Becker Avionics has brought a new intercom system to the market that makes it easier for pilots to listen to multiple radios at once using 3D audio. The system, AMU6500, is parallel to the company’s DVCS6100 intercom system with 3D audio incorporated.
The AMU6500, which is compatible on both fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft, can operate four radios per unit; up to three AMUs can be installed in an aircraft, allowing for pilots to operate up to 12 transceivers and 12 receivers. When 3D audio is activated on the system, pilots can have multiple radios on, yet still be able to focus on one radio frequency at a time.
“The advantage of 3D audio is you can have multiple radios running and your brain will split them,” said Lee Benson, senior consultant for Becker Avionics. “If you want to listen to the left radio, you listen to the left radio and the right radio goes away, and vice versa.”
The 3D audio feature relies mainly on the human brain’s ability listen to a particular conversation in one direction, and tune out all other sounds coming from other directions. For example, on an air medical flight, the patient’s headset can be set to 12 o’clock, allowing the flight nurse sitting in front of them to listen to them more attentively. Then, if hospital calls come through at the same time, those radio frequencies will sound as though they are coming from a different direction. The flight nurse can then choose which radio they would like to focus on.
“I used to be the chief pilot for LA County Fire,” said Benson. “You’d have two or three radios running at the same time, and you’d be turning volumes up and down and shutting them off. You’re just constantly working, trying to keep up with the communications. With the AMU, you just leave all the volumes where they’re at.”
David Oglesbee of Becker said the 3D audio system takes about 30 minutes to get used to, “and you have it 100 percent figured out.” The box will have the future capability to split between the pilot and copilot, allowing each one to listen to their own radio frequencies from one unit.
The box was also designed to be tactile for pilots when in use, so they can feel the clicks of the knobs as they turn them, or the buttons as they push them. This is to ensure pilots “don’t accidentally hit buttons while flying 100 knots,” Oglesbee said.
The company believes the AMU6500 will be most beneficial for operators that need the capabilities of an intercom system, but don’t have the budget for a more expensive unit. The system will also benefit law enforcement operators and private operators of light-to-medium aircraft like the Bell 505, Oglesbee said.
The AMU6500 has been in development for roughly six years, and many agencies have now procured or are in the process of procuring the system.
The system is night vision goggle compatible out of the box, and Bluetooth compatible. “Bluetooth is important because a lot of agencies are now carrying Bluetooth-enabled headsets,” said Benson. “So, if a police officer has his own special frequency, he can tie into the [AMU] system.”
Oglesbee said the AMU6500 is priced for the market; the company wanted to keep the price of the system competitive while still offering the capabilities that operators need.
Helicopter Association International (HAI) has announced that the Los Angeles County (California) Fire Department Air Operations (LACOFD) Sikorsky S-70 Firehawk helicopter teams are the 2020 recipients of the Salute to Excellence Humanitarian Service Award. The award honors the person or persons who best demonstrate the value of helicopters to the communities in which they operate by providing aid to those in need. The award will be presented Jan. 29 at HAI’s Salute to Excellence Awards luncheon at HAI Heli-Expo 2020 in Anaheim, California.
As wildfires once again burn throughout Southern California in 2019, this award recognizes the efforts made by the flight and ground crews of the four S-70 Firehawk helicopters while battling the 2018 Woolsey Fire, the largest wildfire on record in Los Angeles County. The fire destroyed nearly 97,000 acres, with 1,643 homes lost and more than 295,000 people evacuated at its peak.
The Woolsey Fire began midafternoon on Nov. 8, 2018, just outside of Simi Valley near the borders of Ventura County, Los Angeles County, and the City of Los Angeles. The four S-70s joined multiple other aircraft and ground crews battling the conflagration over the next four days. While the flight and ground crews rotated as necessary, the helicopters themselves were shut down only for refueling and inspection. This resulted in the four LACFDAO helicopters totaling 119.4 flight hours in the first three days — equivalent to almost an entire month’s worth of flying and maintenance in one week — completing more than 350 water drops amid winds ranging from 40 to 70 knots.
Operating on the leeward side of the flames due to high winds, LACOFD helicopters and crews were often the only aircraft working the lines. The winds kept the smoke low across the terrain and homes, forcing the crews to fly and refuel within the smoke as they realized that the only way to attack the fire was to become engulfed in it. Flying conditions quickly became almost nightlike because of the reduced visibility.
In addition to the efforts of the flight crews, the maintenance and support crews worked tirelessly on the ground. Operating in 24-hour shifts, the maintainers kept the aircraft available for every launch, ensuring they were always safe and ready to go. A majority of the 20 people on the maintenance team volunteered into the night and weekend to ensure that routine maintenance was performed efficiently and safely.
The Humanitarian Service Award will be presented at the Salute to Excellence Awards luncheon during HAI Heli-Expo 2020. HAI Heli-Expo, the world’s largest helicopter trade show and exhibition, will be held at the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, California, Jan. 27 to 30, with the exhibit hall open Jan. 28 to 30.
When the Woolsey fire broke out a year ago at Boeing’s shuttered nuclear and rocket engine testing site near Simi Valley, a private fire crew working for the aerospace giant was the closest to the flames.
A firetruck headed to the scene. But it didn’t get far.
Minutes after leaving the station, Boeing’s white older-model truck puttered to a stop not far from where the fire was burning, sources familiar with the day’s events told the Los Angeles Times. It would prove to be just one in a chain of things that went wrong in the early battle against what would become the most destructive fire in modern Los Angeles County history.
Fueled by 25 mph winds on a red flag day, the Woolsey fire grew at a terrifying clip. With Boeing’s truck breaking down just over a mile from the station near the facility’s gate, it would take almost 20 minutes for the first local firefighters to arrive on the scene. On this day, the Ventura County Fire Department was already busy fighting the Hill fire, which was threatening dozens of homes and businesses.
When they did arrive, local firefighters found a wind-driven, two-headed blaze rapidly spreading through rocky, hilly terrain. It would go on to burn more than 1,000 homes from Oak Park to Malibu and cause the deaths of four people.
NASA contractors and staff evacuated within minutes of the fire’s start. Boeing’s firetruck was abandoned where it sat about 50 feet off the road, a local firefighter told The Times.
One Boeing staff member on the scene mentioned that the aerospace company’s truck had experienced problems with its radiator, said the firefighter, who requested anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak to the media.
The broken-down truck was one of several problems that bedeviled the early fight against the Woolsey fire.
A Times investigation earlier this year found that in the first few hours of the fire, first responders’ efforts were hampered by the lack of a clear plan from incident leaders and a need for more firefighters on the front lines in Ventura County. The Los Angeles County Fire Department kept dozens of firefighters in Agoura Hills, rather than sending them to the front lines — waiting for the fire to reach L.A. County.
An L.A. County report released last month came to similar conclusions, noting that local fire leaders’ pleas to nearby fire chiefs for more mutual aid help were not answered, causing a substantial lack of firefighters and equipment to stop the fast-moving blaze. The draft report does not mention the truck breakdown, as Boeing declined to participate because of pending litigation, which limited the ability of the report’s authors to compile any information about the aerospace company’s Santa Susana Field Lab or its firefighting efforts.
In February, residents filed a lawsuit against Boeing and Southern California Edison, alleging the companies were negligent in their duties to protect the property from catching fire.
Edison said in a recent quarterly earnings report that the company had seen a redacted draft of the Woolsey fire report in which the Ventura County Fire Department’s investigation team determined that electrical equipment owned and operated by Edison was the cause of the Woolsey fire. “Absent additional evidence, SCE believes that it is likely that its equipment was associated with the ignition of the Woolsey Fire,” the company wrote.
Allied Universal, which provides security services at the field lab, declined to answer questions from The Times and said it directs all media inquiries on the Woolsey fire to Boeing.
Citing pending litigation, Boeing declined to answer specific questions about its firetruck or firefighter staffing level.
Instead, Boeing spokeswoman Chamila Nothum said in a statement that the company had security and fire personnel stationed at the Santa Susana site, and that on the day of the Woolsey fire, flames were reported at two locations on the site.
“Firefighting agencies were promptly notified, and four fire and security personnel stationed at the Santa Susana site promptly responded to the report of the fire,” Nothum said. “Upon arrival, the external county and municipal fire jurisdictions established incident command over the firefighting activities. Personnel stationed at the Santa Susana site continued to engage in firefighting activities and assisted county and municipal firefighters. While responding to the fire, firefighting agencies had access to water from Boeing’s property on the Santa Susana site. Boeing also took steps to notify personnel working at the site of the fire.”
A firefighter who responded to the Woolsey fire told The Times that a Boeing staff member helped guide first responders around the facility, but he did not recall working with any Boeing firefighters to combat the actual blaze.
The facility opened in 1948 when North American Aviation — later North American Aviation Rocketdyne Division, then Rockwell International and, more recently, Boeing — began research, development and testing of rocket engines, in cooperation with the U.S. Army Air Forces, according to NASA.
Boeing boasts on its website that “virtually every major U.S. space program, from the first manned Mercury flights to the Apollo moon landings and Space Shuttle fleet, owns part of its success” to work completed at the 2,850-acre site in the Simi Hills.
At its height in 1964, Rocketdyne employed 9,000 people at the field lab and more at the Canoga Park plant.
At one time, the Santa Susana Field Lab had a robust fire crew and a 6,634-square-foot fire station, equipped with about five fire engines and trucks, including two brush rigs, along with at least one ambulance, former Rocketdyne firefighters told The Times. It also had 2.2 million gallons of water in tanks that fed hydrants scattered throughout the facility.
It remains unclear how many firefighters are still based at the facility, with many of the operations mothballed. As part of the site’s cleanup, the facility’s large fire station was recently demolished. It sat near Southern California Edison’s electrical substation that relayed two minutes before the Woolsey fire started.
Scott Promen, 62, who worked as a firefighter at the field lab through the 1980s, said the Santa Susana fire crew used to train regularly, and occasionally they would staff a nearby Ventura County fire station when the county was on assignment.
Promen said although there’s only a fraction of the people working at the Santa Susana Field Lab, the site still has people and electrical lines, two of the most frequent causes of fires.
The Los Angeles Fire Department honored a Camarillo resident during its annual Valor Awards ceremony on Friday for performing a risky helicopter rescue during the Woolsey Fire.
Dave Nordquist, 58, worked as a helicopter pilot for the department when he and pilot Joel Smith rescued three people and two dogs trapped on Castro Peak in the Santa Monica Mountains on the second day of the fire a year ago.
Nordquist was wearing a GoPro camera during the rescue and uploaded the footage to his YouTube page after editing it down to 11 minutes.
“No one really knew what happened except for me and Joel until the video came out,” Nordquist said.
The footage went viral, racking up hundreds of thousands of views and bringing national attention to their efforts. A year later, the two were awarded a Medal of Merit for their actions, among the highest honors given by LAFD.
Nordquist and Smith had been performing water drops on the Woolsey Fire when the helicopter coordinator reported three technicians trapped on Castro Peak. While running low on fuel, Nordquist flew the copter to the peak and kept it steady near the ground while Smith got out and found the trapped technicians, bringing them on board before the fire reached the peak.
“I was told it was burned over five to 10 minutes after we left,” Nordquist said.
Nordquist was born and raised in Van Nuys. As the grandson of a World War II pilot, he took an early interest in flying and got his pilot’s license as a teenager.
However, instead of pursuing a career in aviation, Nordquist followed his father’s advice and became a firefighter at 19, working for the LAFD as a fire engineer for almost two decades. At one point, a colleague suggested he get his helicopter to fly for the agency.
“Let’s say you want to start riding a motorcycle. Well, you just add that onto your already existing driver’s license, and that’s the same kind of principle with going into different categories of aircraft,” Nordquist said.
Nordquist first worked as a flight instructor and eventually became a copter pilot. The day the Hill and Woolsey fires broke out, he had a sense of what he was about to get into, but he never imagined he would participate in a rescue like the one he did.
Nordquist said he was humbled to be recognized by his fellow firefighters for his actions, but noted that as a copter pilot, rescues just came with the territory.
“I had days on the job even more heroic that I never got recognized for, and that’s OK,” Nordquist said. “We don’t do it for acclaim or notoriety.”
Since the rescue, Nordquist has retired from the fire agency and taken a job flying for Erickson Inc., working as a private contractor to assist fire departments all over the world. Although he does not work for LAFD directly anymore, he said there’s a mutual respect among all colleagues past and present.
“When we’re in the air, we’re just another air asset,” he said.
Four Los Angeles police officers were injured early Monday when the pursuit of carjacking suspects ended in a violent crash on a freeway onramp in Pacoima, authorities said.
Officers were patrolling the Tujunga area about 4:20 a.m. when they saw a white Mercedes-Benz ML350 SUV and decided to run the vehicle’s license plate number. The license plate check revealed that the SUV had been stolen in an armed carjacking in the Bay Area on Sunday, said Officer Jeff Lee.
Officers attempted to pull over the vehicle, which was carrying two people, but authorities said the driver refused to stop. Instead, the driver led authorities onto the northbound 210 Freeway and the westbound 118 Freeway. The driver exited the 118 Freeway at Glenoaks Boulevard and then immediately tried to reenter the westbound portion of the freeway across the street from the offramp, Lee said.
The Mercedes drove onto the onramp’s embankment, lost control and flipped onto its roof. When the car flipped in front of them, one police cruiser slammed into the back of another police SUV. Video from the scene showed the back of a patrol cruiser completely caved in.
The officers were taken to a hospital with injuries that did not appear to be life-threatening and were released.
Two women suspected in the carjacking were taken to local hospitals for treatment. Their injuries are not believed to be serious and they will be taken into custody after they are released from the hospital, police said.
The Glenoaks Boulevard offramp and the onramp to the westbound side of the 118 were closed for several hours while authorities investigated the crash. The area reopened about 9 a.m., according to the California Highway Patrol.
On the heels of several new acquisitions and product announcements in recent months, Motorola Solutions is announcing a new radio equipped with a voice assistant, which the company says is the first of its kind.
The public safety radio is called APX NEXT, building upon the company’s prior APX two-way radios, and the virtual assistant that controls it has been dubbed ViQi (pronounced “Vicky”). The company’s news release said the radio is FirstNet-ready, built with LTE connectivity, and is the first APX radio to feature a touchscreen, designed for field use including with rain or gloves.
Motorola Solutions Chief Technology Officer Mahesh Saptharishi said that besides being able to control the radio, the virtual assistant responds to commands like “ViQi, run a license plate,” and can also look up driver’s license information and vehicle identification numbers. He said other functions will come with future updates.
“The core objective here is to save time for first responders, in every task that they do. That’s the central metric that we use for everything that we do from a design standpoint,” he said. “We want the first responders to have their eyes up and their hands free. We want them to have full situational awareness, and we want them to be able to react to whatever comes their way.”
It’s not the first time a tech vendor has sought to bring AI assistants to the world of government. NIC and other companies have worked with state and local governments to make information and services available through Amazon Alexa.
In keeping with the industry trend toward device interconnectivity and data reception, APX NEXT automatically switches to LTE broadband when LMR (land mobile radio) signal is low, transmits its user’s location to a dispatcher’s mapping console and allows for broadband software updates.
“In the future … we also want to deliver things like video data to this device,” Saptharishi said. “We want it to be able to support other query types, such as foreign-language translation, taking notes and being able to automate record updates.”
Saptharishi said APX NEXT was beta tested with five customers, then modified based on their feedback.
A spokeswoman for Motorola Solutions said none of them were available for an interview, but she shared an emailed statement from Collin Arnold, director of the New Orleans Office of Homeland Security.
“A radio is a first responder’s lifeline when 100 percent of their attention needs to be on the people and events around them,” Arnold’s statement read. “Motorola Solutions worked closely with our public safety team, who is nationally recognized for their technology leadership, to build a radio that goes far beyond what we thought possible. APX NEXT and ViQi allow our first responders to keep their eyes on what’s happening, while obtaining the critical information they need to help protect our community.”
Motorola Solutions has scheduled product demonstrations of APX NEXT and ViQi at the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference, Oct. 27-29 at McCormick Place West in Chicago.
The company’s marketing push for its new touchscreen, voice-activated two-way radios coincides with heavy investment in recent years to build or acquire new technology for law enforcement and first responders. A regulatory filing from February 2019 indicates Motorola Solutions has acquired at least nine companies since February 2016, most recently including a body-camera maker in July, a dispatch provider in March and a license-plate-reading company in January. Motorola Solutions also announced data collecting enhancements to its CommandCentral Aware platform in April.
Motorola’s expansion in this sector is likely to continue, as international investors with Silver Lake extended their billion-dollar partnership with the company in September.
Five senators reintroduced the Don’t Break Up the T-Band Act, legislation that would preserve emergency personnel’s access to UHF T-band spectrum at 470 – 512 MHz. The bill repeals a provision of the 2012 Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act, which directed the FCC to auction this band of spectrum by 2021.
Sens. Edward J. Markey, Charles Schumer, Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren and Bob Casey reintroduced the legislation. Public-safety and business/industrial users in 11 highly populated metropolitan areas use the spectrum.
“Agencies across the country have invested millions of local, state and federal dollars in the T-band networks, which offer the reliable coverage and regional interoperability that first responders require for mission-critical voice communications,” said a press release.
Rep. Eliott Engel introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives.
A June study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) said the cost of relocating T-band users to other bands of spectrum would cost between $5 billion and $6 billion, and for many T-band users, alternative bands of spectrum are limited or nonexistent.
“In Massachusetts and across the country, courageous men and women in our police and fire departments put their lives on the line to protect our health and safety every day,” said Markey. “It is essential that these first responders have the tools they need to do their jobs and serve the public. I’ve introduced legislation to preserve law enforcement, EMS personnel, firefighters and security officials’ access to the T-band spectrum they use to communicate with each other when lives are on the line.”
Hovering over the San Jacinto Mountains, seemingly able to see forever in any direction, Riverside County Sheriff’s Deputy Chad Marlatt has to remind himself every day that he’s actually working.
Trust us, he is.
In addition to being a pilot on the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department’s (RCSD) Aviation Unit, Marlatt is on the Board of Directors for the Riverside Sheriffs’ Association, he is president of the Riverside County Deputy Sheriff Relief Foundation, and he is chair of the Riverside Sheriffs’ Association Special Events & Donation Committee. Marlatt also is vice chair of the Benefits Trust.
“It’s not about me,” Marlatt says. “It’s about helping our brothers and sisters in the association and law enforcement in general.”
As a pilot in the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department’s (RCSD) Aviation Unit, a typical day for Marlatt might involve swooping down into the wilderness to rescue an injured hiker in the morning and chasing down a robbery suspect racing down the 15 Freeway in the afternoon.
With Marlatt piloting the ship and his tactical flight officer beside him, the two-person crew can establish perimeters, clear areas, and guide units on the ground to where they need to be.
“Anything we think we can be an asset from the air, that is what we are there to do,” said Marlatt, one of 11 deputies on the unit and the one with the most time in the air.
In March, Marlatt amassed 6,000 hours of flight time, reaching the milestone accident free.
“If I’m in the TFO (tactical flight officer) position, he’s probably the pilot I would want flying if it was the most technical type of flying we have to do,” said Dep. Ray Hiers, one of the newer members of the unit. “If you get into a high-stress situation, you want to be flying with something who you don’t have to worry about what they’re doing and just focus on what you are doing.”
The Aviation Unit’s primary function is patrol, but search and rescue operations are a close second.
The unit performs up to 300 search and rescues annually, said Marlatt, who started with the unit 15 years ago as a tactical flight officer and has been a pilot since 2009.
Back then, the crew used Thomas Brothers Guide maps to navigate, Marlatt said.
Today, RCSD ships are equipped with thermal imaging cameras, high-intensity searchlights, and downlink equipment enabling video to be sent to the ground.
RCSD air crews patrol over urban areas such as Corona and over the Mt. San Jacinto Wilderness, where the highest peak is above 10,800 feet.
On a recent Sunday, the unit rescued an injured hiker on Box Springs Mountain above Moreno Valley.
STAR 9 picked up the hiker and flew him to Riverside County Fire personnel waiting at a nearby school.
Earlier in October, the unit rescued two hikers who’d gotten lost in Idyllwild.
Marlatt was drawn to a career in law enforcement by his stepfather who was a Riverside County Sheriff’s deputy.
After beginning his career with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department as an Explorer, Marlatt became a Sheriff’s Service Officer in 1996.
He was a deputy in corrections for six months and then moved to patrol.
When on a ride-along with the Aviation Unit in 1998, Marlatt discovered his calling.
“One day, that’s what I want to do,” Marlatt said to himself. “Just the feeling of going up in the air and what you can see, versus being on the ground. It’s almost euphoric.”
Two calls stand out from his early days in the air.
One was in 2008, when Marlatt and his pilot chased bank robbery suspects all the way down to Escondido.
Marlatt watched from above as the suspect’s car flipped over, the suspect was ejected, and bills flew out everywhere.
Another call involved two suspects who had followed a man home from a casino to rob him.
A deputy on the ground attempted to pull the car over, but the suspects fled and the pursuit was on.
Marlatt’s unit gave chase from overhead as the suspects sped along the 215 Freeway towards Perris.
The vehicle stopped and the passenger surrendered, but the driver got into another car and took off.
The suspect shot his way into a house, grabbed a set of car keys, and took off in a car parked in the driveway.
Two deputies on the ground were wounded trying to stop the suspect, who also shot at Marlatt’s helicopter.
“That was definitely a hair-raising experience,” he said. “You hear the clunk. You turn off the lights, check all the gauges.”
But Marlatt isn’t only serving the public.
He handles many needs in his roles as president of the Riverside County Deputy Sheriff Relief Foundation, chair of the Riverside Sheriffs’ Association Special Events & Donation Committee, and vice chair of the Benefits Trust.
Those needs may stem from medical emergencies, funeral expenses, and memorial travel expenses.
After RCSD Dep. Jason McMillan was severally wounded during the mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas on Oct. 1. 2017, the foundation paid the expenses for McMillan’s family to travel to Las Vegas.
McMillan was shot while trying to shield his girlfriend from the gunfire raining down from the 32nd floor off the Mandalay Bay Hotel. He sustained liver and lung wounds and has a bullet in his spine. The foundation contributed $8,000 toward the purchase of a special SUV suited for his needs.
When Dep. Jay Youngblood was left paralyzed below the waist after a motorcycle training accident in July 2018, the foundation covered travel and lodging expenses for his family while he was in the hospital.
With the support of Sheriff Chad Bianco, the RCSD soon will open a new hangar in Palm Desert and up the staff from 11 to 16 deputies.
“I’m fortunate to be here,” Marlatt said. “We’re a public service. That is what I’m here to do … save lives.”