Read More: Community Engagement: The LA Helicopter Success Story
December 10, 2019

Southern California rotorcraft operators, pilots address community concerns over noise.

This is a good-news, everybody-wins success story in an industry that needs one. Once operating under a congressional mandate to address helicopter noise issues in the greater Los Angeles area, the LA helicopter industry has successfully staved off the looming threat of being regulated out of existence.

Led by volunteers from the Professional Helicopter Pilots Association (PHPA) and the Los Angeles Area Helicopter Operators Association (LAAHOA)—both proud HAI affiliates—LA-area pilots and operators accomplished this victory the hard way: They listened to what the other side had to say. They documented the problems. They conducted extensive outreach and education efforts with homeowner groups and legislators. They also worked to educate the LA rotorcraft community about the importance of minimizing their noise impact—and provided specific techniques for how to do that.

Hard work, yes, but with a big payoff. The once-tense relationship between homeowner groups and the helicopter community has improved so much that in April 2019 they joined together to request that the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors allocate funds to continue operation of the Automated Helicopter Noise Complaint System (ACS).

You are likely asking why on earth any self-respecting helicopter pilot would advocate for a way to make it easier for people to complain about their flights. To understand this, let’s look at how we got to where we are today.

Read More: Helicopter OEMs Bring Aviation Experience to UAM Arena
December 10, 2019

Flying taxis in 2023? Aircraft manufacturers say, "Not so fast."

Not since the 1940s and 1950s have so many companies been working so feverishly on new ways to fly from one place to another.

Around 70 years ago, dozens and dozens of companies—from well-established manufacturers to thinly financed entrepreneurs working out of their barns and tool sheds—were rushing to bring to market workable and economically viable vehicles called “helicopters.” What that new aircraft would look like and how it would operate was still very much in flux. (You can read more about that period in helicopter history—when a collective might be a ­re­purposed motorcycle grip or resemble bicycle handlebars suspended from the roof of the cockpit—in the Trailblazers section of the Helicopter Foundation International website, helicopterfoundation.org.)

Now, a similarly large contingent of companies—more than 150 at last count—is seeking to build what will be the first successful “flying taxis,” or urban air mobility (UAM) vehicles. These efforts range from shoestring attempts mounted by experienced but cash-poor engineers to the self-financed passion projects of billionaires to high-visibility programs mounted by Fortune 500 public companies.

Not all of these would-be makers of flying taxis will succeed. But perhaps a half dozen or more may introduce vehicles capable of flying one or two people, or some relatively light cargo, around major metropolitan areas. Other companies now toiling on potential UAM aircraft almost certainly will be able to sell some of their expertise, research findings, and technical innovations to better-financed, more experienced companies that eventually will become serious competitors in the fledgling market.

There’s also substantial likelihood that long-respected and deep-­pocketed aviation manufacturers—particularly those with considerable experience building helicopters—will take over development of UAM aircraft or otherwise acquire the technologies necessary to mass-produce them. In any case, however the market sorts itself out, it inevitably will take a few years longer than was originally forecast.

Read More: One Flight at a Time
December 10, 2019

It’s early June in Orem, Utah, 6,000 feet above sea level, 45 miles south of Salt Lake City, and a warm day barely breaks 70 degrees. To the northeast, rising another mile into the clear blue sky, is Mount Timpanogos, second-highest peak in the Wasatch Range, its rocky slopes speckled with trees and still draped in snow. I’m too far away to smell the Great Salt Lake, but not so far that the sky doesn’t sport clusters of gulls riding a breeze from the north.

Occasionally, a helicopter takes people to explore the mountain.

For some, it’s the start of a journey.

Read More: Understanding Your Aircraft Systems
December 10, 2019

Knowing how your ship works gives you more options when mechanical issues arise.

During my time as a helicopter flight instructor, I stressed to my students the importance of learning, in great detail, the systems of the aircraft they were flying. Pilots who know their aircraft’s systems are better equipped to both detect and troubleshoot mechanical issues.

This belief stems in part from my own training, both flight and A&P, where many of my instructors were seasoned World War II pilots and mechanics—two piloted Boeing B-17s, and another served as a flight engineer on the massive Convair B-36. (If you have a chance, take a look at the flight engineer’s panel in the movie Six Turning, Four Burning to grasp the complexity of the B-36 systems.) My instructors’ knowledge of aircraft systems was extraordinary, and they would regularly share with student pilots and mechanics the importance of knowing all you can about aircraft systems.

Aircraft Systems and Components

Let’s start with the basics. You should be able to answer the following questions about the function and operation of each of the essential systems and components listed in “Light piston helicopters,” below:

  • What is it?
  • What does it do?
  • How does it do it?

Read More: Jan Becker: Leading the Way
September 03, 2019

First female, international chair in decades sees new opportunity for HAI.

Jan Becker is a dizzying mix of practical skills and boundary-pushing innovator, a combination not always seen together. Consider her various positions: registered nurse and midwife; commercial helicopter pilot; CEO of Becker Helicopters, an Australian helicopter operator and flight school; founder of Midwife Vision, a charity supporting child and maternal health in Tanzania; and PhD candidate studying the role of midwives in sub-Saharan Africa.

On July 1 of this year, Jan added yet another role to the mix: she is the 2019–20 chair of HAI. Jan is not the first woman or first non-US citizen to lead the association, but she is the first to do so in decades. And if Jan has anything to do with it, she won’t be the last.

 

Read More: HAI 2019–20 Board of Directors
September 03, 2019

The HAI Board of Directors for 2019–20 was installed on July 1, 2019. A reception was held in Alexandria, Virginia, at the end of June to welcome the new board, connect with local HAI members, and offer a hearty thank-you to HAI’s volunteer leaders.
 
During the reception, outgoing board chairman Jim Wisecup (at right in photo) presented David Bjellos with a plaque expressing HAI’s appreciation of his volunteer work over the years. Bjellos, a pilot and aviation manager for Florida Crystals Corporation, has served on the HAI Board of Directors since 2013 and has worked closely with several committees, including the Environment / Fly Neighborly Committee. Although no longer chairman, Wisecup retained his board seat and is serving as the association’s assistant treasurer for the coming year.

Read More: The Helicopter Caucus
September 03, 2019

Who understands our industry on Capitol Hill? They do.

According to our research, of the 435 representatives and 100 senators in the US Congress, just six have piloted a helicopter and only one has worked as an aviation maintenance technician. These men and women are literally the 1%.

These distinguished men and women include helicopter pilots Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois and Reps. Ralph Abraham of Louisiana, Jack Bergman of Michigan, Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, and Chris Stewart of Utah. These legislators responded to our questions, and we feature them here.

Rep. Mickie Sherrill of New Jersey, a former US Navy helicopter pilot, was not available for comment. Rep. Denver Riggleman of Virginia, the lone congressman with experience in aviation maintenance, also could not reply. If we failed to include any other member of Congress with experience in helicopter aviation, we regret the omission.

 

Read More: Neck/Back Pain and Hearing Loss: What's a Pilot to Do?
September 03, 2019

Helicopter pilots can mitigate these long-term effects of the career.

When you ask a group of helicopter pilots if their career has affected their health, a common response is “What? I don’t hear so good. I’m a helicopter pilot.”

All kidding aside, many pilots see neck or back pain and hearing loss as an inevitable consequence of spending years in the “helo hunch” in a vibrating aircraft. And yes, research does show that being a helicopter pilot can lead to neck and back pain, as well as hearing loss.

But there ARE things you can do to avoid these health issues.

Flight Helmets: The Good and the Bad

While this article will discuss some negative effects of long-term use of flight helmets, let me make it very clear: in my opinion, everyone who is riding inside a helicopter should be wearing a helmet designed for use in helicopters. The positives greatly outweigh the negatives.

The helmet’s primary purpose is to protect the head and eyes during impact in case of an accident or bird strike, and it works. Numerous studies have documented this, including Taneja and Wiegmann’s 2003 study in Aviation Space and Environmental Medicine and Roskop’s 2015 research for the Civil Aerospace Medical Institute.

Having said this, nothing is perfect, and there are some tradeoffs to wearing helmets. While they provide head and eye impact protection, helmets also make the head weigh more in case of impact. Years of use may contribute to neck and back neurological problems. They also do not provide enough hearing protection to completely mitigate hearing loss.

As a physiologist who works with helicopter flight crews, one of my goals is to help crew members retire with the ability to lift their grandchildren and hear them laugh. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

With the understanding that helmets are necessary for head and eye protection, as well as to provide a platform for communications and night-vision devices, the rest of this article will share what users need to know to prevent future neck and back pain, and hearing loss.

Keep in mind that the degree of pain and hearing loss experienced by the individual pilot will vary, based on factors including the type of helmet, type of airframe, and whether the aircraft is flown with doors on or off. Like so many things in life, physiological damage depends on a time/dose relationship: that is, how much and for how long.

Neck and Back Pain

Unfortunately, no studies have attempted to quantify the amount of neck and back pain experienced by pilots in the civil helicopter industry. However, a 2018 study by John Crowley, “Aircrew Neck Pain Prevention and Management Insights from NATO,” examined several studies from militaries around the world documenting the very same problems. A literature search I just completed brought up 10 similar studies.

Yes, these are military studies, but the bottom line is they examined helicopter pilots and found more reports of neck and back pain than in other military occupations. The reality is, the militaries have the scientists, funding, and desire to examine such issues, and we certainly can extrapolate from their data.

In addition to the weight of the helmet, a few other factors contribute to the incidence of neck problems. While night-vision goggles (NVGs) may only weigh slightly more than 1 lb, that weight is concentrated at the front, making the pilot’s head front-heavy. Aircraft vibration also plays a role, and that varies, depending on the airframe.

The purpose of the flight can play a role too. Turning the head around in an orbit and craning the neck as law enforcement flight crews often do can exacerbate problems. Further contributing to back problems, most helicopters put flight crews (mainly those sitting up front) in an unusual position that does not allow for sitting up straight, the “helo-hunch.”

When considering neck pain, no one single factor is to blame. Helmet weight, NVGs, and aircraft vibration all contribute, but the combination of them is the real culprit.

As I mentioned, retiring with neck and back pain is a concern for pilots. However, I am also concerned that neck and back pain could affect the operational fitness of working flight crews. Two possibilities are that inflight pain will challenge situational awareness and will reduce the head’s range of motion.

As with neck problems, numerous military studies illustrate that long-term helmet use is associated with back problems. In 2010, Lt. Paul Sargent, M.D., and Lt. Angela Bachmann, M.D., reported that 82–92% of otherwise healthy young aviators reported back pain, and 44–50% had pain during flight. While this is significant in itself, Sargent and Bachmann’s study, “Back Pain in the Naval Rotary Wing Community,” documented that this pain resulted in decreased concentration (54–66%), hurried flights (16%), and cancelled flights (7%). A study by the Australian Navy had almost identical findings (64% had pain, 55% had trouble concentrating, 16% reported hurried flights, and 7% refused flights).

Neck and back issues bring with them concerns of decreased operational readiness. These include cancelled flights, which can result in lost work days and distraction, as well as hurried flights and attrition.

The Way Out: Exercise

The best way to mitigate neck and back issues is through stretching and exercise. Many individuals do not exercise at all, and even people who exercise regularly often do not exercise their necks. However, the medical papers and presentations I’ve reviewed unanimously conclude that mitigation comes down to exercise. I am not speaking about specific exercises but a well-rounded resistance program that includes the neck. Stretching can provide short-term relief, with the goal of increasing blood flow, and therefore oxygen, to the tissues.

Another major mitigation for back pain is to redesign the seats, but until the military requires this in new purchases, it will not happen. There is, however, one other way to lessen the back pain you may be experiencing: provide additional support to the lumbar, or lower back, region. Lumbar support cushions are widely available and may at least partially mitigate the pain.

Hearing Loss

When discussing hearing-related issues, it is important to understand the difference between loudness and pitch. Loudness is the impact of the sound (pressure) wave on the ear drum, or tympanic membrane, and is measured in decibels (dB). The pitch is the frequency (high vs. low) of the sound and dictates where in the cochlea (inner ear) the sound is picked up. Pitch is measured in hertz (Hz).

We are mostly concerned with low frequencies, between 100 Hz and 1,000 Hz. In helicopter operations, this noise is continuous and at high intensity. It originates from several sources, including but not limited to engines, driveshafts, transmissions, and rotor blades. Frequencies affecting crew members come from the tail rotor blades (96–100 Hz), main rotor blades (10–20 Hz), and blade slap (20–1000 Hz).

The US Surgeon General has established 85 dB as the maximum level of continuous unprotected exposure to steady-state noise for 8 hours. As the dBs increase, the amount of permitted exposure decreases (the time/dose relationship). To avoid noise becoming hazardous, it should be no greater than 85 dBs if continuous, or it should be an impulse/impact noise no greater than 140 dBs.

As with the neck and back pain, hearing loss can also lead to operational compromises. The obvious challenge is hearing and understanding radio communications. Another is the loss of ability to hear sound changes in the engine.

I have not found any studies that illustrate hearing-loss issues as related to helicopter operations. A 1990 study on tank gunner performance and hearing impairment published in the Army RD&A Bulletin correlates hearing loss with incorrect commands heard by gunner, target identification, and wrong targets killed. Regardless of the focus of the study, one can see how hearing loss can impact helicopter operations.

Adding a secondary layer of protection would be the way to reduce this problem. Many studies show that simply inserting foam-type ear plugs under the helmet makes a big difference. Some prefer the convenience of communications ear plugs (CEPs), which provide hearing protection and can also connect to comm systems.

Think Long-Term Health

While flying in helicopters can produce negative physical effects such as neck and back pain and/or hearing loss, there are steps you can take to mitigate most of the effects. I realize exercising and wearing hearing protection are not popular topics, but before dismissing them, I urge pilots to consider the alternative: pain and hearing loss. By just modifying your lifestyle slightly, it is possible to significantly reduce those issues and avoid partial disabilities and early retirement.

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