What I wanted to get across with these 2 lessons isn’t the content of them, but where they fit in a helicopter flight training syllabus. The first lesson is Helicopter Main Rotor Systems (MRS), and the second is Helicopter Crew Resource Management (CRM). Neither of them are lessons that would get a student excited, and if I told you CRM was all part of Aeronautical Decision Making (ADM), that would probably further dampen your enthusiasm. Main Rotor Systems is the very first thing in the FAA’s Rotorcraft Flight Manual, right there on page 1-1. It comes before helicopter flight controls (page 1-3), helicopter aerodynamics (Ch 2), weight and balance (Ch 7), and even basic helicopter flight maneuvers (Ch 9). CRM is one very long paragraph in Chapter 14, and it starts off with something about the airlines. Seven pages later, you’re reading about some crazy thing called an autogyro.
Just judging from where these 2 topics are in the RFM, which one do you think is more important? Which one are you going to use earlier in your training, and throughout your training? Which one is going to make a bigger impression on you–the one you see when you’re fresh and excited about becoming a helicopter pilot, or the one that you have to get done before your check ride next week?
That’s my point. ADM and CRM are things that should be with you starting with the first few hours you log. These 2 topics, though, are shoved to the back of the RFM (and things like Aeromedical Factors didn’t even make it into the RFM). Of course, you don’t have to learn things in this order, but if you don’t know any better, you’re going to read the RFM from front to back like any other book, right? What about your school? Well, the easy thing for a school to do is to just follow the FAA’s lead, and here’s the result:
MRS is the very first lesson, and, along with anti-torque and flight controls, gets a generous 2 hours. ADM is the second to last lesson, and gets 1.5 hrs. Again, what does this tell you?
Operationally, I’ve seen plenty of students and instructors roll their eyes and use diminutive descriptors (“such bullshit“) when referring to ADM-type topics. I’ll also admit that I was one of them. Part of my 1.5 hr ADM lesson was spent joking with my instructor to the point of shortening the DECIDE model to the DIE model (Detect, Identify, Evaluate). The chief pilot and in-house DPE wasn’t amused, but Exhibit A: primacy and Exhibit B: he didn’t do much to impress the value of ADM on me afterward.
That actually came $400 later at the HAI Flying in the Wire and Obstruction Environment course. I signed up for that class not knowing really what would be covered, so I was a bit surprised that about 1/3 of that class was ADM/CRM. The instructor’s approach to CRM wasn’t a historical account of what the airlines did, or a series of acronyms that had no operational significance, or what some desk jockey needed to do to implement a CRM system to please upper management. A lot of it was just talking about how we screw up and miscommunicate, and some simple bullet points to tell you how to get out of that rut. By starting the class with CRM, he made the point that “Hey, CRM is critical to surviving the wire environment!” It’s more important than learning where to look for wires, what kind of wires are out there, what weather conditions are more conducive to wire strikes. All the interesting stuff, in summary, is secondary to good operational procedures and crew communication. Is flight training so benign that CRM/ADM is effectively just an appendix to your primary training? (For that matter, if you’re doing off-airport landings, you are in the wire environment.)
I’d been meaning to write up a few lessons on CRM/ADM, and something from the Wire Environment course, but it was a post on VerticalReference that inspired me to actually do it. Somebody asked what everybody’s favorite YouTube helicopter videos were, and mine is, hands down, the Oh Ye of Little Faith Apache video (which you can see as part of the CRM lesson plan). That’s a pretty classic example of a CRM fail, but it doesn’t have to be so overt: consider the Bonanza video where they almost whack a mountain in IIMC.
That’s exactly the kind of scenario that will bite you in the ass. Everybody in that airplane was clinching sphincters long before they kissed that hill, but either nobody said anything or somebody didn’t listen. CRM fail.
So in the ground lessons section, I’ve placed the MRS and CRM lessons where I think they ought to be relative to each other: CRM up front, and MRS stuck somewhere in the back. I bet you can make it through your PPL without being able to list the 3 kinds of rotor systems. And I think you could tuck them into the Aerodynamics lesson somewhere in the middle of your training just fine. Weight and Balance, Weather, Performance: all more important, and things you should be doing before every flight by the time you’re hovering. I think I know why MRS is on page 1-1: it’s a starting place for establishing a common language between instructors and students so they can go on to learn the more complicated stuff. And, from a marketing standpoint, it’s better to start off saying “Today you’ll fly a helicopter with a semi-rigid rotor system, but one day you could be flying a BO-105 doing loops in with it’s rigid rotor!” than starting off by saying “You very well could die flying helicopters.” Ironically, by handling ADM/CRM the way it is handled, the chances of that are probably higher.