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Aug
26
2022

Power Recovery Autorotation | But Don’t Touch The Throttle?

Posted 41 days ago ago by Admin

As a Part 135 operator, much flexibility is given to develop an FAA approved training program specific to that operator. Although there are national norms related to the amount of training time an operator may spend on ground or flight training modules, the modules themselves are well defined. Where the flexibility exists is in the standard of the maneuvers flown with the FAA Practical Test Standards (PTS) often used as a minimum. In cases where an operator desires a different outcome for a maneuver in a more restrictive manner, this may be included into the FAA approved training program for that specific operator.

A growing trend being accepted by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is conducting power recovery autorotation without reducing the throttle in the helicopter. The thought is simply to conduct an autorotative profile by lowering the collective and demonstrating the ability to reach an intended point of landing simply by a collective reduction. Additionally, the ability to not allow the rotor rpm to increase beyond power-on limits is considered rotor rpm control and meets the intended standard. In my opinion, this practice is dangerous and provides a false sense of security to the pilot as to the autorotative characteristics of a particular aircraft.

To protect FAA Inspectors during flight evaluations, the FAA has altered its definition of a power recovery autorotation by allowing these procedures to be used by their own staff. This is occurring not in the shadows but captured within the textual descriptions of the autorotation in the operators maneuver description section of the FAA approved training program. 

When I first observed this method of conducting an autorotation being defined as a power recovery was during an offsite Part 135 A031 Contract Training event. I assumed initially the manual was written incorrectly and the description was missed during the manual approval process. I was quite surprised when the operator defended this practice as the preferred method to avoid rotor overspeed and the operators FAA inspector or Principal Operations Inspector (POI) agreed. 

I previously wrote about this growing trend of altering maneuvers, mostly by the FAA, to sterilize the procedure and minimize potential risk and liability to the FAA. However, this accepted procedure to change the method by which certain maneuvers are conducted, especially high-profile maneuvers where proficiency is critical to survival could in fact make the maneuver more dangerous when the actual emergency or procedure is executed.

The same FAA inspectors that have approved these altered methods of conducting a power recovery autorotation will not allow this method to be used by certificate-seeking applicants when being checked by designated pilot examiners (DPE). When asked why that is, the FAA inspector’s answer was that a DPE should be more proficient so the conventional method should be utilized.

Openly altering or modifying maneuvers to satisfy the inability of an FAA inspector to function in their capacity of evaluation is simply dangerous. Additionally, this method of evaluation is doing just the opposite. During these altered maneuvers, the focus now becomes “don’t break the aircraft” and not how proficient the applicant is on arresting low rotor rpm situations, etc. 

This practice needs to stop. When this was brought up to the FAA, verbal comments reflected that of agreement and intent to remedy. That was months ago. Today, even more operators are moving away from standardized methods of conducting flight maneuvers without reflecting on the potential negative impact these alterations may have on safety. Additionally, many operators have moved away from conducting in-aircraft autorotations altogether, only conducting such maneuvers in simulation.

Fact, more than half of the pilots that I fly with during annual insurance training that receive minimal in-aircraft autorotation training fail to properly lower the collective when the throttle is reduced on their initial unexpected autorotation in training. 

Remember, it’s your action or lack of action to the emergency that decides your future. Train for action! 

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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