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Traffic Patterns…Clear Left, Center, and Right!

Posted 2 years 143 days ago ago by Admin

I’ve found that most if not all new helicopter pilots have been taught to look outside when making turns, at least that’s what they want us to believe by the callouts they’re taught in training. It appears instructors are teaching to verbally state that your clear to the left, center, and right of the aircraft before making turns, but are they really completing the task?

A couple weeks ago, I was conducting a Flight Instructor practical test. After completion of the ground portion, we completed the pre-flight briefing, and the instructor applicant was outlining the flight profile. During most flight instructor exams, I task the applicant to consider the FAA Practical Test Standards and develop a flight profile that meets all the requirements to complete their respective flight profile. I find this a valuable effort to see if they understand the process of developing an efficient, effective, and compliant flight profile to benefit their future student cadre.

During the pre-flight briefing, emphasis was placed on clearing turns prior to each departure from the taxiway we would be operating. Additionally, clearing the area around the helicopter inflight prior to making turns was a critical component to flight safety, and this was discussed as well. Just prior to our meeting, a helicopter and airplane had collided in a traffic pattern, so the instructor applicant was emphasizing this topic.

During our initial traffic patterns, all those critical briefing components of flight safety during traffic patterns were being used in a practical sense. As we dove deeper into the maneuvers and instructional intervention aspect of being a helicopter flight instructor, the rote aspect of clearing the aircraft quickly replaced its practical use.

The first example was a go-around required from a student (me) botched autorotation. I executed the maneuver with knowledge of another aircraft on the instructor’s side also conducting a go-around had been stated to the Tower. Standard procedure in our pattern was a climbing left turn for left traffic back to the taxiway. Once the instructor applicant executed the go-around, he immediately called out “I have the controls, clear left” and began a climb and immediate left turn. Once it was clear the instructor had committed to the turn toward the airplane slightly to our left rear, I took control of the helicopter and corrected the situation.

In this scenario, I was watching the instructors’ eyes during the go-around procedure. At no time did the instructor applicant look to the left before calling the area to be clear. This was confirmed when I queried on the immediate left turn and call out. Another interesting point was the instructor applicant called out “clear left, center, and right” before entry to this same autorotation. At no time did we discuss the aircraft approaching behind us for the parallel runway to our left as a potential conflict.

Clearing the aircraft prior to any movement is a good idea. Although the instructor applicant prebriefed a comprehensive clearing turn culture, a failure of the mental fortitude required ended in UNSAT performance. Using verbal callouts to make you feel better that a mediocre attempt at a clearing turn was sufficient, well it might just get you killed!

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.

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