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From Proficiency To Preparedness

Sgt. David Sizemore had seen a lot in his more than 13,000 flight hours. But during a December 2020 flight in his Ohio State Highway Patrol helicopter, he faced the biggest challenge as a pilot.

Encountering inadvertent instrument meteorological conditions (IIMC) – occurring suddenly after a successful mission assisting law enforcement – required Sizemore to react quickly to the emergency situation. His immediate actions would make the difference in he and his crewmember returning home safely.

Sizemore responded with confidence.

“I immediately focused on keeping my situational awareness,” he said. “My training with FlightSafety kicked in. I knew how to handle the situation and due to the recent training, that I could rely on my tactical flight officer (TFO) to assist.”

“Had we not trained together at FlightSafety, I’m not sure we would be here now.”

Sizemore’s experience reinforces that even highly skilled officers who have been trained to respond quickly and appropriately in times of extreme stress benefit from FlightSafety training. It doesn’t just take you to proficiency, but to preparedness. For any situation.

“Had we not trained together at FlightSafety, I’m not sure we would be here now.”

Simulator Training Prepares Crew

Prior to 2019, Sizemore had done most of his training either in an aircraft or on a lower-tech training device. That year, he was able to attend FlightSafety’s Denver Learning Center for his recurrent training on the Airbus H125 (AS350) helicopter. And as part of a new program for the Highway Patrol, his tactical flight officer (TFO), Taylor Vogelmeier, was able to attend as part of full crew training to better prepare communications and handle emergency situations.

Even for a veteran pilot, Sizemore saw the benefits of training on a Level D AS350 simulator immediately.

“The quality was so much better than what I’ve seen before,” he said. “The visuals, the motion – all replicated what it was like better than anything I had used before. It went well beyond introductory training.”

What stood out for the team was a fully immersive environment that helped the pilot and the TFO.

“We were just impressed with the willingness to adapt the program to what we needed,” he said. “Our instructor, Arthur Cawman, worked with both advanced and intermediate pilots, without losing them. He did an excellent job of balancing the training to operate the aircraft with training that makes the difference in emergency situations.”

“We didn’t want the first time our tactical flight officers were going to experience anything out of the norm to be an actual emergency. That might be the first time that you’ve ever had that type of stress thrown at you. This training gave us confidence to handle it.”

“The visuals, the motion – all replicated what it was like better than anything I had used before.”

That level of preparedness is the standard, said Andrew Bright, FlightSafety’s Denver Learning Center director.

“Arthur and our team are experienced in so many ways,” Bright said. “They’ve worked with law enforcement, with medevac – they’ve developed training scenarios based on real-life situations. They’re asking the questions to tailor the curriculum: what do the crews need to work on with the aircraft, with their crew members? With the conditions?”

In this case, one instance was specifically inadvertent IMC.

“That’s always a stress point, because so many of these helicopter crews are VFR only,” Bright said. “In an EMS (emergency medical services) or LEO (law enforcement operations) situation, you might be flying from one point to another and come over a ridgeline. You had plenty of cloud clearance, but suddenly you don’t and what’s going to be your response at that time?”

“The simulator can put them anywhere in the world, in an area of operation that will be familiar to them, and then introduce elements to prepare them for a real-world emergency. And we can repeat that immediately and safely.”

Constructive feedback happens in the moment, not just an hour afterward in the debrief. Those little bits of valuable information and training aren’t lost or forgotten between the flight and the classroom. The training builds on every aspect and can be paused during the event to maximize its effectiveness.

Flying Into Danger

FlightSafety training made an impact even before Sizemore’s emergency. Prior to that training, the OHSP section protocol had been to climb to 3,000 feet in an IIMC situation, to keep aircraft from striking objects or terrain. Cawman had instructed pilots that a better plan was to go to 3,500 feet instead, keeping the helicopter  out of the path of instrument flight rules (IFR) aircraft who would not be expecting a visual flight rules (VFR) aircraft in their airspace.

Sizemore helped implement the new protocol when he returned from training.

“It gives you the separation and safety to get on with ATC (air traffic control) and then have ATC take you to the altitude that they need you to be,” Sizemore said. “That aircraft separation was so huge. It’s just a little detail that could cause a problem otherwise. And Arthur knew it. The training insight was implemented immediately.”

In that 2020 flight, Sizemore and TFO Vogelmeier had just completed a successful search for a suspect. They coordinated with troopers on the ground in Ohio’s southeast section – the hilliest and darkest portion of the state.

After the search concluded, Sizemore turned north for refueling at the intended airport in Athens, Ohio. Just a few miles away, the reportedly clear conditions without clouds deteriorated, leaving Sizemore and the helicopter visually blind in a cloud.

“Your instinct is to dive below, but the training says that’s not the best course of action,” Sizemore said.

“The training insight was implemented immediately.”

Vogelmeier immediately recognized the danger they were in and jumped into action, as they had trained for. He provided Sizemore with altitude, airspeed, pitch and bank information, to help coordinate their safe descent.

“He recognized that our law enforcement radios were a big distraction and turned them off,” Sizemore said. “It was right at the moment where the team wanted to congratulate us on the mission, but at the time, he knew it was too dangerous for our situation.”

Together, Sizemore and Vogelmeier slowly and methodically maneuvered to visual meteorological conditions (VMC), a little bit at a time, leveling out and stabilizing the aircraft repeatedly before descending.

“The stress level spikes,” Sizemore said of the situation. “But it was all in the training. Not just the motor skills, but the crew resource management, the communication.

“’What do we do first?’ We already knew because we had trained it and that gave us a course of action.”

With the tools they had, the unshakable team returned to VMC conditions. They landed safely. They were able to be with their families at Christmas.

“I was thinking about just a few months before a medical helicopter went down in that same area when they experienced a snowstorm that wasn’t supposed to be there,” he said. “Our clouds weren’t supposed to be there either.”

Sizemore said it’s not every day that one gets to see the value of preparation in an event outcome. He did that December day.

“The training literally just saved our lives.”



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