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Critical Reactions: When The Anti-Torque Stops Working

Posted 9 years 152 days ago ago by Randy Rowles

In last October’s issue, we discussed time-critical reaction requirements during an unanticipated loss of power in a helicopter. However, engine malfunctions are not the only ‘critical’ situations requiring an immediate action by the pilot. Another critical component is the tail rotor. Although considered one of the more challenging situations for a flight crew to deal with, tail rotor malfunction training in the aircraft is almost nonexistent. For the purpose of this article, I will use the term tail rotor malfunction when describing anti-torque failures.

As a designated pilot examiner (DPE), we are required to receive annual proficiency check flights from Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspectors. A couple of weeks ago, I flew with an inspector whose flying skills and abilities in a helicopter I greatly respect. During the ground portion of the check, the subject of anti-torque malfunctions was discussed. A newly minted flight instructor working in the office overheard our bantering of tail rotor mishap potentials and the recovery procedures that would follow. That afternoon the flight instructor came to me and said, “Mr. Rowles, I’ve never practiced a tail rotor malfunction in the helicopter—ever.”

The standard for examining and checking tail rotor malfunctions during FAA pilot evaluations has been reduced to verbal dialogue. The FAA Practical Test Standards (PTS) clearly states this maneuver will be evaluated orally. Additionally, the FAA also only requires tail rotor malfunctions to be evaluated orally for FAR Part 135 checking. Although a good evaluator will be able to gain insight into the applicant’s ability to correlate theoretical knowledge of tail rotor malfunctions, the applicant’s ability to actually manage such an event in the aircraft may be all but nonexistent.

The training of tail rotor malfunctions, and the FAA’s position on how to check a pilot’s knowledge of the subject, are based on safety. Historically, tail rotor malfunction training has led to increased training-related accidents. However, to ignore this malfunction and reduce the training of such an event to a verbal discussion is almost criminal. We instructors must: (1) ensure that our students have the tools to deal with potential malfunctions that may arise, and (2) we must train safely. Now, for the “million-dollar question”: how do we do both?

Without going into detail on the teaching of tail rotor malfunctions, I want to focus on what is often a contributing factor in an accident during tail rotor malfunction training. In almost every crash that occurs during this type of training, contact with the ground occurs while the aircraft is misaligned, rotating, or just touches down too early. Eliminating the ground from the training profile will all but eliminate the potential for such an accident to occur.

In cases where an aircraft has installed equipment that could be damaged by excessive ground contact (FLIR, etc.), I will often teach the tail rotor malfunction maneuver all the way to approximately 3 to 5 feet above the surface, and then recover from there. If the pilot can position the aircraft to this position and verbally call out the final steps of the maneuver, I am quite comfortable with the pilot’s ability to handle such a situation. By removing the ground contact element from the maneuver during training, the reduction in aircraft mishap potential is exponential and the pilot has a much greater potential of surviving such an event.

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.