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 rotor.org/trailblazers.

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: 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.

Read More: How Far Is Too Far?
February 26, 2019

Preventive maintenance is always better than reactive maintenance.

Earlier this year, I was having maintenance challenges with an aircraft. Sometimes everything was perfect and nothing amiss, but other times, something wasn’t right. The plane would be hard to start but then would run perfectly. Other times, it wouldn’t start at all.

I read maintenance manuals, troubleshooting charts, and online blogs. I spoke to tech support people. I checked p-leads, spark plugs, fuel delivery, and the electrical system. I changed the ignition switch and installed a new carburetor. But I didn’t get to the root of the problem until the last maneuver of a biennial flight review, when the engine quit and the proverbial light came on.

What I had been experiencing all along was an intermittent magneto problem—a dual magneto problem at that!

A dual magneto failure. What are the chances? I hadn’t thought it possible. Our machines are redundant in so many ways. The electrical system is designed to make a dual mag failure very unlikely.

Here are some clues as to how this happened: Both magnetos were installed new at the same time during an engine overhaul. Both had 950 hours on them. Although both magnetos should have had 500-hour inspections, that never happened. At each annual inspection, the timing was checked, along with all items spelled out in FAR Part 43, Appendix D. Ops normal.

For Part 91 operations, the FAA allows us to continue to fly our aircraft if they pass the Part 43 annual inspection. We do not have to abide by the criteria for manufacturers’ recommended inspection or recommended time before overhaul.

This usually works out because much has been done in the past five decades to improve the equipment we fly. The machining process is better. The lubricants we use are a lot better. Parts are precision machined and last longer than components of yesteryear.

Many owners and pilots continue to fly beyond the recommended time limits. Is that a problem? It could be. You must ask yourself: If I do not use the manufacturer’s limit, then what is the limit? How far beyond the inspection criteria is too far?

When you fly that component to failure, you will know exactly how far is too far. But when you reach that point, where will you be? On the ground at your local airport or helipad? Or in the air, perhaps far from a hospitable forced-landing site?

A few days ago, I was in a different aircraft, out of town on a short flight of about 35 minutes each way. On the way back, I experienced an alternator failure. Not as big of a deal as the dual magneto failure, but still I had to do some higher-level math to determine how soon I needed to get the electric landing gear down with available battery power. I was certainly grateful to have an engine monitor, an electrical system monitor, and a navigation system with time-to-go displayed.

With a little brain power, I calculated I could get back to base with no problem. I chose to slow down and lower the landing gear at 11.7 volts to allow some juice to spare for radios. It worked out nicely. The gear went down, and the radios, autopilot, and transponder continued to work with the battery power I had.

Upon landing, I went through the logbooks. The alternator had been in service for 20 years and one month, or 1,756 hours. Kudos to the company who assembled such a robust alternator, but it should have been replaced or overhauled well before that day.

We have the right and authority to fly our machines beyond manufacturers’ recommended limits if we do not fly for compensation or hire. But we need to be smart about it and not put ourselves in a position where we fly them to failure. If you fly a component beyond the manufacturers’ recommendations, fine. But then whose recommendations will you follow?

Fugere tutum! 

 

Read More: Shop Talk
February 26, 2019

Make a plan to share what you learned at the Rotor Safety Challenge.

Don’t look now, but HAI HELI-EXPO 2019 is here. It’s hard to believe the year has gone by so fast.

As you make your plans for attending the show in Atlanta, think about attending some of the great sessions available in the 2019 Helicopter Foundation International (HFI) Rotor Safety Challenge (RSC), sponsored by MD Helicopters. These 60-plus education sessions cover everything from improving pilot proficiency to developing a safety management system to managing aircraft vibration. And they are free to all HAI HELI-EXPO® attendees and exhibitors.

There are tracks for safety, pilots, operations, maintenance, and career development (you can see the complete schedule at rotor.org/takethechallenge). Which sessions will you attend? Well, what were some of the hot-button topics in your shop or office this past year? Is there an issue that created a lot of discussion? Use the 2019 RSC to get on top of some of these subjects.

The HFI Rotor Safety Challenge is an outstanding opportunity to network with folks who face the same operational issues that you do. Is keeping track of all the inspection and repair paperwork for your operation a pain? Of course it is! So why not attend the session on best practices in in maintenance recordkeeping (Tuesday, March 5, 9:15 a.m.) and learn how others are coping with it. Get a fresh perspective from the RSC presenter or other attendees. Follow up with the presenter to discuss a particular point.

At a RSC session, you may learn new techniques or operational advances for dealing with common issues. But whether you are an owner/operator, manager, line pilot, or maintenance technician, to really make a difference, you need to share what you’ve learned with your colleagues.

Consider organizing a lunch-and-learn at work around your takeaways from the 2019 Rotor Safety Challenge. A lunch-and-learn is an informal learning opportunity organized around lunch time. Some people “brown-bag” it; some offices order pizza for the group. Meanwhile, everybody gets together to learn something new.

Bringing together different groups to discuss current topics in aviation is one of the best features of lunch-and-learns. Breaking down the silos that divide pilots, maintainers, managers, dispatchers, and office staff and learning more about each other’s challenges can go a long way to improving team functioning and operational efficiency.

Some people structure their lunch-and-learns as a lecture. And if you are only concerned with providing everyone with the same information, such as when announcing a policy change, this is a good format.

However, consider using more of an open forum format for your lunch-and-learn. Encourage discussion. Be open to hearing different opinions and interpretations of certain regulations. While compliance with aviation regulations is a must, our work in the cockpit, hangar, and flight line has a way of exposing the gray areas between regulatory certainties. A spirited discussion of these issues is a good sign—it means your folks are thinking about their work and are not complacent.

Listen carefully to what is being said at the lunch-and-learn. The beliefs and attitudes expressed can alert management to confusion about company policies and procedures as they relate to safety, pilot operations, or maintenance. Remember, in a just culture, the focus is on improving safety. Expressing honest opinions or thoughts, even if—especially if—they expose potentially hazardous conditions, is encouraged.

As a service to HAI members, most of the 2019 RSC sessions will be available online beginning in May. Login to rotor.org/academy, and you’ll have access to the slide presentation synced to an audio recording of the presentation. These online learning tools can be used to address a particular issue or as content for your next safety meeting.

The HFI Rotor Safety Challenge can be a resource for ongoing safety education throughout the year—even for those who don’t make it to HAI HELI-EXPO. 

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