At the end of every year, we take a look back at the 10 stories that racked up the most views on verticalmag.com. In the second year of a global pandemic, Covid-19 makes only a glancing appearance on the list for 2021.
Megayachts and a throwback 2017 story about a flight to the summit of Mt. Everest garnered significant interest this year from readers looking to a brighter future and an escape from viral worry and ongoing social restrictions.
After 20 years of war, the withdrawal of U.S. and allied troops from Afghanistan and the fall of the Afghan Air Force to the Taliban came in as the second-most read story of the year, balanced out by a remarkable story of courage that chronicles the rescues of dozens of fishermen from a sinking vessel in the Atlantic Ocean. (Click on the story titles to read the original articles.)
In normal times, as many as 375,000 Canadian “snowbirds” wing their way to the southern U.S. and Mexico each winter. With the Canada-U.S. land border closed by Covid-19, many chose to arrange a private flight through companies like Waterloo, Ontario-based Great Lakes Helicopter Corp. The company’s Robinson R44 can whisk passengers from Hamilton International Airport (YHM) to Buffalo Niagara International Airport (BUF) in a quick 35-minute hop.
In June, after three years of record-breaking flight, Bell’s V-280 Valor technology demonstrator was retired as the company focuses on pitching the U.S. Army a replacement for the Black Hawk. Since its first flight on Dec. 18, 2018, the V-280 advanced tiltrotor logged 214 hours in the air and met a number of ambitious speed and agility goals set by the Army under the Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstration (JMR-TD) program.
Pilot James Donald shares his experience flying in support of offshore wind farms, one of the fastest-growing sectors of the helicopter industry. The sector is well established in Europe, where such operations require flights to turbine fields over the unpredictable North Sea.
Unfortunately, these lists almost always include some sort of tragic accident. On June 28, 2021, pilot Heath Coleman of Prince George, British Columbia, was killed when his helicopter went down during firefighting operations near Edmonton, Alberta. He was the only person on board. The investigation into the downed Bell 212 implicated a defective main rotor hub strap pin, according to an emergency airworthiness directive (AD) from Transport Canada.
The feel-good story of 2021 features both the U.S. Coast Guard and Royal Canadian Air Force in a dramatic at-sea rescue of more than two dozen fisherman from a sinking vessel on a stormy North Atlantic night. Two U.S. Coast Guard MH-60T Jayhawks and a Canadian CH-149 Cormorant were joined by a CC-130H and an HC-144 Ocean Sentry on the rescue in winds gusting 55 knots. Everyone survived.
In January, Sikorsky and Boeing unveiled a refined vision of the Defiant compound coaxial helicopter, the team’s ultimate pitch to replace the U.S. Army’s Black Hawk helicopters with a speedy Future Long Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA). With a noticeably pointier nose cone, relocation of the engine exhaust outlet from aft of the main rotor assembly, lateral reshaping of the airframe and tail boom and chevron-style tail fins, enhancements to the existing design reduce Defiant’s thermal signature and improve aerodynamic handling.
In August, U.S. President Joe Biden was supposed to be just months away from taking his first ride in the new VH-92 presidential helicopter. The type will become the first new “Marine One” in more than 40 years when he steps aboard it. At the time, the necessary pieces were in place for a transition from the legacy VH-3D Sea King, but ongoing developmental delays have pushed introduction of the Sikorsky-built aircraft into 2022.
Readers reached back to 2017 by the thousands to revisit a story about Airbus Helicopters test pilot Didier Delsalle’s record-setting 2005 flight in a stripped-down production AS350 B3 certified to Mount Everest’s 29,029-foot (8,848-meter) summit.
Images of the U.S. and its allies leaving Afghanistan, ignominiously ending the longest war in American history, were among the most dramatic seen in 2021. Our story of how the Taliban captured almost the entire Afghan Air Force — and how helicopters were an essential part of the evacuation — was widely read. In scenes eerily reminiscent of the American exit from Saigon in 1975, helicopters were used to remove some of the final remaining personnel from the U.S. embassy. U.S. Army Chinook and Black Hawk helicopters also aided in the hasty evacuation as the Taliban swept into the Afghan capital.
By far — and it wasn’t even close — the most-read story of 2021 offered a peak into the lives of the .0001 percent, the glitterati who own both a superyacht and a helicopter (and have occasion to land the latter on the former). Helicopter pilot Jim MacKay explained what life is like on board a 164-foot (50-meter) private yacht during a cruise of the Inside Passage and Gulf of Alaska on a 150-day contract. Work included flying with and instructing the ship-owner’s wife in a meticulously-maintained Bell 206L-4 LongRanger.