R44 Helicopter Crashes in Bedfordshire

I was so pleased to see that the three occupants from an R44 crash have walked away relatively unhurt.

According to the report, the police said that they rarely see survivors when a helicopter crashes. So what was different this time?

When the engine fails mid flight, we have to enter a phase of flight called autorotation so that the blades control descent speed and allow us to control the aircraft. You can see how it works here if you are interested. If you don’t do this, or something prevents it (like the blades themselves fail or another part of the aircraft is catastrophically damaged), then the aircraft will hit the ground uncontrolled and at high speed – inevitably with no survivors. In the normal case, where the pilot puts the helicopter into autorotation, the aircraft can be landed without the engine. It is not easy, but pilots are regularly trained and re-trained to make sure that they can achieve it safely. This is just a landing and doesn’t make the news – no police and no surprise at survivors.

In this case, the flight had only just taken off, so I am guessing that it was not very high at the point of engine failure. If this is the case, then Mr Barnes will have had a quick job to do to bring the aircraft down safely. The fact that the occupants were relatively unscathed suggests that he was very successful in this task. Once on the ground, the aircraft turning over is unfortunate and causes risks like fire and bruising, which nobody wants, but is minor compared to the consequences of falling from several hundred feet. From the pictures, the aircraft did turn over on landing and that is what changed an ‘emergency landing’ into a ‘crash’, which is also what caused the police and fire service to be called and the surprise at finding survivors.

I would like to congratulate Mr Barnes on safely returning himself and his passengers to terra firma with an autorotation from a low altitude.

Fuel to the Fire

Another Robinson R44 fire on impact is adding weight to the argument for bringing forward the retrofit of bladder tanks. The Service Bulletin was originally December 2014 but was later revised to June 2013. The Canadian authorities adopted this as an  Airworthiness Directive.

The preliminary report into the Birchwood R44 Accident did not state whether the aircraft was fitted with the updated bladder tanks but movement towards mandating this will only go one way!

The Passenger Who Landed a Plane

I was watching the Channel 4 program Mayday The Passenger Who Landed a Plane.What an amazing man. How he kept calm through all that was truly incredible. I would have been saying my goodbyes if I had no flying experience, yet he kept going, good humoured and upbeat. All this despite being in a position of having to land a plane, at an unfamiliar airfield, in failing light with one of his good mates laying dead beside him and having never flown a plane before.

I must say that I thought the instructor could have had a different approach to the problem. I think that if I was tasked with the problem, I would have spent 15-20 minutes teaching the guy to fly. Pull back on the yolk, push forwards, turn left, turn right, throttle up and throttle down, showing what all of the controls did.

That led me to wonder what would happen in the case of a helicopter where the Pilot was unconscious  in similar situation. First I thought that it wouldn’t happen as helicopters are inherently unstable, but it is possible that a passenger could find themselves in that position and if I were the only person able to help, what strategy would I adopt? I am not an instructor of helicopters, so please bear that in mind!

My strategy would be to get to the nearest big airport that I could from where to bring him down. I would try to get a landing onto grass to have maximum braking. Once that was established, I would explain that we are not going to hover. An inexperienced passenger would not be able to hover and would be as sure to die as if they would trying to hover a fixed wing. Air speed would be maintained at 60 knots all the time, right onto the ground. 

Whilst flying, I would insist flying at 70 knots at least to keep away from a hover and spin situation. I would spend 10 minutes trying to show what the controls did to the flying aircraft but no more, as the more time the passenger is flying, the more likely something disastrous would happen.

OK, now to the talk down. Line up a long way out and get the hang of how the collective lever takes you above and below your ideal line. Use it very sparingly as it is very sensitive, but get the hang of it as best you can. Pull back the cyclic very slightly, once you are approaching 60 knots ease it very, very, very slightly forward so that you maintain 60 knots. If it goes above 60 knots, ease back and if it goes below, ease forwards, millimetres only. Now check that you are aiming to the grass you are hoping to land on. If not, raise or drop the collective lever to bring you back onto line. Now check your speed and adjust again. This would need to be a really, really long approach.

As you are approaching the landing point, you are hoping to touch down as early as possible on the grass, but this is a long term aim. Maintain 60 knots. When you are stable, push slightly on the left or right pedal to straighten up if necessary. Now make slight adjustments on the Collective so that you keep coming down. As you are about to touch on the ground, maintain 60 knots and very slightly lift up on the collective to slow your descent. As the skids hit the ground, ease the collective down very slowly so as not to cause sudden yaw. Keep easing the collective down until the helicopter comes to a standstill or it is right down. Beware, you are still in danger. Hold everything exactly where it is. Take your hand from the collective lever and turn off the ignition key. Put you hand immediately back on the collective and hold it down. Wait until the blades have stopped.

Other thoughts – I wonder if it would be good to pre-empt dropping the lever by inducing a bit of right yaw. Then I thought we should pre-empt the cushioning action with the lever, so that should be left yaw. Decided that if the lever is dropped slowly, the weight on the ground would hold it straight as the torque lost effect.

It is clearly not the normal shut down procedure but is probably the easiest to explain and it will work.

I welcome the thoughts of others, especially helicopter pilots and even more especially instructors.

This is clearly with a anti-clockwise rotating Main Rotor and an ignition system


Glasgow Helicopter Crash Call For Black Box

According to this report, aviation expert Irwin Morris, acting for one of the crash Victims has stated:

“It is not acceptable in this day and age that technology which offers such clear benefits is not being used in all modern passenger-carrying helicopters operating in UK airspace. For this reason, we are calling for the aviation authorities to make the fitting of black-box equipment comprising FDRs [Flight Data Recorders]  and CVRs [Cockpit Voice Recorders] , in all passenger-carrying helicopters.”

This is all well and good, but using this same logic, is it not equally unacceptable that data recorders are not fitted to road vehicles? Why is it that aviation is subjected calls for legislation in this way? Everybody agrees that this event was a tragedy and ten people lost their lives, which is extremely regrettable. There is already a rigorous inquiry into the incident, far more extensive than there is into the hundreds of people who die on our roads. I am not calling for more road legislation, just that aviation investigation and consequential action is kept in perspective and not over-inflated due to the infrequency of incidents.

In the case of the Clutha disaster of course, it would have made no difference as the police helicopter was not a passenger carrying helicopter.

In the interests of safety, should we have FDRs and CVRs in civilian, private helicopters? It is a question that I have thought about for a while. If they were available, would pilots fit them voluntarily? Be definition, they will only benefit the wider community, not the pilot who had it fitted. A bit like an avalanche beacon, if you are the only person with one, it is no use to you.

Glasgow Clutha Bar Helicopter Crash

It is so sad to hear of another helicopter crash. Although it is a time of great tragedy for those involved, I will stick to the helicopter relevant issues in my musings.

Rightly or wrongly, Eurocopter will have some answering to do, what with one of theirs crashing into the North Sea, and now this. Tragically, this one crashed on people in the Clutha bar in Glasgow, people nothing to do with aviation, just innocent victims enjoying themselves, which is a rare occurrence. Normally, those affected by helicopter crashes are people involved, whether pilots, crew or passengers. This one was different. It is very rare for Helicopters to crash into built up areas at all, the only other one I can think of was sadly also very recent in London.

Going back to the Glasgow helicopter crash on the Clutha Bar, it is always tempting to speculate as to the cause but it is equally wrong to do so. I find that most witness reports of these incidents are flawed and often they make no sense. What I can’t understand however is why there was no fire and why this twin engined machine seemingly lost all its power at the same time. It must have been something common to both engines. There are of course many single points of failure even in a twin engined helicopter. The blades, the airframe, the pilot, the fuel, the controls etc. We will have to await the AAIB report.

Some reports said that the blades were not turning when it hit the pub. ‘What about autorotation?’ someone said to me. True, if the engines quit, you should autorotate to a safe landing. Hovering over a built up area however, if both engines stop, I am not sure what my reaction would be. To autorotate, one needs to lower the collective. Whatever the alternative, it would be a scary proposition to lower the collective whilst very a built up area. It would be terrifying.

A tragic crash and our sympathies go to all those affected.

Hovering as a challenge

The China Helicopter Tournament features a challenge whereby the pilot must open a bottle of beer using a bottle opener, which is fixed to the skid of the helicopter. The bottle is made fast on the top of a post. It was featured on Tuesday’s breakfast News.

Quite a hovering challenge. If you are a private helicopter pilot, you will be aware how difficult opening a beer bottle with a helicopter will be. If you have never taken the controls of a helicopter in the hover, you may think it is no more difficult than riding slowly on your push-bike.  Whichever category you fit into, or indeed if you are a commercial helicopter pilot, how would you like to take up a helicopter hover challenge? This is something that I have been toying with arranging for quite a while and think it is about time arranged it.

Let me know if you are interested by replying or contacting my via www.helimove .co.uk.

Helicopters and Multitasking – Women where are you?

In the news today we are hearing that women are officially better at multitasking than men.
In certain cases, women are better than men at multitasking a study says. UK psychologists have found out that women were faster and more organised when switching rapidly between tasks in tests.

Although both sexes struggled with juggling priorities, men suffered more on average, according to the paper in the journal BMC Psychology.

The question now is why and is it all types of multitasking, or only certain situations?

The researchers hope to encourage more research on a topic which they say has attracted “astonishingly few” studies – considering how often the “women vs men” debate crops up in conversation.

There is no doubt that one of the main attributes of a helicopter pilot is multitasking. The most basic helicopter pilot has to deal with two pedals, a collective control and a cyclic control just to control the aircraft. Then there is the navigation, the radio and the lookout to contend with before even considering maintaining the correct height heading and speed.

Why then are there more male helicopter pilots than women I ask myself as they would surely be more suited to the multitasking than men?

Maybe it is the attitude towards women that has held them back, maybe it  is the particular type of multitasking, maybe multitasking many different jobs, each of which your life depends upon is a special kind of multitasking.

I would love to see more women flying helicopters and have no answers as to why there are relatively few. If you are a female helicopter pilot may be you can help me understand.

There is a specific organisation for women who fly helicopters called  Whirlygirls and judging by their ‘In memorium’ section, women have been flying helicopters for quite some years.

If any women reading this want to try their hand at flying, have a look at Helimove Ltd and we can possibly help you find a trial flight, an instructor or even a helicopter.

All the best to all readers.


MD Helimove Ltd.