Read More: What's New at HAI HELI-EXPO in Atlanta
February 28, 2019

HAI HELI-EXPO® has become a must-attend event in the helicopter industry. The show annually brings the helicopter industry together for four days of meetings, education, and networking. And of course, there’s always lots of excitement on a show floor packed with more than 700 exhibitors displaying the latest aircraft, engines, avionics, and everything an aviation business needs. 

This year, HAI has added some new content to help keep you updated on the latest trends in the industry. From new Professional Education courses and Rotor Safety Challenge sessions to helicopter trendsetters at HAI Connect and a fresh take on the Salute to Excellence Awards—Atlanta will not disappoint. 

Welcome to Atlanta!

HAI HELI-EXPO visits the Gateway to the South for the first time, and there’s plenty of reason for visitors to get excited. Having just hosted Super Bowl LIII in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the city is big enough for HAI HELI-EXPO, with attractions, museums, and history for everyone. The College Football Hall of Fame, the site of the HAI HELI-EXPO 2019 Welcome Reception, is on the east side of the Georgia World Congress Center complex. A few blocks away are the Coca-Cola museum and the Georgia Aquarium, the largest in the Western Hemisphere. A visit to the Martin Luther King National Historical Park is one option, as is a visit to the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum. Visit for more suggestions or information.

Salute to Excellence Luncheon
Wednesday, March 6, 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm

For more than 50 years, HAI has recognized the outstanding achievements and exceptional merit of individuals and organizations in the international helicopter community. This annual awards event has been moved to the lunch hour, just steps from the show floor so it’s easy to attend this premier event of HAI HELI-EXPO. Tickets can be purchased online when you register for HAI HELI-EXPO or on-site at Attendee Registration.

New Convention Center

HAI HELI-EXPO 2020 will be held in Halls B and C of the Georgia World Congress Center, the fourth-largest convention center in the United States. There will be a connector between the two halls so attendees can travel between the halls in comfort. And the connector isn’t just a way to get from B to C—there will also be food options, seating areas, and music.
Take advantage of the photo booth in Hall B, located between meeting rooms B209 and B210, where you can capture—and easily share—your memories from HAI HELI-EXPO 2019.

Welcome Reception at College Football Hall of Fame
Monday, March 4, 6:30 pm – 9:00 pm

The HAI HELI-EXPO Welcome Reception is always a good time, but this year will be special for all attendees who are fans of college football. Sponsored by Bell, the reception will take place at the College Football Hall of Fame, across the street from the Georgia World Congress Center. Have fun with your colleagues as you debate the greatest college football program of all time. There is also an indoor playing field where you can demonstrate your skills.

New HAI Professional Education Courses

HAI Professional Education courses are scheduled before or after the show. The courses are taught by industry experts and designed specifically for helicopter professionals; tracks include safety, pilot skills, operations, maintenance, inspection authorization renewal, and career development. Professional Education courses require a separate registration, in addition to your HAI HELI-EXPO registration. You can view the complete Professional Education schedule at Read on to learn about our most exciting new courses.

Part 107 UAS Ground School
Sunday, March 3, 8:00 am - 5:00 pm

There’s no denying that unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) have become a growing part of the industry. For the first time, HAI is offering a Part 107 ground school that prepares attendees to take and pass an FAA Part 107 knowledge test, which enables them to operate small UAS. Previous aeronautical knowledge certainly helps, but this course does not require experience.

Underwater Egress Procedures and EBD Familiarization
Monday, March 4, 8:00 am - 5:00 pm

If your aircraft crashed in water, would you know how to escape? This course—held at the Georgia World Congress Center for half the day, and at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis Hotel pool for the other half—provides all personnel working or traveling on or over water with the basic knowledge and skills necessary to egress aircraft in a ditching emergency while deploying an emergency breathing device (EBD). 

But Wait … There’s More

Don’t miss these other great new courses:

  • Aviation Safety Programs and Emergency Preparedness, Saturday, March 2, 8:00 am – 5:00 pm
  • The Emotionally Effective Leader, Saturday, March 2, 8:00 am – 5:00 pm
  • Introduction to Vertical Reference Long-Line and External Cargo Training, Saturday, March 2, 8:00 am – 5:00 pm
  • Helicopter Flight Instructor Refresher Course, Sunday, March 3, 8:00 am – 5:00 pm
  • Introduction to the Dirty Dozen Contributing Factors, Sunday, March 3, 8:00 am – 5:00 pm
  • Integrating UAS into Your Current Operation, Monday, March 4, 1:00 pm – 5:00 pm

New HFI Rotor Safety Challenge Sessions

The HFI Rotor Safety Challenge offers a slate of safety education sessions, free to registered HAI HELI-EXPO attendees and exhibitors. This year’s Challenge is sponsored by MD Helicopters. Many Rotor Safety Challenge events are eligible for FAA WINGS and AMT program credits. Plan your day now with the full schedule at

The 2019 Rotor Safety Challenge features some new sessions, including: 

John and Martha King: Avoiding Unwanted Helicopter Adventures
Tuesday, March 5, 2:30 pm - 4:00 pm

After an aircraft accident and discovering their own sense of vulnerability, John and Martha say they have become “born-again pilots.” The Kings use humor and stories from real-world cross-country experience to vividly illustrate principles of risk management and pass along practical and insightful tools you will use forever.

Other New Safety Sessions

Be sure to attend these other exciting new sessions:

  • Increase Focus to Increase Safety, Tuesday, March 5, 10:30 am – 11:30 am
  • Special Instrument Procedures and Increased Risk Management, Wednesday, March 6, 9:15 am – 10:15 am
  • Safety: Neither a Goal Nor a Priority, Tuesday, March 5, 1:15 pm – 2:15 pm
  • Helicopter Ditching and Egress: Evaluate, Prepare, Perform, Tuesday, March 5, 9:15 am – 10:15 am; Wednesday, March 6, 8:00 am – 9:00 am
  • Safely Managing Helipads, Wednesday, March 6, 8:00 am – 9:00 am

New Events at HAI Connect

HAI Connect (#B5014 ) is a space that hosts special events, meetups, interviews, and networking opportunities on a range of subjects relevant to you. This event space is right on the show floor, so be sure to check the schedule often on the monitors at HAI Connect and in the show app.

Chuck Aaron: Get Inspired – a Career in the Helicopter Industry
Tuesday, March 5, 2:00 pm – 2:30 pm

A living legend in the helicopter industry, Chuck Aaron knows his stuff. Join him in HAI Connect for an overview of careers and opportunities in the helicopter industry. 

Read More: Simulator Training Hits Its Stride
February 28, 2019

For many years, the helicopter industry has seen simulator training as something the big operations do. Yes, the top-of-the-line Level D simulators do provide a great training environment. But it also costs a great deal to rent these devices, if one is even available for your aircraft.

Many in our industry prefer to conduct all training in an aircraft. “I want my training to be as realistic as possible,” said one pilot I spoke with, “and what could be more realistic than training in an actual helicopter?”
Actually, training in a simulated environment offers a host of benefits for pilots and operators, including enhanced realism. And the good news is that you don’t necessarily have to spend a fortune to reap those benefits.

Read More: Sergei Sikorsky: Born to Aviation
February 28, 2019

With a background in aviation going back to his birth, Sergei Sikorsky’s career traces the development of helicopters and the global aviation industry, despite his almost being sidetracked into medicine.

Sergei, now 94, discussed his life and career in an interview with Martin J. Pociask, retired curator of Helicopter Foundation International. You can watch the entire interview online at

Family Footsteps

Sergei is the son of aviation and helicopter pioneer Igor Sikorsky, who designed the first viable helicopter in 1939, the Vought-Sikorsky VS-300. A talented aeronautical engineer, the Russian-born Igor also designed the world’s first successful four-engine airplane in 1913. Before the 1917 Russian Revolution, Igor had a company Sergei says “would today be the equivalent of combining maybe Boeing and Douglas.”

With Europe recovering from four years of war and Russia in turmoil, Igor fled to the United States in 1919, living “in a $12-a-month flophouse in Manhattan” and supporting himself by lecturing on mathematics and physics. But by 1923 he managed to form an aircraft company bearing his name.

Sergei was born in 1925 and, in his words, “fell in love with aviation at a very early age.” He started building model planes around age six, and he recounts an early memory of the rollout of the legendary Pan Am clipper. 

Sergei recalls flying in his father’s lap in the co-pilot seat of a Sikorsky S-38 Amphibian. Visits from some of the greats of early aviation were common in his childhood, including Charles Lindbergh (Sergei recalls playing with his children), Pan Am founder Juan Tripp, Pan Am’s first head of flight operations André Priester, aviation pioneer Roscoe Turner, World War I fighter ace Eddie Rickenbacker, and Jimmy Doolittle, the American aviator who led the development of instrument flight.

Learning the Ropes

In 1909, recognizing the limitations of the technology at the time, Igor abandoned his research on helicopters, concentrating instead on fixed-wing aircraft. Fortunately, he later revisited his research in vertical flight. 
Sergei recalls one afternoon in 1938 “when my father returned home from a critical meeting with the board of directors of United Aircraft and told us that his helicopter project had been approved.”

Visiting the United Aircraft factory in the late 1930s, Sergei became intrigued “by a small little helicopter that was taking shape in the corner of the seaplane hangar.” Sergei worked with Igor, including making small balsa helicopter models and sketches of future helicopters conducting various missions, for his father to show to engineers.

Sergei handled a number of jobs as the pioneering Sikorsky VS-300 came into service around 1940, including greasing the main rotor and tail rotor fittings. Bearings in main rotor hubs would shoot grease out, which did not bode well for the parade of visitors to the factory.

As Sergei remembers, “When we didn’t like somebody, we would always say, ‘You don’t have to go back too far. You could stand up pretty close—very moderate rotor downwash.’ And sometimes that person believed it, stood up fairly close when the helicopters took off, and got himself a grease bath. It was not very polite, but at that time we weren’t very polite.”

The Sikorskys warned those they liked to stand back at least 50 feet, he says.

Sergei stresses that his father was adamant about not being named the inventor of the helicopter.

“Whenever he was told that he was the father of the helicopter, my father would insist, ‘No, the father of the helicopter is Professor Henrich Focke who built the very first practical machine capable of flying 250 miles, capable of climbing to 11,000 and 12,000 feet of altitude and endurances of 2½ and 3½ hours.’” Igor, he says, “would grudgingly admit to the fact that he solved the challenge over the single main lifting rotor and a small anti-torque rotor, which he made with the VS-300.”

Read More: Pilot Finds True Calling in Maintenance
February 28, 2019

Growing up in Westfield Center, Ohio, HFI scholarship winner Derek Galla was fortunate enough to live next door to a pilot for Continental Express. They forged a friendship playing flight simulator games together.

Galla even had the opportunity to tour the training facility where his neighbor worked and to fly a full­motion Embraer ERJ145 flight simulator. This really sparked his interest in aviation and is ultimately what led Galla to pursue his private pilot license.

Once he obtained his pilot rating, Galla realized that although he was passionate about aviation, maintaining aircraft was his true calling: “I enjoy working with my hands and the challenge of troubleshooting.” He looked forward to seeing a helicopter that he worked on all day take off, knowing that his work helped make that happen.

Galla enrolled in the Aviation Mainte­nance Technology program at MIAT College of Technology in Canton, Michigan. To offset the expense of his training, he applied for and won an HFI Maintenance Technician Certificate Scholarship. He completed his training in October 2018.

With demand for aviation maintenance professionals at an all-time high, Galla is glad he pursued his A&P license. “My advice to others is to look into and experience the different career paths (pilot, mechanic, air traffic controller, airport management). See where you will be the happiest. Don’t just go with a high-paying career that you will be miserable in. You want to wake up every day excited to go to work.”  

Galla looks forward to continuing his training and obtaining his inspection authorization (IA) and nondestructive testing (NDT) certifications and training, as well as a bachelor’s degree. His ultimate goal is to attain a leadership role by becoming a director of maintenance. 

Read More: Rex Bishopp
February 26, 2019

Alaska Aviation Pioneer

Alaska helicopter pioneer Rex Bishopp, age 96, passed away at his home in Anchorage, Alaska, on November 1, 2018.

Born in Farson, Wyoming, on June 6, 1922, Rex lived on the family ranch until moving to California for college. He later worked for a cousin, helicopter pioneer Jim Ricklefs, who owned and operated Rick Helicopters of San Francisco. Every summer, Rex and Ricklefs would drive to Alaska with a truck carrying two helicopters for the summer flying season.

Rex moved to Alaska in 1967, when he and his wife, Ruth, purchased Alaska Helicopters from Ricklefs. The two had many exciting adventures as they ran the company as a team. In 1978, they merged Alaska Helicopters with Columbia Helicopters of Portland, Oregon, and sold the company when they retired in 1995.

Throughout his career, Rex actively promoted safety within the aviation industry. He was ­instrumental in creating the Alaska Air Carriers Association and served on its board for more than a decade. Rex received numerous honors for his leadership in aviation safety. He was inducted into the Alaska Aviation Pioneer Hall of Fame in 2013.

Rex was preceded in death by his beloved wife and partner, Ruth, in 1995. He is survived by his children, Laurie, Renee, Lynn, and Clint, as well as grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

In Rex’s memory, the family suggests donations to the Alaska Aviation Museum or the Alaskan Aviation Safety Foundation.

Read More: Loran "Pat" Patterson
February 26, 2019

Past HAI Chairman and 25,000-Hour Pilot

Loran “Pat” Edward Patterson, longtime HAI member and past chairman, died at his home in Lucerne Valley, California, on December 4, 2018.

Pat was born on September 24, 1933, in Rome, Georgia. At age 16, he enlisted in the US Army, where he received many commendations for bravery, leadership, and acts of heroism during the Korean War.

Upon returning to the United States in 1955, he was accepted into the army’s helicopter pilot school. He earned his wings, was nicknamed “Pat the Pilot,” and discovered a passion for flying that launched his future career.

In 1968, Pat became one of the first helicopter pilots hired by the Los Angeles County Fire Department. During his time there, he completed search-and-rescue assignments, emergency response calls, and firefighting flights, among other missions.

Pat’s flying career spanned more than four decades, with more than 25,000 logged flight hours. During that period, he also worked for Vought Helicopters, Air Logistics, and Rocky Mountain Helicopters before starting his own company, Continental Helicopters. He was serving as chairman of the board of Helicopter Association of America when the organization became HAI in 1981.

Pat retired as general manager of Heavy Lift Helicopters in Apple Valley, California, in 2007. He is survived by his son, Scott; daughter, Alita Patterson Irigoyen; son-in-law, Ramon Irigoyen; seven grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

Read More: Recent Accidents & Incidents
February 26, 2019

The rotorcraft accidents and incidents listed below occurred between October 1, 2018, and December 31, 2018. All details were obtained through the official websites listed below, where you can learn more information about each mishap.

October 2018

Robinson R44
Bodaybo, IRK, Russia
10-01-2018 | NTSB ANC19WA001
2 fatalities | Type of flight unknown
Helicopter collided with power transmission line and subsequently impacted water and sank.

AugustaWestland AW139
Brisbane, QLD, Australia
10-03-2018 | ATSB 201806754
No fatalities | Air medical flight
Helicopter struck bird while in cruise flight.

Robinson R22
RAAF Base Tindal, NT, Australia
10-04-2018 | ATSB 201807276
No fatalities | Aerial work
Crew detected rough-running engine during flight. Resulting inspection revealed that the #3 cylinder intake valve was burnt.

Robinson R44
Cairns, QLD, Australia
10-04-2018 | ATSB 201806954
No fatalities | Charter flight
Crew detected technical issue during flight and returned aircraft to originating airport.

Robinson R44
Salinas, CA, USA
10-06-2018 | NTSB WPR19LA002
No injuries | Personal flight
Forced landing into field after loss of engine power post-takeoff.

Enstrom F-28
Bridgeville, DE, USA
10-07-2018 | NTSB ERA19LA005
No injuries | Sightseeing flight
Helicopter impacted terrain after loss of control because of decaying rotor rpm.

Amateur-Built Aircraft
Hidden Valley, NT, Australia
10-13-18 | ATSB 201807272
1 injury | Aerial mustering flight
Tail rotor made contact with tree, resulting in forced landing that substantially damaged the helicopter.

Robinson R44
Derrinallum, VIC, Australia
10-13-18 | ATSB 201807259
1 injury | Agricultural flight
Helicopter struck power lines, and the pilot conducted a forced landing.

Robinson R22
Fulton, MO, USA
10-17-2018 | NTSB CEN19FA009
1 fatality | Training flight
Helicopter was destroyed when it impacted terrain during solo training flight.

Hughes 369D
Wanaka, OTA, New Zealand
10-18-2018 | TAIC AO-2018-009
3 fatalities | Commercial flight
Helicopter doors accidentally opened midflight, and a loose article of clothing was drawn out and became entangled in the tail rotor blades. The helicopter subsequently impacted terrain.

Eurocopter EC120B
Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, QC, Canada
10-19-2018 | TSBC A18Q0186
1 fatality | Personal flight
Helicopter crashed in forest during last quarter of VFR flight.

Robinson R44
Kaneohe, HI, USA
10-22-2018 | NTSB WPR19LA013
3 injuries | Sightseeing flight
Helicopter substantially damaged during hard landing after pilot lost control.

Bell UH-1H
Vermaaklikheid, ZA-WC, South Africa
10-23-2018 | NTSB WPR19WA015
1 fatality | Firefighting flight
Helicopter impacted terrain during firefighting mission.

AugustaWestland AW169
Leicester, LCE, United Kingdom
10-27-2018 | AAIB Special Bulletin S1/2018 on Agusta AW169, G-VSKP
5 fatalities | Air taxi flight
Loss of yaw control on rearward flight path after tail rotor control-system malfunction. Helicopter impacted ground and was engulfed in postimpact fire.

Bell OH-58A
Carson City, NV, USA
10-27-2018 | NTSB GAA19CA039
No fatalities | Type of flight unknown
No summary provided.

Rotorway Exec 162F
Passaic, MO, USA
10-27-2018 | NTSB CEN19LA016
No injuries | Personal flight
Helicopter bounced and turned sideways during emergency landing.

Aerospatiale AS350
Odanah, WI, USA
10-29-2018 | NTSB CEN19FA018
1 fatality | Aerial observation flight
Helicopter impacted trees and terrain before being consumed in postcrash fire.

Aerospatiale AS355 F2
Beekmantown, NY, USA
10-30-2018 | NTSB ERA19FA035
2 injuries, 2 fatalities | External load flight
Helicopter impacted utility pole multiple times in strong wind conditions before rolling upside down into adjacent power lines and catching fire.

November 2018

Bell 47G
Wichita Falls, TX, USA
11-02-2018 | NTSB WPR19LA019
2 injuries | Training flight
After five autorotations in traffic pattern, the helicopter experienced loss of engine power during hydraulics-off autorotation. During attempted emergency landing, the aircraft impacted nearby power lines before colliding with terrain.

Hughes 369
McDougal, AR, USA
11-02-2018 | NTSB CEN19FA020
2 injuries, 1 fatality | External load flight
Helicopter impacted utility pole and collided with terrain during utility line operation.

Robinson R44 Raven II
Buckinghamshire, BKM, United Kingdom
11-02-2018 | AAIB investigation to Robinson R44 Raven II, G-FLYX
2 injuries | Training flight
Helicopter tilted to the right and rolled over during training flight.

Bell 206
Uvalde, TX, USA
11-04-2018 | NTSB CEN19FA024
3 fatalities | Personal flight
The helicopter collided with the side of a 1,450-ft hill during a late-night flight, 5 miles east of departure point.

Bell 412
West Rockhampton, QLD, Australia
11-05-2018 | ATSB 201808484
No injuries | Air medical flight
Helicopter drifting resulted in equipment on the strop colliding with fence.

Eurocopter EC130
Batman Park Heliport, VIC, Australia
11-10-2018 | ATSB 201808058
No injuries | Air charter flight
The helicopter struck a pigeon while landing.

Robinson R44
Lihue, HI, USA
11-10-2018 | NTSB GAA19CA066
Injuries unknown, fatalities unknown | Type of flight unknown
No summary provided.

Guimbal Cabri
Newberg, OR, USA
11-13-18 | NTSB GAA19CA056
No fatalities | Type of flight unknown
No summary provided.

Bell OH-58C
Clanton, AL, USA
11-16-18 | NTSB ERA19FA047
2 fatalities | Positioning flight
Helicopter flying low over a river struck power lines and subsequently collided with water.

Robinson R44
Knox City, TX, USA
11-18-2018 | NTSB GAA19CA063
No fatalities | Type of flight unknown
No summary provided.

No helicopter model provided
Townsville, QLD, Australia
11-20-2018 | ATSB 201808304
No injuries | Military flight
The helicopter struck a flying fox during hover.

No helicopter model provided
Townsville, QLD, Australia
11-20-2018 | ATSB 201808476
No injuries | Military flight
The helicopter struck a bat during hover.

Eurocopter EC120
La Romana, DO-12, Dominican Republic
11-22-2018 | NTSB ERA19WA054
5 fatalities | Commercial flight
No summary provided.

Robinson R22 Beta
North of Ruby Gap Nature Park, NT, Australia
11-24-2018 | ATSB AO-2018-077
1 injury, 1 fatality | Aerial work flight
Helicopter collided with terrain 130 km ENE of Alice Springs Airport. The pilot was fatally injured, the passenger seriously injured, and the helicopter was destroyed.

Bell 407GX
West Bangkala, SN, Indonesia
11-28-2018 | NTSB WPR19WA038
2 injuries | Noncommercial flight
Helicopter sustained substantial damage while executing a precautionary landing.

December 2018

Unknown Sikorsky Model
Broome, WA, Australia
12-06-2018 | ATSB 201808786
No injuries | Charter flight
Evidence of bird-strike detected during post-flight inspection.

Robinson R44
Wollongong, NSW, Australia
12-15-2018 | ATSB 201808974
No injuries | Aerial work flight
Engine lost partial power during initial climb. The helicopter steadily descended and landed at a helipad. Engineering inspection revealed #4 cylinder exhaust push rod was bent, and #1 and #4 exhaust valves were tight. 

Robinson R44
Millaroo, QLD, Australia
12-19-2018 | ATSB 201809026
Unknown injuries | Agricultural flight
During aerial agricultural operations, the helicopter collided with terrain, resulting in substantial damage.

Robinson R22
Delamere Air Range, NT, Australia
12-31-2018 | ATSB 201809132
Unknown injuries | Private flight
Helicopter encountered strong gust of wind and collided with terrain.

Read More: Identifying Risks in Real Time
February 26, 2019

Don't mistake bad vibrations for business as usual.

There are emergencies … and then there are emergencies. The distinction lies in whether the time frame for responding affords the luxury of, say, consulting a checklist.

In helicopters, many incidents fall into the second class: the pilot’s reaction must be both immediate and exactly correct to avoid balling up the machine. Losses of main rotor rpm (especially in low-inertia systems) or tail rotor control can escalate beyond hope of recovery if those relatively brief sequences of memory items aren’t executed in order and without delay.

Ground resonance is another example. If a fully articulated rotor system becomes unbalanced, the resulting vibration can excite a sympathetic vibration in the airframe. If its frequency is close to the airframe’s natural harmonic frequency, the two vibrations amplify one another until the helicopter shakes itself to pieces. In one famous case in Utah’s Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument, the aircraft was essentially destroyed within four seconds of the vibration’s onset. The most common cause is a rough touchdown that knocks one blade out of phase with the others, but significant vibration from any cause can have the same effect.

The required response depends on the helicopter’s energy state. If the rotor is still at flying rpm, an immediate lift-off—adding power as necessary—allows the fuselage’s vibrations to dissipate while any out-of-phase blades realign themselves automatically. At low rpm, lowering collective and reducing power to idle may succeed in saving the aircraft. Between those extremes, catastrophic damage is likely, whatever the pilot does—one reason they’re trained to maintain full rotor speed until the helicopter is fully down, settled, and secure.

The Flight

Shortly before 10:00 a.m. on February 15, 2018, an Airbus AS350 B2 landed on the timber pad of a telecommunications tower at Bear Rock, three miles west-northwest of Tulita in Canada’s Northwest Territories. On board were the pilot and one passenger. Photographs taken shortly after the accident show that the pad was mostly clear, with patches of ice covering perhaps 20 percent of its surface. 

The weather was seasonably cold at -27°C (-17°F). With no preheat available on site, the pilot initiated an engine run about 30 minutes after landing in accordance with the AS350 flight manual supplement, Instructions for Operations in Cold Weather. The pilot later acknowledged having noticed some vibration, which he described as “consistent with those felt over the previous three days, both on the ground and during flight.”

At 11:08 a.m. he began a second engine run. Start-up was normal, and the engine accelerated smoothly to 70 percent Ng (gas generator speed). However, when the pilot increased fuel flow to the flight position, the helicopter began to buck fore and aft on its skids.

The pilot reduced fuel flow in response, only to have the bucking intensify, leading him to suspect ground resonance. He increased fuel flow but did not advance it fully or lock it into its flight gate before raising collective, and neither the engine nor main rotor rpm reached their flight-governing ranges before the helicopter lifted from the pad.

The helicopter yawed and drifted to its left as engine rpm spooled up while the main rotor rpm decayed. Two minutes after engine start, the ship descended into the hillside and tumbled down the slope. The pilot—who was wearing his four-point harness but no helmet—managed to extricate himself from the wreckage after the engine shut down. He walked back to the tower’s service building where his passenger administered first aid. 

After the pilot reported the accident, a company helicopter dispatched from Fort Simpson arrived about 3:00 p.m. Both men were initially flown to Yellowknife. The pilot was subsequently airlifted to Edmonton for treatment of injuries including a badly broken arm. Six months later, he was back at work but had not yet returned to flight duty.

The Pilot

The 5,277-hour commercial pilot had 2,017 hours in AS350s, with 6.5 hours in the previous week and 11.7 in the preceding 90 days. He held a Category 1 medical certificate and had completed recurrent training in the AS350 the month before the accident. His age has not been reported.

The Aircraft

The AS350 B2 has a fully articulated, three-bladed main rotor powered by a single 732-horsepower Turbomeca Arriel 1D1 turboshaft engine. Its Starflex rotor head provides full articulation without hinges or lead-lag dampers; instead, flexible thrust bearings at the inboard ends of the mounting sleeves allow the blades to flex, flap, and move in the lead-lag axis, while elastomeric frequency adapters at the sleeves’ outboard ends provide damping. The accident aircraft was manufactured in 1989 and had served for 46,214 cycles comprising 11,005 hours of flight time.

Its landing gear featured two vibration-absorbing systems: flexible steel strips extending downward from the aft ends of the skids, and hydraulic dampers between the front horizontal crosstubes and the fuselage. After the accident, the operator tested the damper assemblies. The right damper (which had seen 1,395 hours of service compared to the left damper’s 3,001) failed the initial functional test, then passed after overhaul. The history of the accident sequence, however, makes it seem unlikely that inadequate damping was a factor.

Four days before the accident, in order to hangar the aircraft overnight, all three main rotor blades had been removed by a technician with the assistance of the same pilot. After they were reinstalled the following morning, the pilot did a ground run and noticed increased vibration.

Although vibration analysis equipment was available at the site, vibration levels were not measured, nor were blade tracking and balance assessed as required by the aircraft’s maintenance manual. Furthermore, the removal and reinstallation of the main rotor blades weren’t recorded in the journey log, contrary to Canadian Aviation Regulations. Investigators learned that the maintenance shop routinely removed and remounted blades without making the required logbook entries.

The vibrations continued throughout the six hours the pilot flew the helicopter during the intervening three days. “During this time,” according to the Transportation Safety Board of Canada’s (TSB) report, “no action was taken to verify or rectify the vibration and no aircraft journey log entries were made.” With no measurements having been recorded, the preaccident tracking and balance status of the rotor could not be determined.

The Response

Following the accident, the operator’s parent company emailed its pilots and maintenance personnel to remind them of the requirement to document all removals and reinstallations of rotor blades in the journey logs. It also instituted an audit procedure to more systematically track those events. Recurrent training for company pilots also stressed the need to record any sudden changes in vibration levels. While the TSB’s report doesn’t state this explicitly, it’s hoped this training also reinforced the importance of investigating and resolving any sudden increases in vibrations before further intensification.

The Takeaway

Professional pilots—particularly those operating in remote locations and extreme environments—can develop a tolerance for apparently benign aircraft anomalies. But discrepancies as seemingly trivial as a burned-out indicator lamp can become the kind of emergency that requires quick recourse to memory items if the wrong thing happens at the wrong time. It’s up to the certificate holder to establish operating procedures, backstopped by applicable national regulations, that remove those decisions and the accompanying temptations from its pilots’ hands. But written procedures count for little if company culture doesn’t identify and call out violations.

Students and low-time pilots might be taken aback by the notion of flying a helicopter that’s had its main rotor blades remounted without first checking blade track and balance. The rotational momentum of all that mass spinning hundreds of times per minute would seem to raise the prospect that any imbalance would quickly build toward catastrophe. But in the field, the need to shelter aircraft from a bitter climate in limited hangar space made this an unremarkable practice—in part, no doubt, due to the lack of adverse consequences up to that time.

In this case, a highly experienced pilot noticed increased levels of vibration without apparently finding them alarming. Over the course of six hours flight in the harsh conditions of a Northwest Territories winter, they presumably did not worsen enough for his survival instincts to command a return to the maintenance hangar. But while pilot-in-command authority should always admit grounding an aircraft in the interest of safety, it’s the operator’s responsibility to identify risks that can’t be left to pilot discretion.

Read More: Questioning Single-Engine Helicopter Performance
February 26, 2019

Let’s focus on what causes most accidents (hint: it’s not engine failures).

While the US helicopter industry enjoys relatively nonrestrictive single­engine regulations, the rest of the world is experiencing increasingly prescriptive standards and recommended practices issued by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) that are aimed directly at limiting the operation of single-engine helicopters.

ICAO’s reasoning: if an engine failure occurs at any time during the flight, a single-engine aircraft will be forced to land. Governments that participate in ICAO are offered two choices. Either (1) restrict the operation of single-engine aircraft over congested areas (ICAO defines these as any used for residential, commercial, or recreational purposes, which ends up eliminating a lot of land, particularly in densely populated countries) or (2) implement their own performance standards for helicopter operations (which the United States, among others, has done). The result is that single-engine aircraft are being regulated out of the civil fleet in many of the 192 nations that are ICAO members.

In fact, there is no justifiable reason to portray single-­engine helicopters as being inherently more dangerous. Companies that work regularly in mountainous and high-terrain areas often use single-engine helicopters because of their superior performance under those conditions. And just like single-engine helicopters, those with twin engines have only one tail rotor, one main rotor gear box, one tail rotor gearbox, and one tail rotor drive shaft. The failure of any one of these critical components means that aircraft is going down—regardless of the number of engines.

The sad truth is that the majority of helicopter mishaps result from pilots making judgment errors, losing control of the aircraft, and flying perfectly good machines into terrain. According to the US Helicopter Safety Team, the top three types of helicopter mishaps (loss of control, unintended flight in instrument meteorological conditions, and low-altitude operations) accounted for more than 50 percent of the helicopter fatalities (104), more than the remaining 15 types combined (96).

Accident data from other ICAO-participating states support the safety of single-engine helicopters. The Australian Transportation Safety Board classified accidents over a five-year period as either mechanical or operational. Of the 749 accidents recorded during the period, just over a quarter (197) were attributed to mechanical problems. In other words, close to 75 percent of those accidents were not mechanical (that is, pilot error).

Japan, a country with a relatively small land mass and numerous mountains, is an ICAO-participating state that employs over 300 single-engine helicopters. According to Japanese aviation records, there are presently 814 registered helicopters operating in the country, with a ratio of 42.1 percent single-engine and 57.9 percent twin. Over the last 20 years, the numbers of single­engine helicopters have decreased, but the country still has many single-engine helicopters that regularly fly over Japanese airspace.

According to statistics obtained from its Transport Safety Board, Japan has not experienced a single accident or incident caused by an engine failure in the last 10 years. Once again, pilot error is the leading cause of accidents or incidents—in singles and twins. Although mechanical issues did contribute to mishaps, they were caused by detachment of the tail rotor (immune from the number of engines) and a fire in the cargo compartment.

These mishap statistics tell the same story as those from the United States: the clear majority of helicopter accidents are caused by pilot error, not by system malfunction. Wouldn’t our attention, time, and money be better spent on training pilots instead of banning single­-engine helicopters?

Instead of focusing an inordinate amount of time, energy, and resources to paint single-engine helicopters as potential high-risk operations, ICAO and its member states should instead invest in improved pilot training, risk assessment and mitigation, and crew resource ­management.