Louisa Patterson was given the news that no mother should ever be given: her 18-year-old son James was dead, killed in the 2015 mid-flight break-up of a Robinson R44 in New Zealand.
At times like these, those left to grieve often ask the question why. Why them? Why did it happen? Louisa's torment was exacerbated when the NZ Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) could find no reason for the accident. Without a flight data recorder, they said, there was no way of knowing what caused James' death.
An aviation identity in Queenstown through her helicopter company Over the Top, Louisa, known locally as "Choppy" was rightfully devastated by the outcome. But from it, something has grown.
That tragedy, and the TAIC conclusions, launched Louisa on a quest to do something about it. She developed the Eye in the Sky cockpit audio, video and flight data recorder that this week was awarded the 2021 Airbus Helicopters Innovation in Rotary Aviation Safety Award.
The presentation was made at RotorTech 2022 in Brisbane this week.
The system comprises of an HD wide-angle camera that provides a view of the instrument panel and the pilots' view, and features three-channels recording ambient noise, intercom and radio transmissions. With a built-in GPS and accelerometer recording the helicopter's position, heading, altitude, speed, and g forces, Eye in the Sky collects all the data that, had it been available, may given answers as to why James Patterson-Gardner died.
Eye in the Sky is already widely adopted in NZ and is certified by a multi-type Supplemental Type Certificate, and the product is slowly gaining ground in Australia as operators here begin to recognise the benefits.
As well as evidence in accident and incident investigation, Patterson also believes that Eye in the Sky provides operators with the ability to analyse intermittent faults, contributes to desktop briefings, can assist with competency checks and enhances safety management systems.
And the small but burgeoning company she founded makes not a cent from the product. All proceeds, which are growing exponentially, are donated to the James PG Foundation, named after the son she lost. The foundation exists to help young people between the ages of 17-25 reach their full potential.
With several government operators in NZ mandating the system and the National Aerial Firefighting Centre evaluatingit in Australia, it seems that Eye in the Sky is beginning to realise a potential of its own.
Without doubt it has impressed the people at Airbus Helicopters, who don't give out this award lightly.