Ponch and John Bring You…Collision Avoidance

Just to prove that I’m working for you…the Ask a CFI website (which, like so many other online resources, is mostly for plank drivers) had a collision avoidance video called Missing You in Southern California. You can watch it here if you have 20 minutes to waste and your cinematic tastes tend toward CHiPs and porn, but I thought I’d spare you. The video actually contains some decent advice, but you have to suffer cheesy dialogue and a weak plot line to get those few points across. (When March and Norton AFB were both in operation, there was probably some really relevant info about the airspace, but I think the film is too dated to be much use there either). I won’t bore you with the few things about collision avoidance that have been drilled into your head, but not smacking into somebody else while flying goes beyond scanning in 10-degree segments.

Your eyes respond best to movement. This makes sense given our hunter-gather history: we’re either hunting moving things or moving things are hunting us. For pilots, the kick in the ass is that aircraft on a collision course have no relative movement. This is why you should lovingly clean your windscreen. That speck could be a splatted insect, or it could be another aircraft coming at you at 110 KIAS. It’s only in the seconds before a collision that the speck will become recognizable as an aircraft. The FAA HAD a visual aid for spotting aircraft that makes this real: at a mile (about 10 seconds from impact if you’re moving at 85 KIAS) even an A320 is about the size of a damselfly’s remains.

Ok, this isn't really the FAA's version of the aircraft spotter.
Ok, this isn't really the FAA's version of the aircraft spotter.

We see only 10-25% of the traffic that is out there. Not true when we’re in the traffic pattern–since we know about where to look–but get outside of the airport environment where traffic can be coming from any direction and that number is plausible. I’ve seen another school helicopter blow right by us while they were on with ATC without ever seeing us. Close enough to read the tail number, and ATC was telling them where to look. The take-home from this is to use all your resources for traffic avoidance. This starts during your pre-flight planning. As a student, get your sectional out and study the local area so you can start to know what airports are nearby (ie, where traffic is going to be coming from and going to), what ATC facilities are available to you, and what airspaces you might be traversing. Do this on your own initiative after you’ve learned to hover, because it won’t be too much longer until you are out of the traffic pattern regularly. Once you’re in the air, contact nearby ATC facilities, even if you aren’t required to by the regulations. For some reason, many pilots don’t like using the radio or being on with ATC, but they’re a great resource that you should take advantage of. I have heard ATC come on the CTAF to call out safety alerts–“Aircraft 8 miles east of Boise turn heading 330 immediately!” But don’t count on it, because…

The “workload permitting” caveat for traffic alerts comes into play in busy airspace. I learned to fly helicopters at an uncontrolled airport in what could be generously described as a suburban area. It could get busy, but more often than not, controllers at the nearest tower were only handling a few aircraft at a time (during most night flights, the same controller would be running the approach, tower and ground frequencies). In contrast, I flew fixed wing out of KBED in the Boston area, which has Logan’s Bravo airspace and a TRSA to help manage traffic. In that environment, there’s a reasonable chance that the controller isn’t going to be able to call traffic for you.

Mid-air collisions happen when maneuvering. In the “Missing You” video, they said that most MACs happen during climbs and descents, or when overtaking other aircraft. The Hudson River and Phoenix news helicopter MACs illustrate that. The first thing I’ll say about this is that I’m damn good about clearing the area when practicing maneuvers–above, below, right, left, and behind. On a cross-country flight though, I’m not sure that I’ve ever looked to see if there wasn’t a Super Cub gaining on me. Just because you’re not maneuvering doesn’t mean somebody else isn’t maneuvering to run into you. Second thing, how many of you have flown an airplane? The visibility is awful. The Katana (a common training plane) has great visibility above and out to the sides, but you have the panel blocking your view down and in front. A Cessna is worse…between the panel, struts, and high wing, it’s like you’re looking through a slit in knight’s helmet. Might as well be flying IFR.

When you talk, your eye automatically brings its focus close-in. And what are we doing when we’re on an instructional flight? Constant conversation. This is something I didn’t know, even though it’s no different than empty-field myopia (which was pounded into my brain during my training). One thing I’d like to do once I start instructing is have a sterile cockpit policy within 5 miles of an airport, during take-off and approach, and while taxiing. This is hard–your instructor becomes your friend, and when he’s not criticizing your performance, idle banter comes pretty naturally. And from a marketing standpoint, it’s easier to sell yourself to a prospective student if you befriend them. I don’t know how to resolve this, but it’s a goal to shoot for.


Go or No-go? Advice from JH HEMS pilots

Since the South Carolina HEMS crash, there’s been a pretty good thread on JH started by asking HEMS pilots how many times they’ve picked up to “take a look.” One pilot points out that minimums are when you stop flying, not when you think about going. The first part of this is developing minimums and sticking to them. There are 2 personal minimums worksheets distributed by the FAA and ASF. Unfortunately, they’re designed for plank drivers, waste a lot of space on developing IFR minimums, and don’t offer much guidance on how one should actually go about deciding what his minimums should be. This would be helpful advice. I’ve never flown at night in anything less than CAVU (clear and visibility unlimited), so what should I set my night minimums to? Not having guidance on how to go from conditions you know you can fly in to conditions you haven’t flown in before is how I think most new pilots get into the look-and-see trap.

Another pilot suggests that if it takes more than 5 minutes to make a go/no-go decision, then the decision is not to go. There have been several times that I’ve agonized over whether or not to do a flight, when the answer should have been simple. On my commercial dual cross-country, there was an Airmet Tango overlying my destination. This was a small mountain airport that I’d never been to before (and the instructor, somebody I had never flown with before, had only been there a few times). Should have been an easy decision, but what made it difficult to call was 1) an airport in the same valley was reporting calm winds and seemingly great conditions and 2) another student who was making the same flight as her solo commercial cross-country, was headed out to pre-flight. The second factor was the pressure of the 12-month interview, knowing that the owner wouldn’t be too keen on seeing the helicopter I reserved sitting in the hangar when another student had made the flight just fine. (Ultimately the CP stopped that student from making the flight, but that one’s an instructor now.) The first factor I laugh at now–the reason for the Tango was the turbulent shear zone somewhere that I’d have been flying in to get to those calm surface winds. It should have taken me 0.05 seconds to make that decision.

Students and instructors also need to look at all their flights through cockpit resource management lenses. This is difficult since we establish a cordial relationship with our instructor on the demo flight–the student’s excited and the instructor wants to recruit the student. How’s that going to go if the instructors words are “Clear to taxi, sterile cockpit until we exit the pattern.” Just another one of those conflicts between the sale of flight instruction and the delivery of safe instruction. One thing you can introduce at any time during your training (or instructing relationship) is the concept that the entire crew of the aircraft is part of the decision-making process, whether it’s your 2-pilot R22 or you have a pilot and 2 flight nurses on a EC145. You, as a student, have the obligation to speak up if you are not comfortable with any part of a lesson. You, as the instructor, have the obligation to listen to your crew. In situations where a crew member voiced a concern about the flight, often times others had also had the same concern and were relieved to get it out into the open. If the conditions are bad enough, the pilot may be too focused on keeping the aircraft up to divert his attention to another course of action. Also, as the pilot, realize that while your crew might say “Gee, weather ahead looks like it’s only getting worse” they’re thinking “I was pretty fucking scared 10 minutes ago.”

The last really useful bit of advice off that thread was to use ATC. Safe to say that helicopter pilots talk less to ATC–we don’t fly as far, as high, or on IFR plans as often. One of the drills for plank drivers is, when you are in trouble, Aviate-Navigate-Communicate and the 3 (or 4 or 5) C’s: Confess (you screwed up), Climb, Control the aircraft, and Call ATC. I remember a discussion with my instructor where we questioned this…is climbing going to do us any good? Maybe. Sometimes. At least there are fewer things to hit higher up. One of the JH posters related a story about how he once went IIMC (inadvertent instrument meteorological conditions). He successfully transitioned to instruments, climbed, got directions from ATC, and made it back to the airport safely…only to have his CP threaten to fire him if he ever did that again. That’s the same mentality that had me considering a flight into an Airmet Tango, and it’s unnecessary incentive for anybody who doesn’t want to be crash residue.

Here are links to the personal minimums checklists: PAVE checklist and FAA Personal Minimums.

River Flyways

I live one lot off the Columbia River and have a decent view of whatever’s going on from my living room window (right now, the fall salmon are coming through, so there are usually several optimists parked in the channel). Every couple of hours for the last few days a Bell has thundered almost directly overhead, then made a left turn and followed the river out into the Hanford Reach. The Reach is home of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation (and the NSA depicted on the sectional map), and from our house we can see 2 decommissioned plutonium breeder reactors and an active nuclear power plant. It isn’t as awful as it sounds–boating up on the Reach is pretty secluded, and the tight security has been a boon for wildlife (deer, elk, coyotes, and all kinds of birds).

richland sectional

The River makes a nice flyway, and during summer weekends we’ll often see a Cessna or ultralight flying low-level northbound. Since were’re up off the river by 50+ feet, low-level to the river means even with our rooftops most times. This Bell has been following the river too–low level, but much higher than most of the fixed wing traffic. Like most rivers, the Columbia is easy to navigate and relatively free of obstructions; unlike the surrounding terrain, it’s also nice and flat. On this section of the river there are multiple power line crossings within the 50 or so miles between Richland and Priest Rapids Dam. Most of them are massive transmission towers, like two on the southern-most stretch. The first, unlighted set is an unmistakable eyesore–three lines, with orange and white towers on the river bank, at a slightly narrow stretch in the river. The second though isn’t so obvious, even though the towers are painted and lighted, it’s a single span (albeit they are still transmission wires). At that point, the river separates into 2 channels that are 1000 feet wide. If a pilot were navigating right straight up the river, there’s a point where the 3 towers would be in sight but the wires themselves wouldn’t be visible. With such a wide span though, there is a point where the towers will drop out of his field of view and the wires won’t yet be visible. This is the danger zone–a distraction at this point and those towers can drop out of his short term memory. When he looks up again, there’s nothing in his field of view until the wires come into his resolution distance. By then it’s too late to maneuver around them.

The other tricky part about wires crossing a span like this is that they don’t stay put vertically. Not that this is advisable behavior, but these plank-drivers are flying low enough that they could just as easily fly under the wires as over. Wires aren’t constants though, and the altitude that allows you to clear the wires during the early morning outbound flight isn’t going to be the same as the altitude that helps you clear the wires on the afternoon return trip. Since the wires are metal, they expand as they heat up. This can be from ambient temperatures–since this is the desert, we can be near freezing on an autumn morning and up in the 90s during the daytime. Or the load on the wires can generate the heat. Cool weather, low load, and the wires at mid-span will be high relative to where they are when the day heats up and there’s a high load on the system. Both of these problems are compounded when the surrounding terrain (higher elevations, forest) or environment (haze or fog) makes the towers harder to see and the wires invisible. Yes, I have heard a plane fly by low-level on days where I can barely make out the other side of the river because of fog.

The solution is to not fly down with the wires. The higher you fly, the lower your chance of getting clothes-lined. Turns out the Bell that’s working out in the area is going by the callsign Enery 11, so I’m guessing they’re working those powerlines in the Reach. I’d hoped to get up to the airport to see the ship up close and find out what they’re doing, but my friend at Bergstrom Aircraft who usually gets me out on the ramp whenever there’s a helicopter based there is out on vacation this week. Might head up onto the reach tomorrow to see if I can get a glimpse.

Stuck Pedals

Seems like every 8-12 months, somebody posts a question on one or another of the forums asking about stuck pedal procedures. What ensues depends on who’s reading the forums at the time. On a good day there are a couple of high-time pilots hanging around that will take the time tell us initiates how they have actually handled a stuck pedal or tail rotor failure. On a bad day, there’s somebody in there that’s confused about what exactly a stuck pedal is, and the thread becomes a mess of replies. Sorting out the good from the bad is a tedious process, and ultimately doesn’t matter since the thread disappears from the forum after a short time.

I tried taking the best of the advice from the most recent VR stuck pedal thread and developing 3 ground lessons. The first one is for a complete loss of the tail rotor. The procedure is pretty straightforward, and it’s in the R22/R44 POH. Interestingly, in a RHC newsletter a few months ago, they had the story of a pilot who didn’t follow the procedure and still made a successful landing after he lost his tail rotor; that article is attached to the lesson. Anyway, I wanted that lesson up just so there’s no confusion that the other 2 lessons are about a different problem.

A stuck pedal is a situation where the tail rotor is still producing thrust, but you cannot control it. Saying you have a stuck “right” pedal is confusing, since it’s irrelevant which pedal is stuck. What matters is which way the nose ends up yawing.

Last word on this is a photo in the book, Fatal Traps for Helicopter Pilots. The photo was through the chin bubble of an EC-120, and you can see the pilot’s mobile phone wedged nicely up against the control arm for the right pedal. There are a few interesting points about this case…the first being that the pilot and controllers had a considerable discussion about what to do in this situation. That right there may suggest a lack of training, but more importantly it indicates that the pilot kept his cool throughout the emergency. Ultimately, he chose doing a running landing (best choice?) to a concrete runway (instead of a grassy area!), and landed without injury or damage to the aircraft. I like to have a pen handy when I’m pre-flighting so I can record my Hobbs time, weather, last-minute changes to HIGE/HOGE, and clearance instructions. It’s this picture that always flashes through my mind when I’m doing my final cockpit check before jumping in the helicopter.

Here are links to the Stuck Pedal (Left) and Stuck Pedal (Right) ground lessons. I don’t want to be a test pilot, so I’m looking forward to seeing how these evolve from what I’m starting with (which is admittedly incomplete) into tips and tricks from guys who’ve practiced these in factory courses or dealt with them in real life.

This Job is Meaningless

There are a lot of us right now who thought we’d be CFIs by now. I’m not, and I think there are probably 500 or more CFIs who are in the same position. Probably the worst part of our shared situation is that we’re having to take non-flying jobs to keep our cars, pay the rent, and keep up on our loan payments. This feels like a major set back. When I was in school, I had instructors who came from construction–roofing, concrete, and just general construction work–who thought they were finished with that world the day they finished their CFI. All of them had to go back to working those jobs though, at least for a few months.

I was the same way. I’d been telling my employer for 2 years that I would be leaving the day I got a job flying. I took a diminishing role in managing the accounts I worked on, and I trained my replacement. (Fortunately, the first replacement didn’t work out, and I stayed on another year while they hired another editor.) But now it’s been 10 months since I finished my CFI. My replacement with my former employer has settled in and I don’t have any additional work with them. I have another editing job starting any day now, but in a down economy, companies are tight with money, even for work that has to get done. In the interim, I’ve picked up any kind of odd job that I can, and that’s what I was doing yesterday….

Our neighbor runs a small farm that he grows hay on, and this week was his fourth hay cutting. You might think this is as simple as cut the hay, bale the hay, stack the hay, and you’d mostly be right. Baling the hay though is a balancing act. On the one hand, farmers get paid more for green hay with the leaves still attached. Dry, sun-bleached stems don’t fetch much. The balance though is that wet-baled hay composts, generating enough heat that it can ignite adjacent dry bales. This really happens, and just about every year around here, some farmer’s stacked bales burn because of one wet bale, at best robbing him of thousands of dollars of income (and at worst, destroying another crop or equipment). I won’t make an attempt to get into all the variables, but on baling day, the difference between a good bale and a bad bale is mostly determined by the amount of dew present. A little dew keeps the leaves on the stems, but too much can lead to a hotspot. For each day of baling, there’s only a few-hours window where just the right amount of dew is present to make baling productive, and when the right dew set is present, the farmer is rushing to get as much hay baled as possible.


Poking Bales

And that is what I’ve been doing. When the farmer thinks the right amount of moisture is present, he starts baling. If he’s right, he doesn’t want to stop since the dew is either coming down or evaporating off; if he’s wrong, he needs to stop as soon as possible so he doesn’t tie up hay in bales that won’t be worth much. While he’s baling, he has me chasing along behind him, measuring the moisture in each bale. The job description isn’t too glamorous, and on first look it might seem to be absolutely useless from the perspective of eventually landing a flying job. I spent the day racing around on an ATV, poking a bale, and recording the moisture. I could simply list this on my resume as what I did “Bale poker: Measured moisture in hay bales during harvest.” This would be a useless, wasted line on a resume. I could also look more closely at what the job actually entails, and in that examination maybe find skills that would be valuable for another employer. Looking at my bale poking, sometimes you’ll be working with several balers, in the dark, around untipped bales, and assisting with field maintenance and repair on the balers. Keeping from running into somebody else, not getting pinned under a falling bale, or losing a finger in the equipment takes continuous attention to what you’re doing. The moisture probe is expensive, sensitive, and fragile, and is critical to the task at hand. The job is time-sensitive, and one bale poker can barely keep up with one baler. Hiring more cuts into the bottom line by increasing labor expenses and operating costs. Most importantly though, the lowly bale poker has a critical role in determining the profitability of the harvest. In the 5 minutes that I have to assess a bale, I need to make a decision whether the bale is too dry and isn’t going to be decent enough quality. I also need to decide whether the average moisture of the bale is too high. You get about 10 measurements to figure this out, and your typical problem bale will look good except for one or 2 high readings. You’re typical good bale looks about the same as a bale that’s too wet or too dry, and you need to decide whether it’s a trend or due to some local variation in where the hay came from (like a low spot where the dew came in sooner) or because the weather conditions have changed. Did you find a small, wet spot or is this going to be the bale that lights up the stack? While I’m figuring this out, the balers are still going. Even though the farmer is actually the one running the heavy equipment, he’s relying on me to alert him to conditions that could make or break the harvest for him.

How to Advance Your Aviation Career with a Useless Job

Bale poker seems to be about the most unrelated job to flying helicopters, as does construction, web design, and fast-food. With that outlook it’s hard to see how what you’re doing now is going to help you land a job in the cockpit. The trick is to dissect your actual job from its constituent responsibilities. Take one of my instructors who worked as a roofer. On the shallowest level, he installed roofs. But he also was responsible for driving his crew to job sites, transporting materials around the job site with a forklift, and getting up 2-3 stories to do his job. He did it for years without a single job-site accident. Instead of describing himself on his resume as a guy who swings a hammer, he should really have been selling himself as somebody who has the wherewithal to operate safely in a hazardous environment. And that, of course, directly relates to a job flying a helicopter. Having this insight about your useless, non-flying jobs is going to help you out. If you frame your non-aviation experience in terms of skills that will help you be a better pilot, you’re going to set yourself apart from others who can’t see past the fact that they should be flying instead of ____________.

Blowing Corn


I had a crazy summer job in college catching corn boll weevil moths, and when I saw this video, something didn’t look right. Can you spot it? Only about 1 in 4 rows have tassels. I’m going to make a guess here: this must be a seed crop. Corn can self-pollinate when pollen from the tassel reaches the silks from the same plant. But when you want to make hybrid seeds—which will in turn make the corn that ends up on the table—you don’t want self-pollination. In this field, the tassels have been trimmed from the seed-producing plants. Wind can carry the pollen from male plants to the female silks, but wind isn’t always reliable. In addition, hot, dry days can kill off the pollen before it reaches a silk. That’s where the helicopter comes in. The rotorwash blows the pollen from the tassels and spreads it from the pollinator row to the seed rows. Even though it’s expensive to run the helicopter over the field, I imagine using the helicopter reduces the number of pollinator rows that are needed, and thereby increases the seed yield.

From the standpoint of getting this job done, there were a couple of things I was thinking about. The first one was that irrigation pivot. Working this low to the ground means you can’t let your guard down. From what I’ve read about ag work, you do a ground recon of the field and then recon it again from the air to spot all the possible obstructions. The pivots in our area are powered, but I’m not sure whether they use an underground line or draw electricity from another source. He’s also got to be working pretty close to the low-speed/low-altitude region of the dead-man’s curve. The corn fields I worked were maybe 7 feet high, but the irrigated ones around here look to be a couple of feet taller. When you can see the airspeed indicator, it doesn’t look like he’s above ETL while working. There are probably a couple of other hazards here. Lots of corn is grown in hot, humid places, so he’s got at least 2 of the 4 H’s working against him. The low airspeeds also raise the risk of LTE, and since the direction the corn is planted dictates his flight path, I’d be worried about VRS (aka, SWP) as well.

A friend of mine owns the local FBO, and knows my predicament (ie, no experience, no job). He suggested getting on with one of the ag operators, which I wouldn’t be too thrilled about. Not that I don’t think it wouldn’t be fun work, but low level, low time doesn’t seem like a good combination. Yet, I think this is the way some pilots build time, and one of my roommate’s from school is doing it.

Station Fires Weather

I spent a good bit of last week checking on the NOAA GOES visible satellite loops to see if I could spot the Station Fire. I wasn’t able to, but I know it’s possible. The video below is from the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, and it shows the 2007 fires in Baja very nicely. That image is supposed to be from GOES-West, which is the satellite that provides the visible, infrared, and water vapor imagery for the Western half of the US. The resolution looks a little better than what I’m used to seeing from the GOES satellites though, so I’m suspicious. Although it’s very obvious here that we’re looking a smoke and not clouds, the giveaway would be the point source for the smoke. Clouds won’t behave quite like that.

ChopperChick posted some more great photos from the Station Fire, but there were 2 particularly cool ones. On the left is the image from the Terra Satellite’s MODIS. Although the Terra Satellite is pretty awesome in it’s own right, it’s not very helpful from an aviation weather perspective. (It’s a useful tool for studying climactic change, and you can view the fire response imagery here.) Check out the 2 intense white splotches just left of the center of the image. Unlike the smoke trails cast off by most of the fires, there’s something different going on there. If you zoom in, you can see the thick, brown smoke at the base, and the white parts…those would be cumulus clouds. Specifically, pyrocumulus, and that’s what’s shown on the right.

Station Fires MODISpyrocumulusSalmon river fires MODIS

I remember seeing these for the first time on the way out to do a stage check when I was finishing my private pilot ticket. This was right about the same time that the Salmon River fires were burning in the central mountains of Idaho (another MODIS image, below). Clear skies everywhere, except that over the mountains to the north, there were 2 massive cumulus clouds piling up. We even saw some lightning up in the tops of one of the clouds.

Like all cumulus clouds, pyrocumulus form because a moist air mass is lifted aloft and cools. In this case, the fire provides the lifting mechanism and the moisture comes (at least in part) from the burning vegetable matter. The weather around pyrocumulus clouds is also what you’d expect from cumulonimbus or towering cumulus: turbulence, updrafts, downdrafts, and IMC and icing in the cloud.

It May Take a Villiage

In their summer edition of Rotor Magazine, their Director of Safety suggested that every commercial pilot should have to have a CFI, and that they should be required to keep it current by training at least a 1 student per year. His rationale was that the industry accepts letting the newest of the new train students because “we have always done it this way.” I agree with the author’s view that most instructors lack the valuable element of experience, that instruction isn’t considered a real job, and that training from an experienced pilot could make a tremendous difference for a low-timer. But does anybody else see the flaw in this? Is flight training really done by 200-hour pilots only because it’s the way things have always been done?

Emergency Procedures: Bloody Mess or Packed to Go?

It’s been about 8 years since I took my last Emergency Medical Technician/Wilderness First Aid class, but I bet I could still do a rapid trauma survey (and probably long board a patient) from memory. For those of you who don’t know, the goal of the RTS is to quickly assess a badly injured patient–think unconscious after a car wreck–so you can fix any problem that is going to kill him or get worse if you move him around. The benchmark is to have the patient in the ambulance within 10 minutes of arriving on-scene, and you can’t make that happen if you stop after every step to think about what is next. When I was getting ready to sit for my EMT certification exam, I’d take anybody who’d lay still for a few minutes and practice on them. If I couldn’t find a volunteer, I’d work the dog or the coffee table from head to toe. And I’d go to sleep visualizing each step. It got to the point where doing the RTS was the most natural thing for me, and scenarios that would throw other students off (like doing it in a dark, confined space) didn’t phase me a bit.

The emergency procedures in section 3 of the POH are the same way. Each of them requires prompt action, and an inopportune brain fart can make a bad situation worse. We should all be able to smoothly move through each procedure, even if the cockpit is filled with smoke or there are horns and lights going off around us. So when I was putting my lesson plans together, I thought pretty hard about what would be the best path to making these second nature.

I knew how not to do it. My introduction was while I was flying patterns to practice straight-in autos. On downwind to base, my instructor asked what I’d do if the alternator light came on. I blurted out “Auto?” Up to that point in my training, I’d only indirectly considered the possibility that the helicopter might not always fly perfectly in the course of practicing autos. At that moment, an auto was the only EP on my mind. The response from my instructor drove the point home: “You’d do an auto over a stupid alternator light?” I went home, focused on the EPs for a few hours, and nailed them by the time my EPs ground lesson came around.

From that experience, I learned that the first step in learning those 10 pages in the POH is for the student to know when to expect to start having to recall them. If you’re like me, your helicopter honeymoon is going to last right up until a few weeks before your check ride. There’s so much to learn during your private pilot training, and everything needs its place. And the right place for EPs is pretty early in your training. I know a new instructor who was doing practice autos with a student pilot, rolled off the throttle, and killed the engine. Between the 2 of them, they performed an air restart and were able to land with power. If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen whether you’re ready for it or not. That’s why I placed the Emergency Procedures lesson at the beginning of the Pre-Solo section of the PPLH Syllabus. But before a student starts doing the EPs in flight, I think there’s a lot more preparation that’s needed.

This goes back to primacy: learn it the right way the first time, because that first time holds a special place in our brains. Why make the first impression at 500 AGL, when the 20-or-so hour pilot is just getting confident and comfortable in controlling the aircraft during normal flight? I think the first step is making sure the knowledge is there, and that takes a solid ground lesson where the instructor can quiz the student. You also have the luxury of being able to discuss the reasons why the EP is the way it is, and the instructor can correct any mistakes right away. With the Rote and Understanding parts out of the way, you can move on to Application in the cockpit. Why do that at $2++/hr though? Make time to get in a helicopter that isn’t flying–either with or without an instructor–and practice. What would this emergency look like? Where should my hands go? What happens when I lean over to fumble for that circuit breaker? What’s the easiest way to get my vent open without going aerobatic? Yes, you will look retarded doing this alone…best to have an instructor with you so you can share the shame.

Now, the other thing I didn’t fully appreciate was the degree to which an instructor can and should simulate EPs. At the Robinson Safety Course, one of the instructors goes into what he does. He doesn’t go into the specifics to the point where, after listening to him, I’d feel good about taking a student out and trying it. For example, in the EP for an electrical fire, you kill the battery and the alternator. The tachs still function, but the governor and Low Rotor RPM system don’t. According to this guy, the loss of those systems is under-appreciated by most of his students, and he ends up having to point out the degrading RPMs to them. I would have been one of them–during my training, I would simulate flipping the switches, but never actually did it. Sitting here at home, I know what happens and why, but I would have puzzled over those sinking RPMs if it’d happened to me for real.

Onto a related topic. I’ve gotten a good bit of positive feedback on this site so far–all through email and PMs, but nobody’s fully taken advantage of the interactive nature of this site. That’s why I have added and opened up the Emergency Procedures lesson plan for editing. This is a weak one for me, and I think the lesson that I have up is sorely inadequate. So, how did you learn EPs? What precautions do you have in place? How do you simulate EPs?

p.s. After looking at the Emergency Procedures lesson plan, take a look back at this post on VR about fire extinguishers and electrical fires.