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Training Safely

Posted 2 years 52 days ago ago by Admin

Helicopter pilot flight training can be hazardous for reasons I will highlight in this article. I’ve been a flight instructor in the military, a senior instructor for Bell Helicopter in Iran teaching pilots how to be instructor pilots,  an instructor and a flight examiner for 13 years while working for the Royal Police Air Wing in the Sultanate of Oman, and a type-rating instructor and type-rating examiner in the Bell 412EP and Bell 212 while working for Abu Dhabi Aviation. While in Abu Dhabi, I trained and examined airline transport pilots hailing from more than 20 countries. In my 13,000-hour flying career, I have developed habits I use while training that I pass along to you to, hopefully, keep you safe.  

First, before going to train, realize that, statistically, you are entering potentially dangerous territory, so in the preflight briefing remind one another that increased vigilance will be the watchword and agree that nothing will be done unless thoroughly briefed.

As an instructor one should never fully relax. The opposite of vigilance is complacency and complacency while training never has a happy ending. Never be lulled into thinking: Hey, I know this guy, I know how he flies.  He’s a good operator so I’ll let my guard down and relax. Do that and I promise you, your good friend and excellent operator will surprise you.

Something happens to a person when they know they’re being evaluated. I have seen 20,000-hour pilots who always got the jitters during a checkride no matter what I did to try to put them at ease. I have seen many serious ‘brain farts’ occur with high-time pilots who I never suspected would do anything foolish in the cockpit, like the time I was giving a checkride in a Bell 205 to a very experienced 8,000-hour pilot. After a satisfactory briefing about what he would do if we experienced a low-side governor failure, he reached up and put the governor into manual without first rolling off the throttle. Luckily, my hand was on the throttle and I snapped it back so we wouldn’t have an engine over-speed.  Later, he told me he just had a brain fart.

 I have seen very experienced pilots reach for the wrong fuel switch or the wrong switch entirely from what they had intended because they were nervous and just not thinking. That is why I always stress in the preflight briefing that they must audibly confirm out loud before switching off any switch. In a two-crew cockpit environment, get into the habit of placing an index finger on any important switch you are going to move; confirm it with the other pilot before actually throwing the switch.

Another tip is to always have an ‘out.’ For example, don’t give a pilot a forced landing in a single-engine aircraft if you don’t have somewhere in mind to put the machine if the engine does quit.  

In Army flight school a famous story emerged of an instructor who gave his student an engine failure in a Bell 47 over the middle of Possum Kingdom Lake to illustrate that the student had nowhere to go. The instructor rolled off the throttle and said, “Now what are you going to do?” The student casually reached up, turned off both magnetos and said, “Now what are you going to do?”  That student ended up in the infantry.

In my view there is no deadlier combination than two instructors or two flight examiners giving one another a checkride. The most feared words that can surface are, “Watch this,” or “Have you seen this?”  Realize that such a combination can be potentially dangerous. Whenever I’m about to do training with another instructor I always remind them, “You know this is a deadly combination, right?”  And they usually agree.  

As an example, I came very close to writing off a Bell 212 in the latter part of my career because the examiner, a very close personal friend, whom I’d known for 21 years, decided to do an unauthorized maneuver and it damn near caused us to roll up the aircraft.

He’d asked me to perform a landing with the #1 hydraulics off.  No big deal.  The only controls affected, that is, not boosted were the tail rotor pedals.  I set up the approach nice and slow, all was looking good. As we were coming out of effective translational lift, for some unexplained reason he reached up and switched off hydraulics System 2 that controls the cyclic and collective.  At first I couldn’t believe what he’d done and began to fight the jerky controls.  Soon the aircraft was bobbing and weaving through the air as if flown by a pre-solo student.  Instead of switching the no. 2 hydraulics back on he grabbed the controls with me and now we had two pilots with a combined total of over 25,000 hours of flight time wrestling to keep the machine from crashing. I yelled to him to switch the System 2 hydraulics back on while straining to pull up on the collective to at least get us away from the ground as we did our wild gyrations.  He finally reached up and switched on the no. 2 hydraulics and I was able to regain control and land.  Once on the ground, I looked over at him and said, “What the hell was that?”  He just shrugged and couldn’t tell me.  He’d had a brain fart that almost caused an accident.

When doing autorotations have what I term a “gate” during the descent where certain criteria must be met or you don’t continue.  For me, that gate was approaching 500 feet. At that altitude, I would check to see if all looked good in airspeed, rotor RPM, and if I was going to make the area. If any of those criteria was not met, I’d abort the maneuver, roll on the throttle, go around and do it again.  Don’t try to salvage a bad maneuver. Stay conservative.  If at the gate, it’s not looking good then go around.

Five hundred feet was also the altitude in autorotation where I would begin to roll the throttle or throttles up for a power recovery.  Both throttles had to be fully open passing through 300 feet and I would announce that they were fully open to the other pilot.

So remember these points when training:  

1. Be hyper-vigilant.  Both of you should realize that while training there is a greater potential of having an accident or incident than when operational flying.  

2. An instructor should never fully relax. As mentioned, even the most experienced pilot can surprise you. Don’t let your guard down. Keep your hands close to the controls in a relaxed manor but always be ready to offer assistance before the maneuver becomes a salvage operation.

3. Be mindful that two instructors or flight examiners flying together can prove dangerous.   

4. Always have an ‘out’. Instructors should not place the pilot they’re flying with into a situation that they cannot recover from. Take over the controls in a timely fashion before the situation becomes irretrievable. It’s much easier to do a go-around than it is to try to save a bad maneuver.

Flight training can be very safe if both parties are aware of the inherent pitfalls that can cause an accident. If both of you are aware of them and don’t violate them, you should have a safe and fruitful training sortie.  

About Randy:
Randy Mains is an author, public speaker, and a CRM/AMRM consultant who works in the helicopter industry after a long career of aviation adventure. He currently serves as chief CRM/AMRM instructor for Oregon Aero. He may be contacted at [email protected].



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