A computerized safety system for a helicopter such as the Honeywell model that warns pilots of upcoming and unexpected terrain is considered one of the best defenses against the epidemic of accidents on air ambulance helicopter flights that have killed 35 people in nine crashes over the past 12 months, say federal accident investigators and safety experts.
The system is designed to help prevent accidents such as the recent Aurora, Ill., crash that killed four people. According to the USA Today, preliminary reports indicate the medical evacuation helicopter struck a support wire holding a 750-foot radio tower. Besides natural obstacles, the system warns helicopter pilots when they fly too close to towers and other man-made obstructions.
"I don't want to have to see the numbers of deaths continue in this area when we have technology that can prevent these kinds of accidents," says Mark Rosenker, head of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). The board has urged federal regulators to mandate the safety systems on air ambulance flights. Only a tiny faction of the industry's helicopters are equipped and federal regulators say they will not consider requiring them until studies on the devices are completed next year.
Honeywell was the first company to create a worldwide database of every hilltop and radio tower to help stem one of the biggest killers in aviation — pilots who inadvertently strike the ground in darkness or poor weather. The system, known as Terrain Awareness and Warning System (TAWS), tracks an aircraft's heading and altitude, and issues alerts if pilots get too close to danger. A computer screen in the cockpit shows approaching obstacles, so pilots can steer clear well in advance.
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