Helicopter Association International (HAI) selected MH-60 pilot LCDR Robert McCabe, USCG, Aviator 4395, as its 2021 Pilot of the Year. The award recognizes an outstanding single feat performed by a helicopter pilot during the year or extraordinary professionalism over a period of time. On Nov. 24, 2019, his skills and experience were put into practice. The fishing vessel Leonardo had capsized 24 miles southwest of Martha’s Vineyard, throwing all four crew members into the 50-degree water. Once on scene, McCabe’s crew found a lone survivor in a life raft among the debris field in 10-ft. seas and 30-kt.
He has accumulated more than 2,700 helo hours and countless successful rescue missions. In addition to Aircraft Commander, he is also an instructor pilot and flight examiner. On Nov. 24, 2019, his skills and experience were put into practice. The fishing vessel Leonardo had capsized 24 miles southwest of Martha’s Vineyard, throwing all four crew members into the 50-degree water. Once on scene, McCabe’s crew found a lone survivor in a life raft among the debris field in 10-ft. seas and 30-kt. winds. The severely hypothermic survivor was hoisted aboard and successfully stabilized. During the rescue, the sun set and a squall with sleet came in, reducing visibility to a quarter mile and raising the seas to 15-ft. waves. Rather than a typical search altitude of 300 feet, McCabe directed the other pilot to fly a low 80-foot air taxi to continue searching the debris field for the remaining Leonardo crew members. With their focus mostly outside the aircraft, searching the rough water with spotlights in flying sleet, both pilots became disoriented. The aircraft started to bank 40 degrees, simultaneously pitching more than 14 degrees nose up and rapidly slowing while descending. “The visual inputs we were getting were inconsistent,” McCabe said. ‘The waves gave us the sensation we were drifting right. I soon realized we had ‘the leans.’” Within 10 seconds of becoming disoriented, McCabe recognized it. He announced the aircraft’s state and immediately coached the flying pilot through a successful instrument transition to stable flight. Upon his return, McCabe provided a detailed description of the event to the air station’s safety department. With the support of the Aviation Logistics Center, information from the flight data monitoring system was used to create an animation of the flight for training. This effort resulted in CG-wide policy recommendations, including standardizing training on night-vision goggle illusions, developing a manual addressing aeromedical factors of flight, and adding a discussion of spatial disorientation to every annual check ride.
On 24 November 2020, the Commandant announced the winner of the 2020 Coast Guard Engineer of the Year Award, CDR Matthew Walker, Aviator 3724. As the Engineering Services Division Chief at the Aviation Logistics Center and while serving as the Engineering Technical Authority (ETA), CDR Walker oversaw the airworthiness program of the entire Coast Guard Aviation Fleet covering seven different aircrafts. In doing so, he led 59 engineers through airworthiness assessments of aircraft in depot maintenance to include configuration management and engineering technical approval for upgrades to the MH65E variant. Additionally, CDR Walker spearheaded the review of CG airworthiness and engineering processes, culminating in the continuance of the Coast Guard’s National Airworthiness Council Certification. This noteworthy contribution is a direct reflection of CDR Walker’s leadership and engineering acumen. Furthermore, he developed key Aircraft Structural Integrity Program (ASIP) goals for the HC-144, providing data to support key future engineering decisions. He also oversaw the development of a special tool for on-wing HC-144 structural repairs, earning a U.S Patent. Looking ahead, CDR Walker identified the need for a Cyber and Platform IT (PIT) Program Manager in aviation, leading to the establishment of a Cyber and PIT aviation graduate program track which will bring these critical skillsets to aviation sustainment. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, he led the development of risk mitigation strategies in maintenance and operational procedures resulting in tested, developed, and promulgated written guidance while adhering to engineering principles. CDR Walker has a Master’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Florida and is a Registered Professional Engineer in Oregon. An awards ceremony was held in Washington, DC on 18 February 2021. Additionally, as the Coast Guard Engineer of the Year, CDR Walker has been nominated for the National Society of Professional Engineers Federation