A Career Spent Around Amazing Machines

August 18, 2017 | Author: Gary Freeman

“It would be right to say that the helicopter's role in saving lives represents one of the most glorious pages in the history of human flight."  (Igor Sikorsky)

Helicopters are amazing machines. Commercial and military helicopters fly specialized missions that no other aircraft can. Most of my experience is on the military side and I’ve seen helicopters – and the crews that fly them – do some pretty spectacular things. Like rescuing downed airmen under fire, finding lost hikers and plucking families from New Orleans rooftops after Hurricane Katrina.

I spent about half of my 22-year U.S. Air Force career as a B-52 tail gunner before I got the chance to cross-train to helicopters and I never looked back. During my time in the service, I got to work with some amazing, selfless people from all ranks and from all the services.

As a helicopter flight engineer and special mission aviator I spent all of my time flying on the HH60G Blackhawk, the primary Air Force search and rescue helicopter. The helicopter crew is made up of two pilots, a gunner and fight engineer, and several pararescue specialists.

As the cabin non-commissioned officer in charge, my job was to ensure that the helicopter systems were functioning correctly and control movement in the back of the helicopter so the pilots could focus on flying the aircraft. A secondary mission was aircraft protection, using the .50 caliber and 7.62 millimeter mini-gun, and operating the rescue hoist.

I have been fortunate to be in the right place at the right time to rescue and or extract critically injured servicemen or civilians. One of my fondest memories is working with multiple rescue personnel, including the Turkish military, searching for and finally rescuing a major and his son who were lost for three days in a snowstorm while hiking in Turkey. My squadron’s involvement in hundreds of rescues after Hurricane Katrina will be forever etched in my memory, but nothing gets the adrenaline flowing like lifting a serviceperson to safety in a combat zone.

In July of 1990 I was assigned to the 1st Special Operations Wing, 55th Special Operations Squadron, at Hurlburt Field in Florida, where I was part of a flight crew that deployed all over the world to transport elite special operations teams and combat drug trafficking.

I finished my Air Force career as the senior flight engineer and the enlisted superintendent of the Air Force Weapons School and the 66th Rescue Squadron in Nevada, I went on to work as a flight test engineer for ARINC, where I had the opportunity to test and accept new systems on the HH60G and perform functional test flights to ensure air worthiness for maintenance.

After my flying career was completed I ended up with 8,000 hours of fixed wing time, 7,000 hours of helicopter time to include over 300 hours of combat time. Give or take: 15,000 hours.  

Then I joined Sikorsky Aircraft Company as a special mission aviator, helping design crew integration systems on the new rescue helicopter for the Air Force, the HH60W.

Now I’m at Honeywell Aerospace where I still get to work around helicopters – this time on the supplier side. I joined the company in July and am now working with the Health and Usage Monitoring System (HUMS) team.

I’ve still got a lot to learn, but I’m looking forward to helping Honeywell customers realize all the benefits of HUMS, which enables predictive maintenance by monitoring the health of vibrating and spinning parts and recording events so that flight and maintenance crews can do a better job of maintaining their helicopters.

By detecting faults before they become serious problems, HUMS has been credited with preventing many helicopter accidents. The one constant is that Honeywell products are being used in all types of platforms, including the Blackhawk. I get a chance to make our products better.

I look forward to this next phase of my career and to working around helicopters – those amazing machines – for many years to come. 


Gary Freeman

Gary Freeman

Engineer Principal Systems

Gary Freeman is a principal engineer on the Honeywell HUMS team. He’s currently based in Phoenix.

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