More than 19,000 attended Heli-Expo 2012 at the Dallas Convention Center. For the fourth year in a row, the show featured a record number of exhibitors – 650, up from 625.

Two helicopters. Separated by the length of the Heli-Expo 2012 convention floor. Worlds apart in every way. Except one: Both ignite your imagination, as only a helicopter can.

A Bell OH-13, with its roots in World War II, anchored the south end of the million-square-foot Dallas Convention Center. On the north end, a prototype Bell 525 Relentless represented the latest in just about everything – composite materials, engine design, avionics.

In Dallas, folks navigated to the heritage helicopter display using an app on their smartphones that contained virtually everything they might want to know. Schedule. Maps. Exhibitor list. Area resources. Even a handy access portal to social media. People also used Twitter to keep in touch while pursuing individual agendas and alerting each other to don’t-miss opportunities.

Nothing Stays the Same

On the floor, virtually every booth represented a different aspect of rapid development. Night vision goggles – a novelty just a few years ago, now are becoming a virtual requirement across a growing number of helicopter missions. MD Helicopters’ new NOTAR system does away with the familiar tail rotor. Several booths, including FlightSafety International, testified to the growing importance of simulation-based training. Even financing continually changes, as Richard Santulli’s Milestone Aviation Group showed with its announcement of major leasing agreements.

My colleague Kevin Jenks and I, looking at the show through the perspective of aviation marketing, found a common theme among many exhibitors – from the small entrepreneurial start-ups to the largest global conglomerates. The blistering pace of change leaves them scrambling to keep their marketing on pace and in synch with their products. That’s a challenge for everyone these days, but it’s especially acute in the helicopter industry.

The good news is – most of them know it and are working to catch up. This is an innovative, forward-looking industry. Whether it’s cutting-edge avionics, revolutionary design changes or smarter, more integrated use of online and social media, the helicopter crowd can’t abide any position other than out in front, leading the charge.

*Originally published in the February 16 issue of BlueSky Business Aviation News.