helicopter, rescue, john wyllie, heli-expo, nelson, nz, dzmx pilot, SAR

CEO’s Extreme Commitment to Product Testing

By Rob Neil
From its unassumingly capable small home base in Nelson, New Zealand, Flightcell International has supplied more than 4,000 of its products to a huge range of aircraft from the smallest private machines, EMS and rescue helicopters, to tactical military transports.

Flightcell’s CEO, John Wyllie, an experienced helicopter pilot, recently put his own product to the ultimate test—with himself as the subject.

In January, a day before his departure to attend the world’s largest annual helicopter expo, John decided a mountain bike ride would be a good idea before heading to Flightcell’s busy trade stand and the hustle and bustle of Heli Expo in Anaheim.

At a favoured local mountain bike park, John chose an “Advanced Grade 4” trail that, as we will shortly see, was named ironically as “Tree Hugger”.

It was a quiet day at the park with few others about, as John, kitted out appropriately with all of his safety gear, and cell phone attached to his bike, set off down the track. He had covered only a hundred metres or so when he reached the second obstacle; a raised conglomeration of tree roots/stumps with a drop on the far side.

Unable to see clearly over the obstacle, John elected for a slower approach, thinking it was the sensible thing to do. It wasn’t.

This realisation came to John as the front wheel came to rest among a tangle of roots at the bottom of the drop. The front wheel stopped, but John didn’t and was catapulted across the bars—followed immediately by the rest of his bike.

With his leg jammed in a root as he fell, his body weight and the that of the vindictive bike smacking him in the back, conspired to twist and snap both of the bones in his lower leg with a loud snap. Having well and truly “hugged the trees” on this trail, John knew he was badly hurt and needed help.

Knowing the nature of the terrain between his accident site and the road, and as an active helicopter pilot, John knew that a helicopter was the only practical option to rescue him.

Unable to stand or walk, thankfully he was able to reach his bike and the cell phone attached to the bars. Fortunately, also, there was cellular coverage where John found himself and he was able to call the emergency services.

Bypassing the usual to-and-fro between the various emergency services trying to negotiate a helicopter rescue, John was able to communicate his situation effectively and describe his association and experience with the local rescue helicopter, which was immediately dispatched. After hanging up from the emergency call, John then called the rescue helicopter crew—whom he knew personally from both his frequent Flightcell contact and his own flying, and whose number he had stored in his cell phone.

As he lay in agony on the ground—the ends of the bones in his shin protruding from his skin—the significance was not lost on John that it was one of his own company’s products that enabled him to call the helicopter directly and speak to the pilot by cell phone. With time to think as he waited, while it was not relevant in his case (at least he hoped it wouldn’t be) he reflected on the value of the Flightcell DZMx’s ability to communicate and transmit ECG data directly with a hospital when dealing with victims for whom time was critical.

Had he wanted to, John could have used his cell phone to log into the rescue helicopter’s tracking system to find out exactly where it was. However, his ability to speak to the crew as they headed towards him, meant there was no need, and a painful 50 minutes after his fall, the helicopter was overhead.

Any pilot who has attempted to locate people or objects beneath a bush canopy will attest to the difficulty of finding them if they are not moving and don’t contrast visibly with the bush. However, thanks to the helicopter’s DZMx connection, and with his aviation experience, John was able to guide his friends effectively to the crash site—speaking to them directly by cell phone.

The thick bush where John crashed made the rescue quite difficult, and necessitated his brief carriage as a “sling load” in a stretcher to a more suitable location where he was finally able to be loaded aboard and flown to hospital to begin a painful and lengthy repair and recovery.

Needless to say, John didn’t make it to Heli Expo in 2020. On the good side, though, the rest of the team on the Flightcell stand were able to give testimonials to the effectiveness of their products thanks to the CEO’s above-and-beyond commitment to first-hand product testing!

John Wyllie gained his New Zealand private fixed-wing licence in 1984, his commercial licence in 1992, and his US commercial fixed-wing and helicopter licences in 1995. In that same year, John came up with the ideas that, with the commitment and cooperation of some great partners, led to the major success of Flightcell’s aviation communication and tracking products—now known well by discerning aviators around the world. John continues to maintain an active interest in aviation and he holds current commercial licences for both fixed-wing and helicopter.

Flightcell’s DZMx provides aircraft with seamless air-ground satellite communication as well as flight tracking. It is a standard fit in many rescue helicopters around the world, and standard equipment on all new Leonardo aircraft. With capabilities far belying its size, the DZMx fits easily into standard avionics panels and integrates cell phone, satellite phone, data and tracking. Recent improvements to the DZMx now include a “12-lead” ECG capability, where data is transmitted to the hospital over a cellular data connection.