MD Helicopters has been announced as the winner of Helicopter Association International’s (HAI) 2022 Salute to Excellence Humanitarian Service Award, for work providing relief to the Navajo Nation during the coronavirus pandemic.
The award, which honors an individual or group who ‘best demonstrate the value of helicopters to the communities in which they operate by providing aid to those in need’ will be presented on 7 March at the HAI Heli-Expo 2022 in Dallas, Texas.
The manufacturer carried out 52 nearly weekly aid missions for over a year, delivering more than 18,144kg of supplies to the Navajo Nation - first to the remote Chinle region, where infection rates were highest, and subsequently across the entire nation. MD Helicopters reportedly received no renumeration for time, fuel, labor and equipment use while carrying out the service.
MD Helicopters reached out to other organizations to provide aid
The Navajo Nation, located across northeast Arizona, southeastern Utah and northwest New Mexico, quickly experienced one of the US’s highest per-capita rates of infections and deaths following the virus’s arrival in 2020. The nation was ultimately forced to close its borders to outsiders, including supply trucks, to reduce the spread.
Following the worrying surge in cases within the Navajo Nation, MD Helicopters COO Chris Jaran began reaching out to organizations such as the Veterans Medical Leadership Council (VMLC), which had been supporting veterans in the Chinle region.
“Early on, we wanted to do something to help,” said Jaran. “We had helicopters, and the unanimous support from our leadership board, to volunteer our time, pilots, fuel, and maintenance to fly supplies into the Navajo Nation. We only needed to know how our helicopters could be of the best use.”
The VMLC quickly accepted the offer and began delivering supplies to MD Helicopters’ factory in Mesa, Arizona, which were then flown to the Nation using an MD 902 helicopter.
The flights delivered everything from medical supplies to firewood
“We thought we’d be flying out personal protective equipment (PPE) and things like that, but there was a more dire need initially,” Jaran added. “Winter temperatures drop into 30°F (-1°C) out there, and many tribal members rely on wood to heat their homes and cook food. Usually, wood is delivered to them. Without the supply trucks, they needed a way to collect their own wood. The first load of supplies we flew was chainsaws.”
The Navajo population consists of around 300,000 people, spread across a 69,930km2 reservation - a land area larger than the Republic of Ireland. Many Navajo lack utilities and live in communities hours away from modern medical facilities by land vehicle.
In addition to providing supplies and medical equipment to the nation, MD Helicopters also participated in a Christmas-in-summer operation for its final relief flight on 25 June 2021, bringing gifts to children across the Navajo Nation. During the actual Christmas period, the nation had been under strict Covid restrictions, limiting the population’s ability to celebrate a conventional festive period.
“One of the veterans dressed as Santa, and we stuffed that helicopter as full as possible with toys and gifts for all the kids,” Jaran said. “We landed at an airstrip on the reservation, and a long line of cars was waiting with kids excited to finally have their Christmas. We handed out gifts and left the rest to be distributed to kids who couldn’t be there. It was a really special day.”
HAI has also awarded its Salute to Excellence Law Enforcement Award to Michigan State Police Aviation Unit Sergeant Matt Rogers.