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Advanced Helicopter Training…Is It Safe?

Posted 3 years 268 days ago ago by Randy Rowles

I recently had the opportunity to conduct advanced helicopter training with a group of pilots from a large domestic helicopter company. The maneuvers consisted of touchdown autorotations, FADEC failures, tail-rotor malfunctions, and other various emergencies unique to the company’s mission segment. The training sessions were conducted during both day and night conditions. At night, all maneuvers are conducted while using Night Vision Goggles (NVG).

During the briefing for this training period, one of the pilots to be trained expressed concern related to the safety of conducting advanced training maneuvers with NVGs. It was apparent that the pilot was generally concerned and had developed a position to discuss the matter with me. Over the course of the briefing, I listened to the perceived issues the pilot had with the training program being attended and attempted to answer any questions to remedy the concerns being presented to me. It is critical that a student ask questions and engage the instructional process, especially in areas where concern or questions develop so that an opportunity to address concerns or answer questions can be facilitated.

To support the position on the training issue being addressed, the pilot stated they are member of an internationally recognized helicopter safety group. This group had conducted research on the data related to helicopter training accidents in general, which caused the pilot to be quite uncomfortable with the inherent risks involved conducting these same tasks under NVGs. I was then asked if I had done a Risk Analysis on conducting advanced flight maneuvers while using NVGs. I stated “Yes, I had conducted such an analysis and no data points reflected an increase in accidents when conducting these maneuvers during night flights when using NVGs”. Additionally, I stated that “we conduct Flight Risk Assessments prior to any flight which captures any additional risk which will be mitigated prior to the flight”. At the end of our discussion, it seemed that all was well, and we departed on our daytime advanced maneuver flight session.

After little more than an hour of flight time, we returned to the helicopter parking area. The daytime flight went well, and I assumed that all previously addressed issues regarding the NVG flight to be accomplished that evening were satisfied. Before we entered the building, the pilot stopped me and stated we would not be flying NVGs that evening. I was advised that this decision was cleared via the pilot’s chain-of-command. As I tell all my students, my role is to support them. If they chose to not to complete the scheduled training program, I will honor that decision.

While this situation with a student is not totally uncommon, the fact that a sitting member of an internationally recognized safety group that recently released recommendations to conduct Advanced Helicopter Training would say that same training is unsafe is confusing. When asked if this perception was based upon actual experience in conducting such maneuvers or something within our organization, the pilot said “No…I just feel that this is unsafe”. It is important to note that another pilot was in attendance while these comments were being made.

Why would a member of safety-based organization that supports Advanced Helicopter Training make open statements that such training is unsafe? Wouldn’t this reduce the credibility of any safety recommendations on the topic, and the overall position of the organization supporting such efforts as a whole? Love to hear your thoughts on this… 

About Randy: Randy Rowles has been a FAA pilot examiner for 20 years for all helicopter certificates and ratings. He holds a FAA Gold Seal Flight Instructor Certificate, NAFI Master Flight Instructor designation, and was the 2013 recipient of the HAI Flight Instructor of the Year Award. Randy is currently Director of Training at Epic Helicopters in Ft. Worth, Texas.