First ADM Lesson: 1*

Way back, I took an Emergency Medical Technician course. On the first day they put up the star of life and Primum non nocere (First, do no harm). Right there I though WTF, I’m taking this to save lives and “do no harm” is the industry motto??? But this simple message lays the foundation for many EMS concepts that accomplishes the greater goal. The obvious medical application comes from the days when ambulance drivers would just scoop up patients, throw them in a station wagon, and race off to the hospital (often making spinal injuries worse or getting into an accident along the way). The not so obvious one is that making more patients by rushing into an unsafe scene, or blowing through a red light and wrecking an ambulance, doesn’t serve the patient well. That simple motto comes back again and again throughout EMS training and in practice, and it becomes cemented in your head.

ADM should be the same way, and I’m a proponent of introducing it early in helicopter pilot training. Set the precedent in every prospective pilot’s head that safety is their first consideration. I also recognize the practical limitation to doing this. A private pilot student is overwhelmed with “important information”, and isn’t mentally prepared to accept a  full-blown ADM lesson when they 1) are still just excited about being in a helicopter and 2) might not be in the mindset of undertaking professional training. Instead, what happens is that ADM/safety get pushed off until some undefined later point in time.

Take the SFAR. We all should have gotten the SFAR training before our very first demo ride. At that time, how many of us understood anything about energy management, low-G maneuvers, or mast bumping? I remember standing there in front of the helicopter, the instructor said “We have this training that we have to do for Robinsons.” He then took a deep breath and gave a well-rehearsed summary of the required training. Looking back, I remember it being thorough and accurate; at the time though, only bits of it even registered (wait, what was that about separation of the main rotor??!). But he ended with “Don’t worry about it, I’ll be monitoring all these things to make sure we don’t get into any trouble.” In terms of the principles of primacy and readiness, the lesson here is that the safe operation of the helicopter was not my responsibility. That’s not what was intended, but it’s what was received because the SFAR training isn’t really at a level that is appropriate for somebody who doesn’t know the first thing about flying a helicopter. This is the precedent that the typical demo flight establishes.

In this month’s safety article by J Heffernan in Rotor, he essentially validates this problem.

Even ab initio programs do not produce pilots right out of their cribs; just the fact that you have to wait until their feet can work the pedals really puts a delay in the learning process, and training delays are where bad habits can be learned…Before you can teach, you have to unteach.

One way of taking this statement is that Mr Heffernan is saying, if you want safety to be a core value in your organization, you have to undo the bad habits acquired (in part) during initial training…the fact that you have to wait until their feet can work the pedals… To me, he’s talking about this grace period student pilots get where safety, ADM, situational awareness, and all that is somebody else’s responsibility. Thus, the powerful effect of primacy has to be overcome somewhere down the line. I disagree that it has to be that way, in part because Mr Heffernan provides a solution which could easily be applied to flight training.

This is where 1* comes in. I’m not going to tell you what it means now because I want you to be bothered and a bit annoyed that I didn’t tell you right off what 1* has to do with safety. Then you can read the lesson plan or Mr Heffernan’s article and his personal story (it’s in the Spring 2010 issue, which isn’t online yet).

The simple symbol/mnemonic 1* is appropriate for a brand new student’s level of experience, and like “First, do no harm” it’s something you as an instructor can build on throughout a student’s training. Start off on that demo ride by giving them the required SFAR73 Awareness Training, then make a point of writing “1*” on that endorsement and telling them This is all you need to remember for now. If they ask what it means, tell them it’ll become clear later–you’ve done your part in associating 1* with their first flight, and unconsciously set them up for thinking safety before flying without overwhelming or scaring them. Later, as you progress through the ADM lessons, you just need to associate that mnemonic/symbol with the pre-flight preparations that will enhance their safety consciousness, risk management, and situational awareness. From 1*, you can associate lesson plans on weather (Is 1* worth making a flight with forecast low ceilings at night?). Want to make sure your student is doing a good pre-flight? Get your school to slap a 1* sticker on the door leading out to the hangar.

The payback–hopefully–is that down the road, this little mnemonic will pop up whenever there’s a critical safety decision confronting your student, and it’ll trigger all those other ADM lessons.

Dynamic Rollover

In theory, we all know what to do to prevent dynamic rollover. This has been a frequent cause of training accidents, so the FAA has made it a focus area. And those of us who’ve been to the Robinson course remember the rooftop landing video where the pilot could have saved himself by simply lowering the collective after a hard landing. In the Dynamic Rollover lesson plan, I’ve included 2 videos: the first is of a Rotorway pilot who sets down hard and catches a skid on some uneven concrete. It happens fast, but right before the dynamic rollover happens, you get a good look at just how much of an angle the helicopter can take before reaching the point of no return. In the second video, you see that this isn’t just a problem for low-time pilots. This video shows the Red Bull AH-1 Cobra picking up from a turf field. It looks like the heel of the skid digs into the turf and becomes the pivot point, both for bank and roll. They’re pretty close to losing this helicopter, but the skid pulls free. Clearly some high-time pilots flying that ship, but they also failed to react the way we’ve been told to in training.

Part of the issue–and this probably applies to all emergencies–is that we’ve taken off hundreds of times without a problem. Back about 12 years ago, I took this trip to Scotland. I’d been touring up north, as far as Loch Ness, and was heading back to my room on the Kintyre Peninsula. I pushed my rental car’s fuel to it’s limit–partly because I was doing the trip on a budget, partly because there just weren’t that many gas stations. So it’s Sunday night, but still light and I didn’t notice how late it was getting. I knew I needed gas, but every gas station in every little town I passed through was already closed. The last town was 15 or so miles from where I was staying, and I made a calculated risk: I could spend the night in the parking lot or I’d have a shot at sleeping in my bed. Based on what I knew about the fuel remaining when the light had come on, I figured I had a shot at making it, so off I went. I grew up in Central Texas, but this place redefined rural. Right at about the halfway point, there was this little hill, and halfway up, the car just died. This shouldn’t have been unexpected, but my initial reaction was that something else was wrong. I was convinced that I had the fuel to make it, and I’d never run a car dry, so I had no idea of exactly what to expect. I instinctively just pushed the clutch in and turned the key, and there was a few seconds there where I just didn’t register what was happening. I believed that this stretch of the drive would be the same as every other time I’d set out in the car, and when it didn’t turn out that way, I needed time to process why. I ended up sleeping in the car, surrounded by flocks of sheep, and hitching a ride into town the next morning with some shepherds.

I think the same happens to us as pilots. We come to expect that the pick-up or landing is going to go the same as it’s gone the last hundred times that we’ve done it. When it starts to go bad, you just keep doing what you’re doing, until you’re rolled over or you process what’s happening. I also learned this during my training. In the summertime, the tarmac heats up enough that the skids sink down into it. In fact, you can see impressions from the skid plates all over the ramp. Once, one of the skids stuck enough that we felt just a slight roll, and an instant later the skid broke free. We popped right up into the air and wobbled there for a second. That time I knew what happened, but it went so quick that neither my instructor nor I had the chance to react. Since then, part of my preflight has been taking notice of what surface the skids are sitting on, and whether they might stick on the pick-up. Before starting up, I also started verbalizing this to my instructor (although a better practice would be to verbalize it right before picking up, since your short-term memory isn’t likely to hold this bit of info that long).

If you do decide to check out the lesson, take a second to at least rate it. Always useful information for me and for others who come after you.

SCUBA to Flying Time

The pilot that was the subject of last week’s post on decompression sickness should have waited at least 24 hours before taking to the air. The dive they took didn’t require a decompression stop, but their cruising altitude for the flight was above 8000 MSL. Whether the airplane was pressurized or not doesn’t make a difference.

Wintertime Fuel Checks

Last week in this post I asked…

Before you pulled the helicopter out of the hanger this morning, you checked the sumps and it looked good. It’s 10 degrees C outside and snowed last night, so you’re happy this will be a quick refuel–just 3 gallons. You drive the fuel truck from the tank out to the ramp, pick up the nozzle, pop it in the tank, and get your fuel. You know the truck is topped off every night, and you’ve never had debris or water come out of this tank. So, is there a good reason to check the sumps again?

This is something I actually encountered, and the issue isn’t the risk of condensation, but introduction of snow from the fuel nozzle. The fuel truck sat outside overnight and was covered with a good bit of snow. The fuel nozzle just sits exposed and laying flat on the side of the truck. As students would fill their tanks, they’d lay the nozzle back down on the bed of the truck, where it could get packed with snow. The next guy in line, if he didn’t check the nozzle, would get a snowball blown into the tank. Once the snow melted, it’d end up at the bottom of the tank. Most students don’t check the tanks after fueling, in part because it’s a reliable source, and because there’s a bit of competition for the fuel truck (which has the waste container strapped to it). Fortunately, nobody ended up with much water in their tanks before somebody noticed what was going on.

Decompression Sickness

For some reason, I always had trouble remembering the rules for flying after SCUBA diving. I wouldn’t say it’s because I don’t care, but since I don’t dive or know anybody who does…. But the FAA seems to put a disproportionate amount of weight on this topic than it would seemingly merit: in the PHAK, it gets as much space devoted to it as stress and carbon monoxide poisoning. I’ve also seen questions on decompression sickness on the written exams (and, for the record, I answered the question correctly). And, I don’t recall the operator (or airlines, for that matter) asking us about recent diving when we did our tour in Kauai. So the whole topic seems to me to be a warning to Private Pilots, and a reminder to those who covered this info in their dive certification class.

Well, if it helps you remember the guidelines, and maybe scores you an extra couple of points on the written test, here’s a clip from the Spike TV’s show, 1000 Ways to Die. (If you need to see the whole episode in all its full-screen, HD glory, it’s available on Fancast). Yeah, I don’t normally watch this–I just happened on it while looking for MXC, which is the best thing since MST3000. I’ll be interested to see if they make it through 100 ways to die before getting axed themselves. Easy question: based on the info in the clip, how long should these guys have waited before getting in their airplane?

p.s. The caisson disease is interesting. When building bridges, sometimes the engineers will use these caissons–vessels that are sunk into the bottom of the riverbed. They then pump out all the water, and keep them evacuated using pressurized air. Workers can then descend into the caisson to do whatever they need to do for building the structure. Essentially, they’re SCUBA diving (without the “self-contained” part), and breathing pressurized air.

Downwash Lesson Plan

A couple of days ago, Tim McAdams posted on his blog, AOPA Hover Power, a couple of examples where pilots have been oblivious to the effect their downwash has on other aircraft. He warns that many pilots either don’t know about the effect their downwash can have on aircraft or personnel on the ground, or they don’t care. The AIM specifically puts the responsibility and discretion on helicopter pilots when judging the effects of downwash on persons and property on the surface (4-3-17(a)(3)). That’s the rationale behind the new lesson plan I just added, Rotor Downwash. (Maria Langer has also written about an incident where another pilot…well, just read her story.)

I trained at a busy school, where there were usually 3 or more R22s on the apron, and occasionally a few R44s, and we were next to a crowded parking area and the fuel pumps. Although the extent of our formal training in managing (and anticipating) the effects of downwash was the one paragraph in the AIM, you learn pretty quickly to keep doors latched, cowlings secured, blades slightly out-of-line with the tail boom, and a hand on your cap when others are arriving or departing. We also frequently had to frequently dodge airplanes that were seemingly oblivious to the recommendations in the AIM.  With the unwitting cooperation of the plank drivers at that airport, I’ve done the experiment and can say that an R22 on approach probably isn’t going to overturn an RV or a 152.

A larger helicopter though, packs a bit of force. I was waiting for a lesson at a small FBO in Oregon a while back. It was an early summer day, with calm winds and clear skies. The operator had just landed a fire contract, and they were practicing long-lining with it on the taxiway. While I was waiting, the mechanic moved a Cessna high-wing out of the hangar to pull out another aircraft, and left it there without tie-downs or chocks. After a half hour, the UH-1 returned to the hangar and went about setting the bucket down so it could land. The rotor diameter on a UH-1 is about 50 fee and they were working a 100-ft longline, so the Cessna was now within the 3-2-1 area (see the new Lesson Plan). There was an oddly calm moment between when the Uh-1 settled into a high-hover and when the downwash hit us. That Cessna was on its way the second the downwash hit us, and made it 20 ft before the mechanic and I stopped it. The force of the downwash from an R22 isn’t much, but the UH-1 laid down an impressive gust. This scene replayed itself almost exactly the same the very next day–the mechanic didn’t chock the plane, the ground crew didn’t prep the area, and the pilot (who worked at the FBO), didn’t make a radio call to have somebody secure the little plane.

Go check out the Rotor Downwash Lesson Plan.

The R22 Power Check: It Sure Sounds Like a Great Idea

Every year since I’ve been watching the Vertical Reference forums, there has been an “R22 Power Check” thread that pops up. When I saw it come up last month, I thought it’d make a great lesson plan. The thread always gets lots of views, users will put a lot of work into writing their responses, and on the surface, it’s a pretty important topic, right? Now that I’ve spent a couple of hours going over 10+ pages of posts from Vertical Reference, I’m not so sure.

The idea, as I understand it, is that you want a way of checking whether you will have enough power to make an off-airport landing. I’m going to mull over the threads on this for a while longer, but lemme put out this scenario that I got on a check ride:

Bubba & Sons Company has a station on a 6200-ft mountaintop that needs to be serviced, and they’re on the phone wanting to know if you can take Bubba Jr up there in an R22 to do the work. At the airport (2450 MSL), it’s typical weather for the desert in the summer: calm winds, 30 C and rising, and CAVU. You’ve flown with Bubba Jr, and he’s at 210 lbs, plus 20 lbs of gear. The nearest fuel is a 50-minute flight from the station, and the weight and balance shows you need to be at MGW to have the fuel to legally complete the flight. Do you take the flight?

There aren’t any tricks to this question. I looked at the HOGE, fuel requirements, and weather, and declined the flight. The HOGE suggests that the flight can be done, but that’s making several assumptions about the flight–that the temperature won’t be any warmer than 30 C when I get there and that my fuel burn will be at least 10 gph–and quite possibly my abilities. At 200 hours of experience, I told the examiner I wouldn’t do it since it was too close to the limits of the aircraft’s performance, but that’d I’d be happy to send him on it or to take a Raven II. He nodded and said that the customer would accept the R44, then went on to grill me on aerodynamics.

Right here, right now, I don’t see anything to support the need for this type of power check if you have reviewed your performance limitations before the flight. Realistically, you know what elevations you’ll be working in, and from that you should know what your HOGE limits will be. The approach I’ve taken during training is to determine the limit for performance, and then apply a buffer to cover things you cannot anticipate (like humidity, winds calm, a confined area, or higher-than-expected temperatures at the landing site). Reasonable estimates for all of these can be made comfortably while at your desk, and you can reevaluate winds, fuel, and temperature onsite. As long as those are below your limits, you can make the landing. (Since I’ve flown mostly at elevations that top out around 5500 ft, I’ve always had at least a 1000-ft margin to work with. I’m not sure whether this is too conservative to be practical though.)

So, to apply this method to the case above without going on for too much longer, I can assume winds are going to be calm on the mountain and that it’ll still be warm when I get there–maybe 28 C. I can also estimate my fuel burn at 8 gph and determine what my weight will be when I arrive. I can’t do anything about my passenger’s weight, my fuel load (my limitation on reserve fuel is higher than the required 20 minutes), or the landing zone to tilt the odds in my favor. Knowing this, I can look at the charts and tell I’m not going to be comfortable with this scenario. But, I can do the flight first thing tomorrow a.m. when it’s 15 C cooler. By the charts, I get a HOGE that’s 750 feet higher than what I need. Or, if I get to the landing zone with anything less that 1340 lbs, I’ll have additional power to draw on. The odds are now stacked in my favor. If I get there and there’s a 10 knot wind or the temperature is 12 C…Bonus!

The other way of looking at it…and this is something that I’ve used on just about every flight…is to set a limit and stick to it. We’re going to go work on pinnacle landings today? Okay, temperature, weight after 30-minute fuel burn…we can sustain a HOGE below 6500 MSL. Don’t ask me to go into 7000-ft terrain to practice pinnacles. In fact, maybe I don’t want to be practicing pinnacles above 6250 MSL. I’m also going to control for lower-than-expected performance from the aircraft by checking my hover power before departure. Is it higher than what I would expect from this aircraft on this day? And as I’m approaching the landing zone, does the OAT gauge show a temperature near or below what I used to calculate my performance back at base? Where is my MAP throughout the approach? Am I nearing my MAP limit as I’m getting close to losing ETL? I should be clear that I’m not suggesting that a chart in a book is the be-all and end-all to figuring out if you have the performance to land. But that that chart, developed by a pilot more capable than most of us and under controlled circumstances, is one part of the ADM equation (dammit, there’s another post to do…).

Back to the threads. Forget for a second that I didn’t see a consensus method described for conducting the power check, and that there is no procedure for a power check given in the R22/R44 POH or Maneuver Guide, or any FAA publication. But in the threads, numbers get thrown around, such as, “If you have a power reserve of X inches in cruise/in the downwind/at minimum power speed/etc, you can make a vertical landing” or “If you have less than Y inches of power, you can only make a run-on landing.” These numbers come from a variety of sources, some possibly more credible than others, but again, they aren’t coming from RHC or the FAA. On top of that, when they start getting into differentiating between a normal landing, a run-on landing, and a no-hover landing, those would be indications that we’re operating very close to the edge of the envelope. At that point, the question isn’t “Can I do this?” but instead “Should I do this?” Or maybe it’s “I bet I can do this!” that necessitates the power check?

If I’m wrong, I hope somebody with more real-world and teaching experience will set me straight here. But isn’t this analogous to dealing with weather limitations? We know what we can legally fly in, but we should also know what we are trained to fly in, and we should set a further buffer so that if conditions get worse, we have an out. But the whole power check concept seems to be just like the “Let’s go take a look” mentality toward weather. Instead of knowing that the procedure is well within the limitations of our aircraft and our training, it’s like saying “Maybe we shouldn’t do this, but maybe we can.”

Two last things I’ll throw out here. First, there’s the “HOGE power check”, which is something along the lines of getting near your LZ, slowing into a HOGE, and figuring out if you can maintain it. I guess, if you really want to be sure and the LZ you are moving into doesn’t offer any good escape routes for a go-around, maybe this is fine. It does entail some risk, and you may not get a good answer from it if you do the power check under the safest conditions (eg, 1000′ AGL, where it will be cooler and windier). The second is a mountain flying technique that I’ll cover another time, where you make several very slow passes at the same elevation as your LZ. This is for dealing with poor escape routes, downdrafts, weather conditions you couldn’t anticipate prior to departure, and nasty landing zones; it’s also part of a 3-5 pass low reconnaissance. I’ve read about these techniques, but wasn’t taught them. They do seem applicable to real-world applications scenarios that entail a higher degree of risk than you would encounter as a low-time pilot. My thought is that they entail more risk than is appropriate for flight training, but I don’ t know.

Right now this is all just armchair musings–I would like to figure it out though. It’s either a training deficiency–all 3 of the VR threads were initiated by CFIs–or maybe it shouldn’t be part of what students are being taught. As mentioned in several of the posts on VR, most instructors and students can recite the procedure, but they can’t explain the rationale behind it or cite a source for it (other than their instructor). Think about that.

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.