Fall Issue

The Magazine of Helicopter Association International

Fall Rotor Magazine
sunyi12345 2018 Fall

About the Cover: Writer/photographer Mark Bennett set out to find some helicopters fighting fires and found the Erickson S-64F Aircrane “Elvis” filling its tank from a pond before using that payload against the Pole Creek Fire, southeast of Salt Lake City, Utah. See what else Mark found in his photo essay, “On the Trail of the Dragon Slayers.” 

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Lost in Transition
David Jack Kenny 2018 Fall

Shortcuts in transition training can turn even routine operations into adventures—or tragedies.

“If it’s got wings, I can fly it.”

The phrasing suggests that this attitude is chiefly a fixed-wing problem, but it has parallels in the rotorcraft world. True, airplanes—with their combination of dynamic stability in flight and vastly reduced range of potential landing sites—probably do more to encourage this kind of thinking.

Helicopter pilots may be more apt to recognize the different skills required to go from hovering an R22 to making pinnacle landings in a Chinook (or vice versa), but they can still underestimate the extent of training needed to move between craft of more similar size and power. Thorough transition training imparts the mastery needed to deal promptly and effectively with the unexpected.

While it may be an extreme example, the fatal crash of an Airbus AS350 B3E during an attempted dolly landing in calm weather in Carlsbad, California, shows just how inadequate transition training can severely limit a pilot’s ability to use the aircraft … and to respond to whatever emergencies might arise.

The Flight

N711BE, a 2014-model AStar with just 33 hours on the airframe, took off from Carlsbad shortly after 2:00 p.m. on November 18, 2015. At the controls was the ship’s new owner, a 65-year-old bank president who’d bought the helicopter the previous month. His 60-year-old passenger was also a helicopter pilot, but he had no AS350 experience and only about 180 hours of rotorcraft time overall.

The AStar returned to the airport a little over two hours later and was cleared to land on Runway 24. The pilot descended to the runway at midfield, turned left at Taxiway A3, and then hover-taxied along Taxiway A. The wheeled dolly from which it had departed was at the west end of the Premier Jet FBO (now Atlantic Aviation) ramp, so the pilot approached it from the east, heading directly toward the sun.

His first landing attempt came up short, with the skids roughly centered on the cart’s back edge. The helicopter teetered back until its tail skid hit the ground, then began to rock back and forth, gaining enough force to kick away the chock securing the dolly’s left front wheel. The platform spun a half turn to the right, with the helicopter following it for the first 90 degrees before spiraling upward into a hover.

The pilot then set it down—prudently, one would think—on the ground, straddling the line between the ramp and the taxiway. When questioned by the tower controller, he replied, “Yeah, they didn’t chock my cart, and I was like a skateboard out here.” The controller turned him over to ground control while the line crew resecured the dolly, this time adding chocks to a third wheel.

After taking off and climbing to about 20 feet, the pilot made three more approaches to the dolly. He broke off the first two about 5 feet up.

A witness on the ramp captured footage of the third try, which ended with the helicopter hovering for about a minute before again touching down short, with the rear half of the skids hanging off. The helicopter rocked back, forward, and then back again, striking the tail skid for a second time before pitching forward, rolling right, and briefly climbing out of sight behind a hangar. FBO security cameras recorded the aircraft spinning 180 degrees left and pitching up 45 degrees.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report, “the tail rotor and vertical stabilizer assembly then struck the ground and separated, and the helicopter hit the ground left side low, bounced, and rotated another 360° before landing hard on its belly. Once on the ground, the main rotor blades continued to spin, while the helicopter started spinning on its belly, as the engine continued to operate.”

Over the next five minutes, the aircraft slid some 530 feet down the ramp, spinning at a rate of about once per second until the tail boom and vertical stabilizer broke off. At that point the helicopter rolled onto its side, shearing off the main rotor blades. The engine kept running until it was smothered by fire crews.

In-cockpit images recorded by the helicopter’s Appareo Vision 1000 flight-data monitor suggest that the pilot lost consciousness at the initial impact. His passenger remained conscious for about two more minutes but could not shut off the engine or even move the collective’s throttle control from its “FLIGHT” detent. Both deaths were attributed to multiple traumatic injuries.

The Pilot

Investigators never located the pilot’s logbooks. His last four medical applications, filed during the preceding five years, all cite identical numbers: 25,000 hours of total flight experience with 200 in the previous six months. His January 2011 medical application claimed 25,400 hours of flight time.

He held a private pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single-engine and multi-engine land, single-engine sea, instrument airplane, and rotorcraft helicopter, with a type rating in the Cessna CE-525S Citation. He had earned his helicopter certification in 2001, taking his checkride in a Bell 206B-3. His application for that rating cited 14,000 hours in airplanes. Before buying the AS350, he had owned a Bell 407 and “several” Citation jets.

Three instructors who’d flown with him were interviewed during the investigation. None had ever seen his logbooks, much less made any entries in them.

The fixed-wing CFI who had given him recurrent Citation training over the past six years described him as “a high time pilot with lots of turbine jet experience” who had “owned several Citation jets and helicopters in his life and operated them for many years single pilot.”

However, the accident pilot was concerned that his reaction times had begun slowing with age. Though he had spoken of regaining currency and buying another Citation, his training had been intermittent; he had never completed the full refresher course.

The CFI believed that since his wife’s death a decade before, his client had begun “taking a more cavalier attitude toward flying; he would often let the airplane get ahead of him, [and] would not be concerned.” He characterized the pilot as “a proud and successful person, with strong ego.”

During their conversations, the accident pilot had also described his discomfort with landing the AStar, particularly “on carts,” and said that he was considering selling it. He had “agreed whole-heartedly” with the suggestion that he “just put it on the ramp” if not comfortable with the dolly landings.

The two helicopter CFIs who’d flown the AS350 with him gave similar accounts. (Both were colleagues at the company from which he had bought the ship.) The company’s chief pilot described him as “relatively competent” and “good flying from ‘A to B,’ once airborne,” but he had also insisted that the accident pilot complete the Airbus factory transition course before beginning formal training in the helicopter. He described their nine hours of dual as “familiarization/demo flights.”

His colleague flew with the accident pilot just once, for two hours on November 13. Much of that time was spent simulating dolly landings by using cracks in the pavement and taxi lines to simulate the right front corner of a cart. The accident pilot had heard that engaging the stability augmentation system would enable him to “land it like a pro,” but throughout two attempts the instructor saw him fighting the system’s inputs “with unsatisfactory results.” After that, they had turned the system off.

Both instructors noticed that previous shoulder surgery had left the pilot with limited mobility in his left arm. He was unable to climb up to inspect the rotor head during the preflight inspection and had to use his right arm to lift his left hand to the engine start switches. Both urged him not to fly without an instructor until he had completed systematic transition training and taken enough additional dual to become comfortable with the aircraft.

The chief pilot was “incredibly surprised” to learn of the accident, as he understood that the accident pilot would not fly the helicopter without supervision until he had taken the factory course. It turned out that he had registered for a B3 pilot transition course scheduled to begin November 2 but called to defer on October 31.

The Helicopter

During the flight with the second helicopter CFI, the pilot had mentioned his “5,000 hours” in the Bell 407 and complained that the AS350 “felt backwards.” There was, of course, a reason for this: while nearly identical in engine output, their main rotors turn in opposite directions.

Numerous images—from the Appareo flight recorder, security cameras at Carlsbad, and witnesses on the ramp—show the AStar yawing significantly (up to 150 degrees) just after liftoff, indicating that less than 11 hours in that aircraft hadn’t yet recalibrated the pilot’s deeply ingrained habits of pedal inputs. Further complicating his efforts to land on the dolly was the fact that the tips of the AStar’s skids are too far aft to be seen from the pilot’s seat, necessitating cultivation of other visual references. The 407’s skid tips are in clear view through the chin bubble.

The Takeaway

Reading this—or the NTSB report—it’s hard to understand why that first tailstrike didn’t convince the pilot that it was time to leave the helicopter on the ramp and resume training another day. Having at least come close to damaging a multimillion-dollar machine, why take any more risks?

For that matter, his decision to not only fly a machine he had admitted made him uncomfortable but to attempt the one maneuver he found most difficult is hard to fathom. As often seems to happen with financially gifted professionals flying high-end aircraft, the same traits that bolstered his business success—many of which also distinguish good professional pilots—may have made it hard to acknowledge even temporary limitations.

This pilot had both the background and innate ability to develop the needed proficiency … if he had taken transition training as seriously as his earlier aviation education. “If it’s got rotors, I can fly it” is an even more precarious attitude than the ­version involving wings.

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FAA Reauthorization Bill: What's In and What's Out
Cade Clark 2018 Fall

Reauthorized for the next five years, the FAA can tackle new programs and priorities

Well, it’s done. Congress finally passed the FAA reauthorization bill (H.R.302) and only needed one little extension of a few days to wrap it up. A five-year reauthorization hasn’t happened in 36 years—since 1982. We are on a roll!

Let’s talk about what is in, and just as importantly, what is not in the bill. But first, what exactly is a reauthorization bill, is it different than funding, and why am I making such a big deal about it?

Quite simply, congressional authorization authority is what gives a federal agency the legal authority to exist and operate. The FAA is now authorized to exist and operate for the next five years.

The reauthorization bill does not, however, give it the money to operate. In a separate funding process, Congress will provide the necessary (or what Congress deems to be appropriate) finances for the FAA to perform its authorized duties. Congress is currently working on the funding levels for the FAA; those decisions were punted until after the November elections.

So why is reauthorization a big deal? It’s not like Congress would cancel the FAA. But as we have seen in the past, the FAA hasn’t always had access to a stable operating and funding environment. The last time the agency came up for reauthorization, there were 23 short-term extensions before a four-year authorization bill was passed in 2012. Many believe that the agency was ill served by the short-term operating environment, leading to a lack of progress on several long-term initiatives.

In addition to providing the legal authority for an agency to operate, Congress uses reauthorization bills to set new priorities and initiatives for an agency. Whatever your view is on Congress, I’m sure you can appreciate that there are complex issues raised when you invite 535 legislators to participate in setting aviation policy for our country. All types of new ideas come flooding into the process; some good, some bad. Add in the legislative process, with all its nuances and strange bedfellows, and sometimes you can open a real can of worms. Reauthorization can be a gamble!

Speaking of bad gambles, let’s mention what is NOT in the bill: privatization of the US air traffic control (ATC) system. This tremendous victory is a testament to all HAI members who worked hand in hand with the rest of the general aviation (GA) to oppose this provision. HAI advocated for the industry on Capitol Hill, and our members flooded their elected officials’ in-boxes with their advice on this issue.

It was a hard-fought battle, but we won, and we couldn’t have done it without you, our members. Thank you for your involvement! However, don’t think that proponents of ATC privatization won’t try again. (Are you already dreading the columns that I will be writing five years from now, as we discuss the next reauthorization bill?) My advice is to always watch the can of worms.

This wonderful little FAA bill is 1,200 pages long. You’ll get through a lot of Diet Pepsi and brownies before you get to the last page. Trust me. However, because I did that, you don’t have to. HAI has compiled a summary of provisions important to GA and the helicopter industry. You can find both a copy of the bill and our 14-page summary of it on the advocacy page of our website: rotor.org/initiatives/advocacy. For those of you who want the Reader’s Digest version, read on.

The FAA reauthorization bill contains a number of good, even great, provisions that provide long-term stability to the FAA and advance important priorities for GA. Like many in our industry, HAI has expressed concern over the aviation workforce shortage. We recently conducted a study with the University of North Dakota that conclusively demonstrates that the helicopter industry faces a severe pilot and mechanic shortage. The FAA reauthorization bill provides important solutions to tackle this critical industry issue. Additionally, the bill addresses needed reform to FAA regulations pertaining to training programs at aviation maintenance technician schools.

H.R. 302 also provides needed clarity on the safe integration of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) into the national airspace, allowing that sector to move forward with exciting commercial opportunities. HAI views safety as priority No. 1, and we have long advocated for the safe integration of UAS. Our perspective is unique, as our members are the ones operating in the same airspace as UAS for most of our flight profiles—and in some cases, our members are also the ones who are flying the UAS. The FAA’s ability to fully regulate all aircraft, including UAS, in the National Airspace System is paramount for safety, and H.R. 302 confirms that authority to the FAA, including standards for remotely identifying UAS.

The bill also addresses an important helicopter safety issue with crash-resistant fuel systems by adopting the recommendations of the Rotorcraft Occupant Protection Working Group. HAI worked closely with Congress to ensure that the recommendations of the Working Group were fully captured and incorporated in the legislative text.

H.R. 302 contains a host of regulatory opportunities for the industry. The bill directs the FAA to conduct numerous studies and collaborative outreach for new initiatives. The FAA has literally been directed by Congress to reach out to aviation stakeholders—us—for input. HAI will be deeply involved in this process, but don’t forgo the opportunity that may exist for your company by participating in such research and outreach.

The FAA reauthorization bill was a lot of work for everyone. I realize that reading, or even just skimming, 1,200 pages of legislative prose may not be your definition of fun. But this can of worms brings new ideas, initiatives, solutions, and opportunities to the industry. Making sure those opportunities exist is exactly why you have a trade association representing your interests.

Thank you again for your involvement in our advocacy efforts to ensure this reauthorization bill advances the helicopter industry. Congress incorporated your voice and positions in H.R. 302. Keep up the active participation, as the industry and the FAA move to tackle our next challenges.

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HFI Expands Scholarship Program
ROTOR Staff 2018 Fall

Helicopter Foundation International (HFI) has expanded the number of scholarships offered as part of its 2019 Scholarship Program for student pilots and aviation maintenance technicians (AMTs). New this year are three scholarships to Southern Utah University’s (SUU) Rotor Wing Pilot Program. Each scholarship, valued at up to $20,000, covers specific training labs, tuition, and fees.

Located in Cedar City, Utah, the Rotor Wing Program is part of the school’s aviation degree program. The SUU scholarships include training for:

  • Rotor Wing Cross Country Maneuvers Lab
  • Rotor Wing Commercial Pilot Certification Lab
  • Instrument Commercial Rotor Wing Lab A
  • Instrument Commercial Rotor Wing Lab B
  • Rotor Wing Instrument Certification Lab.

Including the new scholarships, the HFI program now comprises 22 scholarships for pilots and AMTs currently enrolled in training. The deadline to submit a scholar-ship application is November 30, 2018. Interested students should visit rotor.org/scholarships for additional information and application requirements.

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Keeping Perishable Skills Fresh
Terry Palmer 2018 Fall

Proficiency is perishable. It’s up to you to keep it fresh.

Training in this industry is all about becoming proficient and staying proficient.

Becoming proficient with an aircraft for both pilots and mechanics requires an extensive initial training course that covers all the systems, procedures, and checklists. After that, proficiency can be maintained through everyday duties and responsibilities.

What about those skills that we don’t use very often? If you have maintained your IFR currency with the minimum requirements for the year, are you ready for that moment when you realize that you are now in the clouds? If you haven’t worked on a turbine engine for five years, are you ready to do that overhaul?

Our challenge is to sustain perishable skills. These are skills that we tend to forget over time, and they can be physical, like committing to an autorotation, or cognitive, such as knowing when to commit to an autorotation.

When we don’t repeat skills very often, we don’t experience the repetition necessary to build muscle memory or cognitive pathways. This is what happens when you learn how to program your new phone. A few months go by, and then you realize you can’t remember how to use some functions. You forgot these perishable skills because you hadn’t done them in some time.

Perishable skills for pilots include instrument procedures, autorotations, or any abnormal or emergency procedure. For a maintenance technician, a perishable skill is any procedure or troubleshooting task not performed on a regular basis.

The most effective way to stay proficient in these perishable skills is training and repetition. Your skills—even the perishable ones—will stay the longest when you learn them to the point of mastery, rather than competency. And to maintain your perishable skills, you need recurrent training: periodically returning to the subject to study or practice more.

Recurrent training should be viewed by the pilot or mechanic as an opportunity to fine-tune skills that are weak or easily forgotten. This requires some internal honest assessment by them to recognize the areas where their skills need to be reinforced. They should consider the training to be an asset instead of a chore.

In some cases, our regulators require additional training to keep our perishable skills current. Regulatory agencies require landings, night flight, and instrument currency on a scheduled basis to maintain proficiency. Mechanics with inspection authorization must provide proof of recently completed tasks or go through biannual training to maintain that authorization. To maintain their instructor status, flight instructors must also prove they have kept current.

Proficiency can also be supported by reading articles and accident reports that discuss the indications and solutions for various events. The knowledge for these skills can be strengthened by studying manuals, doing computer-based training modules, or “armchair flying.”

The Blue Angels use armchair flying to regularly review their entire flight routine. The team sits in a conference room, talking through every step and maneuver in real time. This is an excellent method for reviewing normal flight procedures.

Recognizing indications of abnormal or emergency situations, however, may require more of a visual approach. The use of simulators and real-life scenarios in pilot recurrent training has proven to be quite effective.

The International Helicopter Safety Team has lots of resources that can help pilots and maintenance technicians with issues that we don’t see in our normal operations. Keep current on these resources and share them with your colleagues.

The Internet community also offers a host of resources that will help you to stay current on best practices, including how-to videos. Try it for yourself. Ask your Internet browser a question on a procedure or potential situation in an aircraft and see what you find. Almost everything has a video or internet reference.

You can find information on start procedures, walk-around inspections, emergency indications, and how to track rotor blades. However, do verify that your Internet source for this information is solid. Check details for accuracy, and make sure the article or video references the manufacturer’s published procedures.

As a helicopter professional, please keep in mind that some of your skills are perishable. You can maintain your proficiency by recognizing this fact and continually addressing the challenge. The key to maintaining proficiency in perishable skills is to take recurrent training seriously.  

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Let’s Be Honest About Safety
John and Martha King 2018 Fall

Helicopters are wonderful. They can rise vertically, transition forward and back, move left and right, and rotate around the vertical axis without changing their location. What enormous flexibility! This fabulous capability makes helicopters powerful tools for doing so many things.

This great agility, along with helicopters’ ability to operate away from airports and their cleared paths for approach and departure, comes with very apparent risks. That’s why discussions about safety are particularly important to the helicopter community. Sadly, much of this discussion hasn’t been as helpful or insightful as it could be—and in some cases, it can actually be counterproductive.

Much of the unhelpful talk has come from well-intentioned folks with lots of responsibility on the subject. After a very public accident, people like the secretary of transportation or the FAA administrator will often reassure the public with soothing comments like “Safety is our No. 1 priority” or “There can be no compromise with safety.”

The assertions are meant to be comforting, and they are. They assure the public of the firm resolve by people in power to do better. The problem is they aren’t—and can’t be—true. You can’t start an engine without compromising safety. If safety were our No. 1 priority, we’d never move an aircraft. It would always be safer to stay put.

Clearly, flying is, in itself, proof that moving the aircraft ranks ahead of safety. The problem is that these little intellectual dishonesties tend to end thoughtful discussion on the subject.

A while back, an FAA administrator declared that there can only be one level of safety. It is a comforting thought that, no matter what aircraft you fly in, you are equally safe. But once again, it can’t be true. A multi-engine helicopter with ultrareliable turbine engines will always be more dependable and capable, or “safer,” than a single-engine piston training helicopter.

When noted Australian thought leader and avid helicopter pilot Dick Smith (with two around-the-world helicopter flights under his belt) was chairman of the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority, he steered people away from disingenuous talk about safety. He shocked them instead by calling for “affordable safety.”

Smith’s point was that when safety becomes too expensive, there can be a net reduction in safety. When excessively expensive safety measures are mandated, say for transportation to offshore oil rigs, the cost of flying goes up. This could drive people to take the less expensive and less safe marine option instead, resulting in a net increase in risk to passengers.

Moreover, safety advice can even generate resistance. It can be preachy, with an off-putting air of smugness and superiority. When commenting on an accident, people commonly suggest that the pilot did not exercise proper judgment or sound aeronautical decision-making. This comes across as vague, demeaning criticism that contributes little positive guidance.

So what is the alternative?

We need to change our safety vocabulary. In nearly every case, it is more insightful and helpful to talk about how we can best manage the risks of helicopter aviation.

The concept of risk management suggests a proactive habit of identifying hazards, assessing their severity and likelihood, and mitigating those that pose real dangers. For helicopters in particular, it is time to adopt clear, straightforward, and honest discussion about managing risks.

A wonderful example is provided by HAI President and CEO Matt Zuccaro. His simple, clear recommendation for lowering the risk of a flight in deteriorating conditions? “Land the damn helicopter!”

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Great Helicopter Rescue from Utah Dept. of Public Safety
ROTOR Staff 2018 Fall
HAI 2.0
ROTOR Staff 2018 Fall

Summer was a busy time at HAI, as the association conducted a wide-ranging software overhaul that touched every department and every member.

Most noticeable to HAI members and visitors is the new website (www.rotor.org), built with the assistance of web developer and new HAI associate member, 10 Pound Gorilla. The new site is supported by an updated architecture that enables a host of new features. The site also sports a much more modern look, with an emphasis on making it easy for visitors to find what they’re seeking.

The backbone of the project is HAI’s new association management software (AMS) that integrates significantly with the website. A big part of any AMS is a database, and HAI’s new AMS, provided by Impexium, allows users to more easily access membership information. With the new system, HAI members and customers can update their information online, renew their membership, and even manage their ROTOR subscriptions.

HAI members can now use their email address and set their own password when accessing the site. “One of the nicest elements of these integrations is the use of single sign-on technology,” says Ed DiCampli, chief operating officer of HAI and the driving force behind the software updates. “A member or visitor has access to most of our new features, and they only need to register and sign on once.”

HAI’s Education Department got in on the action as it opened the new HAI Online Academy. Through the academy, helicopter professionals can register and take online courses in a variety of subjects—anytime, anywhere around the world. The HAI Online Academy offers the courses below, and the list is growing:

  • Safety Manager
  • Maintenance Manager
  • UAS Part 107 Test Prep
  • Garmin 430/530 Master Training
  • Strike, Snarge, and Safety—Your Guide to Wildlife Strike Reporting.

One of the methods HAI uses to communicate with members also got a facelift. HAI’s Business Development unit switched to a new email service provider that distributes ROTOR Daily and other email announcements. This service also integrates with the AMS, providing for better opt-in/opt-out options while continuing to maintain the security of users’ email addresses and other personal information.

In fact, integration of all the systems of the association—from membership renewal, to event registration, to picking out your booth space, and more—was one of the aspects that made the project both challenging and rewarding. But the goal was to ensure that all system users, including HAI staff, members, and customers, could conduct their business with HAI efficiently and effectively.

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