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Alan Stewart: A Heli-One Career Retrospective June 01, 2020

At the end of April, Senior Design Manager (Heli-One Canada) Alan Stewart retired from a very full career, including 15 years at Heli-One. After an esteemed career in aerospace engineering, he is ready to explore the next (and work-free) part of his life. 

Alan Stewart_Vertical_HM
Alan was featured in Vertical magazine's feature on Heli-One last year. Here he is in the hangar in front of one of the Johor S-76s.

We asked him about his favorite Design projects during his time at Heli-One:

S-61 Cockpit Voice Recorder
My first task when I was hired was to create an Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) for a Cockpit Voice Recorder for the S-61 helicopter.  Interesting only because we (CHC) have no more of these helicopters and it is doubtful that a single example of my first STC is still in use. But it was a nice bite-sized simple project to indoctrinate me to the CHC Canada Design Office.

Los Angeles County Sheriff AS332L1 
It’s so often true that the projects that were the biggest challenges at the time are the ones you look back on with pride. In 2011 Heli-One Canada took on the huge job of converting three AS332L1 aircraft from utility to police configuration for LASD. The design office doubled with an influx of contractors and the headaches and angst were unprecedented for me. When we got into the testing phase several new challenges cropped up like electromagnetic interference between the tactical radio and the navigation receiver and some troublesome handling qualities with the autopilot on approach. Before too long we solved these problems and delivered the aircraft with 10 new STCs and numerous minor modifications installed.  The customer said in the end ‘wow, no one else could have done it in 12 months’.

Picture of one of the AS332L1 aircraft (Copyright Skip Robinson)

S-92 Infrared Camera
Another very memorable project was the S-92 FLIR project. In 2015 Heli-One took on the job of installing an MX-15 camera and moving map system on several S-92 helicopters. The design mostly went very well but with two unforeseen compatibility problems. One of these was a video quality issue entire caused by (and fixed by) a component vendor.  Alas, it caused us a lot of extra work. The other was solved with some very clever mixture of GPS and Air Data and lead to the first ever in the world ‘GPS Jam-Proof’ FLIR system. For me, this lead to a ridiculous amount of travel, lots of birds for my log book (Alan is a keen amateur 'birder'), plenty of hands on work and intellectual exercise for troubleshooting and flight testing. Mostly what I learned was how challenging customer relations could be and how important scope management in a contract is to the bottom line. Memorable for sure, and I’m glad we have this project behind us.

S-76B VVIP Upgrade
The Sultan of Johor Flight S-76 refurbishment and new glass cockpit was our most recent large effort. Creating a new glass cockpit was surely the biggest certification challenge we have undertaken. The support from Universal Avionics was excellent.  The product worked correctly right out of the box and the flight testing uncovered only easy fixes.  Along with this was a new luxury interior and entertainment system.  That created the largest pile of drawings I have ever seen for one STC. The highlight of the project for me was the final delivery in Malaysia. The flight crew and the Sultan himself were greatly impressed with the new features, impeccable workmanship, glossy paint job not to mention the new car smell.  While there, a bunch more avian firsts and a tour of the Sultan’s car collection put the icing on the cake.

The modernized flight display.

Projects and technology aside for the moment, I think that by far the best memories are associated with the people. Mentoring and learning from the Canadian design staff, tasting the enthusiasm and creativity of the Norway design office, working with some truly talented hangar and shop technicians and tipping a glass with many of our sales representatives will always be the best points of my Heli-One career. There’s no way to say this adequately so I will reserve that for individual good-byes. Along the way from hire to retire, I hope that I have been useful. 

ABOUT ALAN: Alan has spent half of his working life with the Royal Canadian Air Force and retired after 22 years at the rank of Major. He spent time at Transport Canada and notable projects include the S-92A certification for Canada. He joined Heli-One in 2005 and was a part of the team that opened the Boundary Bay building.