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Power Failure at a Hover…How to Teach and Stay Safe!

Posted 3 years 273 days ago ago by Admin

The FAA Practical Test Standards require each applicant completing a helicopter specific flight evaluation to conduct a Power Failure at a Hover (aka Hovering Autorotation) maneuver. The maneuver is a combination of throttle manipulation reducing engine speed with the required flight control inputs to safely land the helicopter. When conducted correctly, the maneuver is rather benign. During the learning process, the maneuver is anything but benign and is the cause to many hard landings during flight training.

While conducting this maneuver on a practical test, the examiner will discuss with the applicant the way they have been trained to conduct this maneuver. This enables the examiner to have some insight into the actions of the applicant within the first few seconds of the maneuver; the most critical time to avoid an accident. Although not fool proof, asking the applicant to explain the conduct of the maneuver and understanding the student/examiner role and responsibility is key to safety.

During flight instructor examinations, all maneuvers are performed with the examiner acting as the student. When asked which maneuver is of greatest concern to them as a new flight instructor, often the Power Failure at a Hover is identified. It is in this setting the examiner gains insight into the flight instructor applicant’s method of maintaining a safe training event while conducting this technical maneuver. All too often, instructor applicants explain that they will initiate this maneuver the very first time to a student with a throttle chop.

Initiating this maneuver to a student with a throttle chop is not the most ideal method. Since the student must be able to hover prior to conducting this maneuver, their ability to manipulate individual control inputs during the hover is expected. 

The preferred and safest manner to conduct early Power Failure at a Hover training is to simply have the student slowly (I mean slowly!) roll off the throttle while attempting to sustain low hovering flight. This enables the student to learn the importance of consistent and continuous collective input as the helicopter settles to the surface. This manner of teaching this maneuver focuses on coordination and timing; critical aspects to safely conduct this maneuver. 

Over time, the student will be able to increase the speed of throttle reduction while maintaining a stable helicopter position and applying the appropriate collective input to execute a smooth landing. 

The surface where these maneuvers are conducted should be evaluated closely. Assuming that grass landings are better for the aircraft is false. The potential for aircraft damage due to side loads of the airframe and high surface friction establishing non-yielding pivot points are high. A smooth surface or energy absorbing aggregate combined with good teaching technique and proper instructional intervention are the best attributes for teaching Power Failure at a Hover maneuvers. 
Spend some time learning to teach this maneuver and more importantly how to properly intervene. The data shows training is still a leader in helicopter accident causal factors. It is not the training that causes the accident. It is the poorly trained instructor that does not provide a safe training environment! 

Stay safe, stay sharp, and stay instructionally proficient!         

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. Rowles is the owner/president of Helicopter Institute.