Read More: Bad Assumptions
November 17, 2020

Unclear responsibilities between pilots can lead to a deadly outcome.

A flight review conducted by a CFI without significant make-and-model experience has come to be recognized as insidiously hazardous—especially when the client is also the aircraft owner.

It’s natural for the instructor to believe the client knows the aircraft, while the client simultaneously trusts the instructor to keep them both out of trouble. The result can be a dangerous vacuum of authority, with each party expecting the other to take the initiative in responding to the unexpected. In a truly urgent situation, this ambiguity can be disastrous.

A similar, if more obvious, dynamic applies when an experienced airman not trained as an instructor serves as a novice’s “safety pilot”—not in the 14 CFR 91.109 sense of training in simulated instrument conditions, but to guard against errors in procedure or judgment while flying VFR. Whether prompted by insurance requirements or general caution, the practice rests on the assumption that the high-timer will pay close attention and be quick to intervene when needed … neither of which is necessarily second nature to someone whose extensive pilot-in-command time doesn’t include teaching.

Add in the potential fatigue from a long cross-country flight—say, to deliver a newly purchased aircraft—and perhaps creeping complacency after uneventful hours in the air, and the veteran’s presence may provide less of a safeguard than either party believes.

The Flight

On Sep. 25, 2018, an Airbus Helicopters AS350 B3e departed from the company’s factory in Grand Prairie, Texas. On board were four people: the 42-year-old private pilot and owner of the aircraft who’d just taken delivery of the helicopter; his two sons, ages 11 and 14; and the 53-year-old safety pilot, who was director of operations and chief pilot of two commercial operators that flew the B2 model of the AS350. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) attributed his presence to “insurance coverage purposes,” though he’d also become friends with the owner over the summer.

Three days, 20 flight hours, and more than 30 assorted “sightseeing, fuel, and rest” stops later, they landed at Juneau International Airport (PAJN) in Alaska. After refueling, they took off again shortly before 10 am on Sep. 28, bound for their next fuel stop in Yakutat on the Gulf of Alaska.

The owner was the pilot flying, as he apparently had been throughout the trip. His plan was to leave the safety pilot in Wasilla before flying the last 60 miles home to Anchorage.

After clearing the mountains west of Juneau, the helicopter descended to 500 to 700 feet, heading northwest along the coastline. As it crossed Glacier Bay National Park about 60 miles northwest of Gustavus, the pilot asked the others whether they’d like to land on a beach to stretch their legs. A minute later, the safety pilot pointed out a long stretch of beach to their right, and the pilot began a right turn. The safety pilot’s hands were off the controls, and his feet were on the floor.

The pilot then twisted the throttle from the Flight to the Idle position and lowered collective slightly. Rotor rpm decayed into the gauge’s yellow cautionary range within 5 seconds.

Seven seconds after reducing power, the pilot reached for the center console to mute the low-rpm warning horn. Rotor rpm continued decreasing to its recorded low of 254 rpm, and 18 seconds after the initial power reduction the helicopter crashed into Lituya Bay.

All four occupants were thrown from the wreckage. The elder son regained consciousness in the water and managed to make it to shore. He was eventually rescued by the US Coast Guard and hospitalized in Anchorage. The safety pilot’s body washed ashore about three-quarters of a mile from the accident site. The bodies of the pilot and his younger son weren’t recovered.

The Pilots

The aircraft owner–pilot had more than 1,000 hours of fixed-wing experience. He’d logged 59 hours in the Robinson R44 while earning his helicopter rating. On Jun. 4, 2018, he completed the factory AS350 B3e transition course with 3 hours of dual instruction in the aircraft and 1 hour of simulator time. He got another 1.5 hours of dual at the factory on Aug. 5, giving him a total of 4.5 flight hours in the accident make and model. Over the summer, he flew 18.3 hours in an AS350 B2 operated by the safety pilot’s company.

The safety pilot’s widow told investigators that the owner–pilot’s skills impressed her husband and their company’s check airman: both considered him “a really good stick.” By the day of the accident, the owner–pilot had accumulated an estimated 103.8 hours of helicopter time.

The safety pilot held a commercial certificate with single-engine land, multiengine land, single-engine sea, and helicopter ratings, but he wasn’t a flight instructor. Of his estimated 15,350 flight hours, 4,350 had been flown in the AS350 series. His company flew no B3 models, however, and during an interview with investigators, the surviving son said his father seemed much more familiar with the details of this model than did the safety pilot.

The Aircraft

The 2018 model helicopter had flown just 13.7 hours when delivered and about 40 hours by the time it crashed. It was equipped with a Genesys Aerosystems HeliSAS autopilot and stability augmentation system and an Appareo Vision 1000 cockpit image recorder that captured four frames per second. The FADEC (full authority digital engine control) system and the associated event data recorder (EDR) of the 952–shaft horsepower Safran Arriel 2D turboshaft engine recorded engine parameters and failure flags at 1-second intervals.

Normal procedure in the AS350 B3e is to twist the throttle from Idle to Flight during run-up and leave it there until completing the postflight engine and rotor shutdown checklists. Moving to Idle in flight would be done in a practice autorotation, but the NTSB noted that the beach wasn’t an ideal landing zone for a full-down auto, and the survivor told investigators they hadn’t done any autorotations on the way up from Texas.

The Analysis

By the time the investigators arrived, the wreckage of the fuselage had washed onto the beach and been partially covered by sand. More than 25 gallons of fuel were recovered on-site. Examination of the wreckage ruled out fuel contamination and showed no evidence of pre-impact failure of the engine, transmission, main rotor, or collective and cyclic controls. The tail boom and tail rotor were never recovered.

In the last 16 seconds captured by the FADEC and EDR recordings, the twist grip went from Flight to Idle to Flight to Idle and back to Flight. All recorded parameters responded appropriately to those inputs.

The Appareo recording captured not only images but also GPS coordinates and pitch, roll, yaw, and acceleration data. The last data stream showed that the helicopter was level at 618 feet and 116 knots, pitched 6 degrees nose down, before the pilot rolled the throttle to Idle. The instruments showed 395 rpm at 8.5 first-limit indicator (FLI).

Within 5 seconds, the FLI needle dropped to 1.75 and rotor speed decayed to 328 rpm; the only control input was slight left pedal by the pilot. The helicopter gained 12 feet of altitude while losing 4 knots of ground speed. The panel’s Horn light illuminated 1.75 seconds later when the pilot muted the low-rpm warning. Rotor rpm was down to 290 at 1.25 FLI. The helicopter hadn’t yet begun to descend but continued to slow, pitched 3 degrees nose up.

Four seconds later, “loose objects in the cabin showed an indication of a negative g-force.” The twist grip was still at Idle, and rotor speed was 259 rpm. Slight forward-left cyclic inputs were recorded, but it was unclear who made them; both pilots had their hands on their grips. Impact occurred 6 seconds later. The helicopter fell 600 feet in the last 10 seconds.

The Takeaway

The details of the accident sequence defy ready explanation. Why did the pilot twist the throttle to Idle at 600 feet—after making 30-plus normal landings in the preceding three days? Why did his safety pilot fail to correct that move immediately, or at least after the panel’s twist-grip annunciator lit up? And why did the pilot mute the low-rpm warning horn rather than lower collective?

With the bulk of the pilot’s helicopter experience in the R44, whose low-inertia rotor system’s susceptibility to blade stall made it the subject of a Special Federal Aviation Regulation mandating specialized training, the horn might have been expected to trigger him to instantly lower collective.

The survivor told investigators that both his father and the safety pilot froze on the controls—and that he knew something was wrong right away because the phone on his knee “flew up and stuck to the ceiling.” 

Shortly after the accident, he told a state trooper that his father looked “like a two-year-old … sort of in shock.” He recalled both pilots “snap[ping] out of their trance” just a second and a half before the helicopter hit the water, with his father yelling, “No!”

Not at all unclear is that a high-timer’s scrutiny of a new pilot doesn’t necessarily provide the safety margin both expect—particularly if that high-timer hasn’t cultivated a flight instructor’s reflexive paranoia. 

Read More: Arizona in Flames
November 16, 2020

Arizona suffered multiple wildfires during the spring and summer of 2020, with one ranking as the fifth-largest ever in the state. As ideal weapons against these blazes, helicopters were deployed early and often, but the fires just kept coming.

Arizona often sounds the starting gun for western North America’s wildfire season due to its climate (hot and dry) and widespread vegetation that dies or goes dormant (which, either way, dries out), starting in the spring. Those conditions and fuels then meet either lightning or, four times out of five, human sources of ignition such as untended campfires, tow chains dragging and sparking on the road, flicked cigarettes, fireworks, or any number of easily preventable causes. Then it’s conflagration time.

Once lit, Arizona’s varied terrain can accelerate a fire’s spread and hamper its control. Rugged canyons spread fires both upslope, as you would expect, but winds can become twisted in those canyons, driving the fire also down or across to the opposing face. That terrain also hampers access by ground crews and aircrews alike. Even relatively flat expanses of grasses pose challenges, as winds both drive the fire directly and carry embers far beyond the involved area, igniting noncontiguous lands.

What’s needed are tools to quickly bring the fight to the fires. 

Read More: Ensure Fuel Purity with Soak Testing
November 16, 2020

The performance and safety of your aircraft depend on this procedure.

At my firm, Aviation Marketing Services, we’re often asked about soak testing, which is used to verify the purity of aviation fuel.

If you’re responsible for—or depend on—fuel in your work, you likely know how important it is to perform a soak test after completing new construction or major repairs to tanks or piping. This applies to both fuel storage systems and servicing vehicles. Afterward, a laboratory evaluation of the fuel samples used in the soak test can detect any potential contaminants—from solvents used in coatings and linings, welding flux, preservative oils (corrosion inhibitors), valve grease, and other debris—that could compromise the performance and safety of the fuel.

Because soak testing is such an important step in purchasing fuel, any acquisition or modification contracts for new fuel systems or servicing vehicles should include a clause that requires the manufacturer or contractor to provide evidence that a proper soak test has been performed. The clause should also require that the test results verify the fuel meets the appropriate ASTM International specifications.

Let’s review how to conduct a soak test and the various lab tests involved.

Fuel Systems, Storage Tanks, and Related Equipment

A soak test consists of filling a fuel system (stainless steel, aluminum, epoxy lined, or rubber bladder) with an adequate volume of the appropriate-grade fuel and, after following the recommended recirculation procedures, allowing it to soak for a period of time recommended by ASTM or the specific fuel supplier. Before putting the fuel in the system, be sure to retain a sample to serve as a control batch should testing reveal ­off-specification product.

By following the stringent requirements of Energy Institute (EI) Standard 1541, Requirements for Internal Protective Coating Systems Used in Aviation Fuel Handling Systems, you’ll dramatically reduce the risk of fuel contamination. Adherence to this industry standard ensures that the proper coating materials were correctly applied and allowed to fully cure as recommended by the manufacturer, and that storage tanks (including piping, pumps, valves, meters, filter vessels, and so on) are filled to the normal level and the fuel recirculated completely at least once and allowed to soak for a minimum of four days and a maximum of seven.

At the end of the designated soak period, obtain a 1 gallon sample from the new or repaired system and send it off for laboratory evaluation. The best location from which to obtain a sample is the low-point drain. Remember to displace an adequate volume in the sampling piping to ensure a truly representative sample of the tank bottom.

Fuel-Servicing Vehicles and Hoses

All fuel-servicing vehicles with tanks and piping made of aluminum or stainless steel should have the appropriate fuel circulated throughout the system. Fueling vehicles (whether new, repaired, or those that have undergone an extended period out of service) should be filled to the normal level and the fuel recirculated completely at least once and allowed to soak for at least an hour. You may obtain 1 gallon representative samples of fuel from any combination of multiple low-point drains and combine them into a single sample.

For proper soak testing, every fueler loading hose and every aircraft fueling hose must meet industry standard EI 1529/IOS (International Organization for Standardization) 1825 for hoses and assemblies. The hose must initially be filled completely with the appropriate fuel and allowed to soak for at least eight hours. The fuel in the hose must then be disposed of properly and the hose refilled.

To verify the absence of any manufacturing residue, you must perform an appearance check of the fuel for discoloration. The fuel should then be recirculated in an amount equaling at least twice the volume of the hose, back into storage, upstream of filtration. Follow up with a hose-end nozzle strainer inspection to confirm the absence of any particulate contamination.

Lab Testing of Avgas and Jet Fuels

In the case of avgas 100LL (aviation gasoline 100 low lead), the critical aspects of contamination are interfacial tension (how well water separates out from the fuel) and gum contamination, which leads to engine anomalies. The tests that should be performed on avgas 100LL are:

  • ASTM D4176, appearance
  • ASTM D381, gum content
  • ASTM D1094, water reaction
  • ASTM D2887, simulated distillation (this test is more sensitive to residue and chemical contamination than the standard test for distillation, ASTM D86).
    The tests for aviation turbine fuels (also known as jet fuels) are the same as those for avgas 100LL, with the addition of the following:
  • ASTM D156, Saybolt color test
  • ASTM D3948, MSEP (microseparometer analysis, for water separation)
  • ASTM D2624, electrical conductivity
  • ASTM D3241, jet fuel thermal oxidation test (JFTOT)
  • ASTM D56, flash point.

The JFTOT is notable because it reveals any change in volatility along with oxidation characteristics and evaluates insoluble and soluble materials that form deposits in the engine.

Correct Sampling

Fuel sample preparation, handling, and ­follow-through are all key to successfully testing aviation fuel. If a jet fuel sample is drawn through sample points that incorporate metals such as cadmium, brass, or copper, the JFTOT results may fail. Similarly, using galvanized piping (zinc) in avgas 100LL could alter the lab results.

Finally, make sure the sampling point is clean and flushed before taking a sample. Accumulated solid particulate matter or any free water should be removed, and final fuel samples should be clear and bright. Use a 1 gallon, approved epoxy-lined sampling container, and flush and triple-rinse it with the fuel to be sampled and tested. 

Read More: Recent Accidents & Incidents
November 15, 2020

The rotorcraft accidents and incidents listed below occurred from Jul. 1 to Sep. 30, 2020. The accident details shown are ­preliminary ­information, subject to change, and may contain ­errors. All ­information was obtained through the official websites included below, where you can learn more details about each event.

Australia – Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB):

Britain – Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB):

Canada – Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSBC):

New Zealand – Transport Accident Investigation Commission of New Zealand (TAIC):

United States – National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB):

Read More: About This Issue
June 09, 2020

On the cover: Photographer Mark Bennett captured this S-76 C++ flying over the traffic on LA’s Interstate 405. The helicopter, piloted by Steve Gould (left) and copiloted by Adam Ferris, is part of Helinet’s aircraft management program, which currently oversees four aircraft.

Read More: Helinet Flies Ahead
June 08, 2020

Like many of her colleagues in aviation, Kathryn Purwin has gotten The Call—the one that delivers dreaded news about a loved one or coworker, the one that transforms your life into Before and After. Some time around Sep. 11, 2015, Kathryn learned that her husband, Alan Purwin, had been killed when the airplane he was on crashed in Colombia.

Best known for his film production work as a helicopter stunt pilot and aerial coordinator, Alan was the chairman of Helinet Aviation Services, a multimission helicopter operator based in Los Angeles. Since 1984, he had flown for nearly 150 movies and television productions, including the box-­office blockbusters Air Force One, Armageddon, The Fast and the Furious, Jurassic Park, and Transformers. Considered an innovative film production pilot, he was responsible for iconic stunts such as the helicopter chase scene in the 2003 movie The Italian Job.


Alan founded Helinet, originally called West Coast Helicopters, in 1987 at Van Nuys Airport (KVNY) in Los Angeles. Starting with a Bell 206 LongRanger, Alan and a partner, Michael Tamburro, provided flight services for several Los Angeles–based business professionals and athletes. In 1988, West Coast began transporting organs for LA-based transplant centers. Two years later, it secured its first newsgathering contract.

Charter, organ transport, electronic newsgathering—the fledgling helicopter company was acquiring a diverse list of missions. “I’ve watched this company grow from the very beginning,” says Kathryn. “I remember when Alan had one helicopter, one desk, and one phone line.”

Kathryn first met Alan at—where else?—an airport. She had attended the University of California, Los Angeles, with a double major in history and political science, intending to become a lawyer. But that plan was sidetracked when a friend took her flying. She was hooked.

Instead of a lawyer, Kathryn became a commercial pilot, flying business jets (she holds commercial multiengine and instrument fixed-wing ratings and also holds a helicopter license). When Alan started West Coast Helicopters, the two were already friends; they married in 1994. 

In 1998, Alan merged West Coast Helicopters with Helinet Aviation Services. His reputation as an aerial coordinator and stunt and production pilot for film and TV productions was growing, and the company was expanding into new missions, including helicopter air ambulance work and aircraft management.

With the birth of their children, Michaela and Kyle, Kathryn became less directly involved in the company. After Alan’s death, she didn’t initially plan to be an active owner of Helinet. There were all the other details that needed attention, and of course, her children. Besides, Alan had hired a management team three months before the accident.

Kathryn initially left it to that team to run the business. But without Alan to provide continuity, the company he had created was losing focus. He was a visionary, charismatic leader who could run a complex business out of his head. Replacing him as CEO seemed like an impossible task. 

“After he was gone, it wasn’t my original intent to come in,” says Kathryn. “But I saw that I needed to do that for Alan’s legacy to continue. He worked so hard for it. It was my commitment to Alan that I was going to keep this place alive. That’s why I came in, and that’s why I’m still here.”

Read More: UAS Market Ready for a Breakout
June 08, 2020

The market for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS, or drones) grows bigger every year, as more companies, industries, and governments find ways to use these aircraft. Because drones can easily carry lightweight cameras and other sensing equipment, they’re already utilized for inspection, surveillance, or data-gathering missions. But plans are under way to carry cargo and people, too.

“It depends on what study you read, but the commercial drone industry and light military [drone] market in 2018—in the US alone—was $2.6 billion. And by 2025 it will grow to $16.2 billion,” says Cameron Chell, co-founder and CEO of Canadian firm Draganfly, the world’s first commercial drone manufacturer.
Some studies suggest a much higher number. But whatever the real figure, there’s no denying the UAS industry’s current growth and prospects for more of it, regardless of where the hype surrounding the technology stands.

“I wouldn’t say all the hype is gone, but it is much reduced,” says Kay Wackwitz, a consulting aeronautical engineer and CEO of research and consulting firm Drone Industry Insights, based in Hamburg, Germany.

Most of the excitement generated in recent years has been aimed at attracting investment dollars to the small army of drone start-ups—and to the big ride-sharing companies like Uber that are itching to begin operating “flying taxis.” But a number of start-ups have scaled back their dreams, and some have even shut down after having learned how hard the technical challenges are, how long the road is to full certification, and how much of an investment would be required to produce a certificated and affordable finished product.

Read More: HAI Scholarship Recipient Sarah-Grace Blanton
June 08, 2020

Funds give Marine Corps veteran a sense of security and hope.

With her aeronautical engineer father as a role model, Sarah-Grace Blanton knew since childhood that she wanted to work in aviation. But it wasn’t until she joined the US Marine Corps that the 2020 winner of HAI’s Commercial Helicopter Pilot Rating Scholarship was certain she wanted to be a pilot. While deployed overseas, the Kansas native met several pilots, an experience that ultimately led her to pick helicopters as her aircraft of choice. 

After leaving the military, however, Sarah-Grace encountered several roadblocks when she tried to use the GI Bill to obtain her pilot’s license and instrument rating. For one, she had to pay out of pocket for her license before receiving any GI benefits. Then, when she tried to use the funding for her instrument rating, she didn’t receive her first payment for more than eight months. She found help only after writing to Congress to request assistance but even then was reimbursed for only 60% of her training costs. 

She also had problems using her GI Bill benefits at the school where she originally enrolled in California. After she transferred to Precision Aviation Training in Newberg, Oregon, the process became much easier. 

She says her HAI scholarship was essential to continuing her pilot studies. “If I hadn’t won the scholarship, it would’ve been very hard for me to move to a different state and begin flight training somewhere new,” says Sarah-Grace, who obtained her commercial rating in March.  

The HAI scholarship has given her a sense of security and hope, she says. The funding, she explains, became a “safety blanket” that allowed her to concentrate on obtaining her commercial rating without the stress of accumulating more debt.

Sarah-Grace learned about HAI’s scholarship program from her mentor Dan Megna, a photographer for Vertical magazine whom she met at her former flight school. Megna still mentors Sarah-Grace, helping her network with other professionals and tracking her progress toward achieving her ultimate goal of becoming an air interdiction agent for US Customs and Border Protection. She also aspires to becoming a certificated flight instructor. 

In addition to Megna, Sarah-Grace cites as role models her Precision instructors Henry Sexsmith and Casey Campbell. “They’re always available to help me and give honest feedback,” she says. “They’ve taught me that hard work and not being afraid to ask questions will allow me to grow, as well as how to be a safe and efficient commercial pilot.”

Like so many in the rotorcraft industry, Sarah-Grace has found her training stymied by the COVID-19 pandemic. Although she completed her commercial checkride before a stay-at-home order took effect in Oregon, under the GI Bill she won’t be able to start CFI training and have her tuition paid until the order is lifted. But Sarah-Grace, who’s studying under an aviation science degree program developed by Klamath Community College in Klamath Falls, Oregon, in partnership with Precision Aviation, thinks things will work out.

Sarah-Grace frequently invokes her instructors’ lessons, especially the concept of a mental safety checklist, which she employs before every flight. “Every time I get ready for a flight, I ask myself, ‘Did I get enough sleep? How am I feeling? How’s my preflight?’ When I get in the cockpit, I think, ‘Fly with a purpose,’ because it keeps me focused so there’s no room for error.”

Her advice to other students is never give up. “Don’t be afraid of failure and bad flights,” she says. “Pick yourself back up, brush yourself off, and keep pushing toward your goal.”

She appreciates what the HAI scholarship has afforded her and would eagerly return the favor if she could. “If money weren’t an issue, I’d contribute to scholarships and anything that allows a pilot to build their passion for aviation,” she says. “Just how it was done for me.”

Read More: Learning to Survive a Helicopter Ditching
June 08, 2020

Ditching a helicopter in water isn’t an ideal way to end a flight, but as with everything flight related, training for such an eventuality improves your ability to, if not walk, at least dog-paddle away as safely as possible.

Depending on the environment, flight regime, equipment, skill, and luck, a water landing might mirror a ground landing and result in the aircraft resting comfortably upright on floats in placid water. Then again, elements of the environment, regime, equipage, skill, or luck might fail and you could find yourself in an inverted aircraft sinking in dark, stormy seas. Your fate might then rest entirely in your own hands—a destiny much more in your control if you’ve trained for that possibility beforehand.

I’ve recently flown several missions over the Gulf of Mexico. Even though I was wearing a life jacket and the aircraft had floats, when you fly over miles and miles of water, you do wonder how you would fare in a ditching incident.

With those experiences in mind, I audited “Aviation Survival and Egress Training with Emergency Breathing Devices,” a course teaching the skills needed to survive a helicopter ditching. The class, provided by Survival Systems USA of Groton, Connecticut, as part of HAI’s professional education program at HAI HELI-EXPO 2020, was a packed day that included both classroom lecture and in-pool practice.