, as the industry was still learning how to do it.”
Since proudly owning the first MD 500 in Switzerland, Fuchs has owned over 120 different aircraft, turning into a distributor and reseller for MD Helicopters and Schweizer in the course of.
“Between [the] ’90s and 2000s, we were mainly using the 500 series for utility, and after 1994 we went into aerial filming,” stated Stokmaier. Despite the growing use of unmanned methods, this continues to offer a gentle stream of labor for the company.
An MD 530 breaks away from a landing pad at a mountain lodge. Lloyd Horgan Photograph
The addition of Airbus H125 AStars to the corporate’s fleet introduced a chance to nook the utility market. “There was not that much work for our first AStar, so it was rented and operated quite a lot by another operator,” stated Stokmaier. “But our location really suits that role, as there is nothing close by to get to Zurich by helicopter. When we bought our second AStar in 2016, we started doing sling jobs with it straight away.”
In 2017, certainly one of Fuchs Helikopter’s H125s was outfitted with the Swiss Rotor Solutions Maximum Pilot View Package. Set up includes slicing elements of the aircraft to fit a a lot larger flooring window and bubble door window. This dramatically improves the pilot’s vertical visibility. “We knew the guy who designed the kit,” Stokmaier stated. “It really increases [the] safety margin on long line [operations], as the visibility of the load is far better.”
Regardless of an growing give attention to utility operations, training has not been uncared for. When the European Aviation Security Company (EASA) licensed the R66 in 2014, Fuchs went to nice lengths to make sure its was forward of the curve.
Philippe Gaillet (left) and Robert Stokmaier (proper) within the MD 530 during a mountain flight. Lloyd Horgan Photograph
“We found an R66 that was N-registered in the Czech Republic, and we wanted to have the first one in Switzerland,” stated Stokmaier. “We had it inspected there, drew up a contract and flew it back to Switzerland. It has a small turbine but it’s a good high-altitude performer because of the big blades. If it’s windy, we fill it with fuel to increase the weight as it’s a bit light.”
The newest fleet member is a Bell 505 Jet Ranger X, which was delivered in 2018. “We wanted a more comfortable aircraft than [the] R66, and the 505 is a little more roomy inside,” Stokmaier stated, explaining that it was at present restricted to constitution and training, but had the potential for utility work in the future. A cargo hook for the 505 is yet to be licensed by EASA, and other utility gear corresponding to baskets, which are extensively obtainable for other varieties, do not but exist for the aircraft. “But it’s a good aircraft,” stated Stokmaier. “These things will come.”
Safety as a cornerstone
Jonathan Brandt, the corporate’s chief pilot and chief instructor, has been at Fuchs for over 13 years. He was employed particularly to develop the flight faculty component of the business, and his success in doing so is clear from the pace of business.
The company took supply of its Bell 505 Jet Ranger X in 2018, pictured here over Lake Zurich on a relaxed Might morning. Lloyd Horgan Photograph
However apart from business success, Brandt stated that setting a protected and professional tradition was what he was most pleased with. “One of the most crucial things is to be a good example for everybody,” he stated. “People will copy role models, and act the same way.”
Whereas the location at Fuchs Helikopter has all the time carried out training, it isn’t a
giant airfield, and is situated next to a
manufacturing unit surrounded by vertical obstructions. Regardless of this, its safety document is admirable.
“Since I started as chief pilot here we haven’t lost a single helicopter,” stated Brandt. “And this place is maybe one of the most challenging airfields that a PPL pilot will fly to.”
The ground crew pushes out an H125 from the hangar. This aircraft has the Most Pilot View Package installed. Fuchs plans to ultimately have one other fitted with it as nicely. Lloyd Horgan Photograph
Most of Brandt’s work — apart from the administration needed to satisfy his numerous safety roles — is the mountain flying coaching essential to qualify pilots for their MOU extension. While he has been flying on this locale virtually his entire profession, he initially found instructing within the mountains a challenge, as the mandated coaching was not all the time so rigorous.
“A mountain qualification has always been a requirement in Switzerland,” he defined. “But it used to be a lot less extensive than today. As a result, I didn’t have the skillset necessary to teach the current syllabus when I came back to instruct the qualification, and I really had to go back to scratch and learn the basics.”
The current MOU syllabus is complete, and governed by the Swiss aviation authorities. Applicants must fly 200 mountain landings, of which at the very least 150 should be on “official mountain landing sites” — and there are 42 of those in the nation. Most are on glaciers at high altitude, but some are lower down. At the least 50 of those complete landings have to be at altitudes higher than 3,600 ft (1,100 meters). Once certified, a pilot must carry out no less than 50 mountain landings per yr to remain current.
Derrick Cross performs maintenance on a Schweizer 300. Lloyd Horgan Photograph
“It used to be only 12 landings, but there were a lot of accidents purely because people didn’t have the necessary recent experience, and suffered skill-fade,” Brandt stated.
Taking comparatively inexperienced leisure pilots from a posh touchdown website right into a high-workload mountain surroundings presents apparent dangers. Brandt explained that the primary mitigation for this doesn’t essentially lie in complicated analysis or arithmetic, but more a human contact.
“Accidents happen. They don’t have to happen, but they do,” he stated. “There is always a probability of an accident and it is your actions that will decide whether it happens or not. So, when I hear the guys discussing risk factors and using the same language, I feel like I’ve done a good job.”
Arno Parli and Philippe Gaillet are both products of this strategy to training. Parli came to Fuchs in 2019 following his army service, specifically with a view to satisfy an ambition to fly utility roles. Having already qualified as a business pilot, he has expertise flying in the U.S. and the U.Okay. He at present flies taxi and sightseeing flights while conducting the flight instructor course.
Jonathan Brandt in the appropriate seat of the Bell 505 Jet Ranger X. Brandt is the company’s chief pilot and chief teacher, and has been at Fuchs for over 13 years. Lloyd Horgan Photograph
Gaillet completed his PPL coaching with Fuchs Helikopter in 2016, and certified as a business pilot 18 months later whereas working in clerical jobs at the firm. He is additionally chopping his tooth flying tourist and taxi flights. Following in his colleague’s path, his subsequent step is to qualify as a flight teacher. He additionally works as a flight assistant, helping utility operations from the ground. Three years’ expertise in this job is a pre-requisite to flying sling masses for Fuchs.
Parli has spent eight years as a flight assistant, together with a spell because the chief flight assistant at one other firm. He is aware of the need to have the required expertise earlier than shifting into sling-load work. “Maybe I can start with sling loads next year, but it depends on how much experience I can gain,” he stated. “One of the most important things that you learn as a flight assistant before going into the cockpit is an understanding of what’s happening on the ground underneath the helicopter.”
Having spent a big amount of time because the individual on the bottom, Parli has seen the hazards first-hand. “The weather can be foggy and there are a lot of obstructions, particularly where we do our utility flying,” he stated. “The cables are the main risk that we encounter every day.”
Initially there was not that much work for the corporate’s first AStar, so it was rented and flown by one other operator. Lloyd Horgan Photograph
Mitigating the danger of collision with vertical obstructions is a perennial problem to those who function helicopters close to terrain. Fuchs has opted to put in the FLARM collision avoidance system, with the obstacle avoidance extension; a vertical obstruction file that in its case is loaded with a database that’s specific to its working area.
Brandt is acutely aware of the necessity to develop pilot expertise within the likes of Gaillet and Parli, however isn’t prepared to rush. While Fuchs builds its own expertise pool, it also contracts sling-load pilots with the expertise essential to satisfy its own security insurance policies, and on these Brandt is uncompromising.
“To do safety well, you have to do it every day,” he explained. “The worst thing you can do is make exceptions, because there will always be pressure. People don’t like hearing ‘no,’ but sometimes it’s good to hear because it’s the right decision.”
A Robinson R66 performs a mountain landing at slightly below 11,000 ft throughout an MOU flight. Lloyd Horgan Photograph
Supporting the fleet
Having owned and distributed a various number of plane through the years, it’s no shock that Fuchs Helikopter has a well-
developed engineering help operation. Its facility is spread over three levels, all of which have helipads to place aircraft, and the upkeep facility occupies two of those flooring. Aircraft are moved out and in of the hangar on an automated rail system that is heated to stop it seizing in sub-zero temperatures.
Engineer and deputy post-holder Derrick Cross has labored for Fuchs Helikopter for five years. Having experience engaged on quite a lot of plane both in the U.S. and for Fuchs, he explained that they all had their idiosyncrasies: “The [Schweizer] S300s are a little maintenance-heavy on the engine side due to the piston engine,” he stated. “But there is no better performer in the class at high altitude. The AStars are the most demanding, because they have a 25- and a 50-hour inspection interval.”
Regardless of the calls for of maintaining well-used plane within the air, Cross explained that precise engineering problems are rare. “They fly the hours on them, but if you maintain them and you look after them, you usually won’t have too many problems,” he stated. “But every so often you’ll have to go out in the field to take care of it.”
The financial burden of sustaining so many several types of aircraft have to be vital, however Stokmaier explained that the variability is important to help the company’s enterprise mannequin. “Having a broad selection of types allows us to accommodate [customers].” Lloyd Horgan PhotoConsidering that ‘the field’ is extra more likely to be a mountainside, it’s perhaps for the better that issues are so rare. “I’ve only had an aircraft go AOG [aircraft on the ground] once in my five years here, and that wasn’t an aircraft issue — it was engine monitoring hardware,” Cross stated. Nevertheless, “I did once have to change a fuel controller on top of a glacier,” he conceded.
The monetary burden of sustaining so many several types of plane have to be vital, however Stokmaier explained that the variability is important to help the corporate’s enterprise model.
“Each aircraft has its niche, and individuals have their preferences,” he stated. “Having a broad selection of types allows us to accommodate them.”
The 505 is at present restricted to constitution and training, however it has the potential for mild utility work sooner or later. Nevertheless, a cargo hook for the 505 is but to be licensed by EASA. Lloyd Horgan Photograph
Fuchs Helikopter is definitely busy, and with the persevering with success of its flight faculty and a legacy that stretches again over 40 years, it might be forgiven for resting on its laurels. But there isn’t any room for complacency, as Brandt defined. “The problem that you can have is that people can overestimate themselves,” he stated. “They believe that what they have experienced is the total of the helicopter world, and it’s not until they have an incident that they realize that there is much more to know.”
Regardless of the company’s evident successes, there isn’t a sense of overconfidence at Fuchs Helikopter. That could be because of the government-mandated training, or the truth that whichever window you look out of, you’ll discover the imposing Alpine peaks staring back. Taking an R66 safely to the highest of a glacier demands a specific strategy to danger; one which can serve an inexperienced and impressionable pilot nicely for the rest of their career.
In 2017, certainly one of Fuchs Helikopter’s H125 was outfitted with the Swiss Rotor Solutions Maximum Pilot View Package. Lloyd Horgan Photograph